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Published: Saturday, 7/14/2007

For women only: Hotels' female-friendly floors create controversy

BY CRISTINA ROUVALIS
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE

For the past two and a half years, female visitors to the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Bloomington, Minn., could pay $30 extra to stay on an all-women floor with tight security and traditionally girly extras such as makeup mirrors, fresh flowers, and chocolates.

Women love it, and none of the male patrons have griped or screamed discrimination.

Not so at the soon-to-open JW Marriott in Grand Rapids, Mich. It has created a national furor over the all-female floor being planned there.

"What is next? Are we going to have a white-only floor for the Ku Klux Klan?" said prominent Los Angeles discrimination attorney Gloria Allred. "Are you going to have a men-only floor for men afraid of being hit on by women? It is a giant step backward."

Dhaval Brahmbhatt, general manager of the Crowne Plaza in Bloomington, says likening an all-female floor to an all-white-supremacist floor "is ludicrous and a little outrageous .... That is obviously her opinion, but it doesn't happen to be our reality."

Still, the uproar has caused the Marriott to review its plans for the all-female floor, which call for rooms with chenille throws, ionic hair dryers, jewelry holders and special bath products, as well as a private lounge for the floor.

The controversy aside, it's understandable why hotels are adding such female-friendly digs.

More than 40 percent of all business travelers are women, and security is one of the biggest issues they face - much more so than for male travelers, said Kathleen Ameche, author of The Woman Road Warrior, a guide to women's business travel.

Ms. Ameche has become security-conscious after having her jewelry stolen out of her hotel room and watching a cab driver wave a gun at her head on a ride home from the airport to her Chicago house. (It turned out the lunatic cabbie was mad at the previous rider).

Such experiences have made Ms. Ameche so security-conscious that she asks to change her hotel room about 80 percent of the time. She will ask for a different room if she is too close to the elevator or near an exit down a long corridor or if it is on the first floor of a hotel. "Sometimes it is just instinct."

She cannot understand why anyone would be offended by a female-only floor that offers heightened security. The Crowne Plaza's system lets only occupants of a particular floor get off the elevator at that floor, with access from their room keys.

"I think it is great. It is just giving women business travelers another option. I am not sure why it is so controversial. Why do people have to jump on the bandwagon and say they are trying to make women helpless and we are being coddled and getting special treatment? I don't see it that way at all."

The lounge on the female floor is also a good idea for women who are uncomfortable eating or getting a drink alone, she said.

Luggage companies come out with special lines of suitcases for women, she said, "and nobody gets all up in arms."

The difference, Ms. Allred said, is that keeping men off certain floors not only is discrimination but also a giant step backward in the feminist movement. Ms. Allred became the first dues-paying female member at the Friars Club in 1987 and even gained access to the steam room by walking into it while it was occupied by naked men. She doesn't want to go backward to all-male bastions again.

"If there can be female-only lounges, there can be male-only lounges. We don't want to have male-only lounges where women do not have access to networking and are denied the opportunity to have equal business," she said.

All-female hotel floors mean that "women will have to pay more for the right to do a wrong. We are not fighting for the right to have chenille bedspreads. We are fighting for the right to have equal rights under the law."

She believes any hotel that would put in an all-female floor would risk a lawsuit.

Lalia Rach, divisional dean of The Tisch Center for Hospitality Tourism and Sports Management at New York University, thinks the very idea sounds "19th century and incredibly outdated. There is no answer to the women's market just as there is no answer to the men's market. ... Men want to be safe, too. They just talk about it differently."

Plus, a hotel that offers women extra security might project the message that the rest of the hotel is not safe, she said. "What are you protecting us from?" she said.

Marriott officials could not be reached for comment, but Andrea Groom, a consultant for Alticor, which owns the Marriott in Grand Rapids, which is scheduled to open in the fall, said the response by women and men to the female-only floor was overwhelmingly positive.

She said there was a little bit of negative feedback from men who did not want to be excluded, so the hotel is reviewing the idea. "We will have a women's floor," she said. "We just don't know what it will look like yet."

Businesswomen who are frequent travelers were divided on the idea of gender-segregated floors.

Leanne Meyer, founder of Divanation, a group that focuses on women's leadership development, is all for a female floor it if it makes some women more comfortable about traveling alone. She wouldn't pay extra for one because she no longer worries about security, the way she did when she was in her 20s and traveled alone wearing a fake wedding ring.

Kristen Lane, manager of public relations for HealthAmerica, is not sure why hotels need to add all-female floors.

"Why wouldn't men get special sports magazines and french fries or whatever they want to eat? Why make a distinction? We are all road warriors."

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Cristina Rouvalis is a writer for the Post-Gazette.

Contact her at: crouvalis@post-gazette.com.



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