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At the WITX event in Bangkok – Women Redefining Travel – much was discussed about the growing role and influence of women as customers. In this article, Minh Bui catches up with three industry personalities – Marisa Sukosol Nunbhakdi, Executive Vice President Sukosol Hotels; Craig Fong, Chief Operating Officer for Global Hospitality Solutions; and Do Van Anh Thu, Marketing Manager of Lufthansa German Airlines in Thailand – to learn more about their views on engaging with women travellers.

Q: Tell me about your women segment.
MarisaMarisa (pictured right): In our hotels upscale and upper-upscale properties in Bangkok and Pattaya, 15-25% of our customers are females traveling alone, and around 50% are travelling as part of a couple. All in all, women make up 50% of our hotel guests. They are generally aged between 30 and 40 and mainly from Asia-Pacific – China, Japan, Australia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Middle East, and domestic Thai nationals.

There are fewer single female travellers visiting our super luxury hotel, The Siam, which has more long-haul travellers from the US and Europe.

Q: What are the main differences between female and male travellers, especially the way they spend money?

Marisa: Women spend more money on shopping, spa, wellness and food and are more concerned about safety. They notice and appreciate the little details in design and service and are happy to spend more for a better quality product and service.

Craig: In general, females have more patience and interest to research and shop for the best deals. Females tend to be more vocal and demanding when expectations and/or commitments are not met when travelling for leisure or business. It’s the wife or female partner, which usually raises the complaint and seeks compensation from service provider when expectations are not met.

Q: Why should we focus on female customers?

Marisa: Women are the key decision makers in travel bookings. Couple and family holidays are booked by females and they love sharing and recommending hotel experiences; thus, they have become important influencers in the marketplace.

Craig (pictured right): Women make the majority of the leisure travel decisions in terms of destination, tour packages and accommodations. As bookers, females are more productive in terms of room night production compared to their male counterparts. Women are more inclined to share their views, opinions and stories in the social media space.

Anh Thu: The focus should be on female customers because they are now rising in personal income, holding various decision-making positions in international firms, and knowledgeable in spending

Q: What are some of the most effective channels to attract women to use your  services?
Marisa: The channels vary from country to country, but overall, social media and online channels are proving to be effective tools to communicate our brand to the consumer.  In Japan and Hong Kong, guidebooks are very popular and in China, bloggers are extremely influential.

Craig: Contact them via female specific websites, which provides content on products, services, special interests, hobbies, health, etc. that attract the female audience. Create relevant content and product/service offerings to attract a broad audience with slight tactical subtle amendments geared specifically to women, which are promoted on the organisations website.

Anh Thu (pictured below right): The effective channel should be online. As women customers are now exposed to rapid improvements of technology, the online experience has become a daily routine.

Q: How can suppliers serve them better?

Marisa: I think hotels can do more to serve the single lady traveller better.  Since safety is a big concern, hotels can allocate rooms for ladies only.  Ensuring that a single woman’s guest room has no connecting doors, is closer to the elevators and not next to rooms occupied by single men for example. Offering cuisine variety, high tea, and beautifying spa treatments and packages will attract the lady traveller and reflect their importance to you as a source market.

Craig: It’s critical to first understand your specific female customer group profiles such as their interests, age group, profession, etc. And the best way to compile and manage all this profile data is with a loyalty programme operated on a CRM system to enable effective customer engagement. Second, tailor your marketing communication and engagement activities based on your customers’ profiles. And, third the technology used to deliver your marketing messages should be relevant to your target audience(s) such as via eDM, social media, mobile or direct mail or combination of several media.

Anh Thu: There is no concrete answer for this as it is almost impossible to serve everyone better – every individual has their own experience and opinion, so it can be good for one and bad for another. So, focus on the correct target market, study what their wishes are and try to fulfill it, do not over-promise, but constantly working on improvements will be the key.

Q: If you don’t serve them well, then they are more likely to talk about their bad experience more “effectively” than men, what would you do to manage these kinds of “crisis”?

Marisa: Online reviews and criticisms have to be accepted and valued. Showing the customer that we care is most important.  Complaints are “gifts”; they give us the opportunity to improve. So, thank the customer, show appreciation and continue to work harder to mitigate risks.

Craig: A scripted reply to the most frequently asked questions or complaints should be prepared. The response should be sincere and provide an acceptable service recovery plan so that staff is not left to deal with the complaint without a solution. When a customer raises a complaint in person or over the phone, staff must first listen and let the customer finish explaining the circumstances for the complaint. Then, apologize for the inconvenience caused. If this complaint is covered by the prepared scripted response; then proceed to resolve complaint. If a new or isolated complaint not covered by a SOP; staff needs to be empowered to resolve the complaint within guidelines.

Anh Thu: I do not think women customers will “viral” dissatisfaction much more than men! Personally, I think if there had been a very bad experience, people who speak out would be the most obvious signal for business to work on improvements to serve the customers better.

Q: How do you get them return and use your services again?

Marisa: Social media, email marketing and loyalty programmes should be viewed as “engagement” tools to encourage return customers. As marketers we have to think about how to leverage those tools and convert engagement into sales.  However ultimately, the product and service quality has to be superior too for the customer to come back.

Craig: Understand and get closer to your customers. Increase your engagement. Treat them well with personalize services.  And, ensure your products and services remain relevant and priced competitively.

Anh Thu: The brand needs to show improvements in order to gain their trust again. The priority is to fix the problem as much as possible, either by suitable compensations or special offers.

Q: What trends do you see in the next five years?

Marisa: More and more women are becoming successful in their careers, they are staying single longer and becoming very self-reliant. We are seeing moreand more women travelling together or solo without men; this is veryapparent in the traditionally male-dominant Japanese market and I seethis trend transferring quickly to other countries as well.

Craig: Increase in solo elderly (boomers) and young female leisure travelers as well as an increase in small female only groups on leisure.  Increase in young, professional female business travelers, who expect good security and privacy when they travel. And, in Asia an increase in more three generation family travel with the wife deciding on the destination and tour package.

Anh Thu: The trend is obvious; there will be more and more female travelers in the next 5 years, and it will be a big increase in trip to further destinations rather than domestic or regional.

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