Despite much change over recent years, our hospitality industry still has some blind spots that it can't afford overlook any longer. At its core, there is an emerging group of guests that still find the current state of hospitality, inhospitable. As industry professionals, let's look at what the 'SHEconomy' is and identify how it relates to your business, and hopefully as awareness grows, industry leaders will act accordingly and make the changes that are needed to tap into this important and lucrative demographic.
So what is the #SHEconomy?
My definition of the SHEconomy is "The engagement with the spending power of women through providing them products and services that are tailored to their needs or developed with a feminine perspective in mind".
I am a 35-year-old German-Chinese Experience Designer & Entrepreneur who has been living in Bangkok for nine years. For the hospitality industry, It's not only relevant from a marketing communication point of view in times of female empowerment, but it's also relevant because it's lucrative. We see today that there is a growing focus on independent entrepreneurial women or those in leading managing positions in Thailand and SEA; I call them 'Lady Bosses.'
Global trends show that self-perception and self-presentation of women has changed. This is most visibly reflected in pop culture and in the entertainment industry. Nicki Minaj and Kylie Jenner aren't only fierce in their careers as celebrities, but you can also see them as knowledgeable, successful entrepreneurs. Rihanna, for example, with her Fenty underwear and cosmetic brand debut, has grabbed the world's attention, and both of the brands are game-changers not only in the beauty industry. Fenty vs. Victoria is a wake-up call for all businesses. #GenderEquality, #FemaleEmpowerment, and #Inclusivity are the keywords and drivers of a global social movement. It started decades ago and in economic terms, can't be ignored anymore - hence all eyes on the #SHEconomy.
It would be particularly poignant for Luxury hospitality properties to pay close attention and take action. In South Asia and Thailand, there is a high density of luxury hotels for international travelers and the local market alike, with many upper-class leisure activities happening inside high-end and lifestyle hotels compared to the rest of the world.
Morgan Stanley's Reports, Research says that since 2010, the percentage of women executives increased across all developed regions, with the largest gains in Asia with a doubling of participation since 2010. Women have also notched increases in board representation in developed regions, increasing by more than 50% over the same period. In 2017 alone, Grant Thornton reported that women in executive positions are 29% more than previously in Asia. In Southeast Asia, Thailand is third place in the number of women in higher positions.
So how are the hotels dealing with this development? There are three categories where I want to give my personal evaluation and suggestions as a female guest from the perspective of an entrepreneur who also works as a supplier to this industry. The categories are Facilities & Amenities, Experience Offerings, and Marketing Communication.
Facilities & Amenities
There is already a certain level of awareness when it comes to hotel facilities, and conversations have certainly started. However, it would seem not enough, and not enough consequential actions have been taken to date. Some topics that are frequently discussed amongst women when it comes to hotel facilities include:
- Inadequate bathroom make-up lighting;
- Work-station chairs are not suitable for Asian female bodies to sit comfortably to work;
- Not enough hangers for the female wardrobe;
- Lack of basic toiletries that could significantly reduce the liquid luggage required to be carried, which would make travel more comfortable;
Without leaving out important aspects, I would like to refer to the article Exactly How 'Female Friendly' Is Chicago's Virgin Hotel, Richard Branson's New Project Aimed at Women? and the Keynote speech Sex And the City - Urban Female Travellers Presentation by Wimintra Jangnin. There are other perspectives of women who are mothers, but that's the topic for another day.
Suggestions of What do Do
First, quickly address the issue of facilities and amenities to help improve the experience of female guests. "We don't have the budget," I sometimes hear when I bring up this topic. Changes are either happening too slowly or not at all. It seems like that in 9 out of 10 cases, the decision-makers must still be male, Westerners, and probably above 40.
Their neglect might not be intentional, but rather because they haven't experienced it themselves and couldn't imagine the significant effect of their decisions on (Asian) women.
It's not about changing everything to be women-centred. But it's instead to give the female guests choices and a clear signal to show them that their needs are being acknowledged.
How about having a sign in the bathroom telling them hairspray, face cream, eye make-up, and nail polish remover are available upon request? Or informing guests that additional clothes hangers are available if they are longer-term guests and are checking in with a large suitcase? Give them choices of quality hangers rather than plastic ones from the laundry, that are suitable for dresses, skirts, or odd-shaped garments. Offer them make-up trays, and jewellery display stands. These are all low-hanging fruit where hotels can shine with minimal budgets.
Next is getting the bathroom lighting right. Let whoever looks into the mirror see the most beautiful side of themselves by setting the light colour and diffusion rate to be flattering. In fact, these suggestions aren't specific to 'Lady Bosses', tweaks like this would benefit all guests.
Next, let's pay attention to privacy inside the hotel rooms. Often bathrooms inside the rooms aren't designed to be soundproof. Remember, we live in a time where people checking in one hotel room aren't necessarily committed couples.
Refrain from "Gender-Washing"
With the rapid global growth of equality in terms of gender roles and mindset, painting the room pink is not the option. This might even shed a bad light on your brand. This makes the female guest feel fooled and even gives them the impression that the hotels don't care to do their homework.
In terms of experience offerings, the hospitality industry in Thailand is doing great in providing a high standard and wide variety of F&B offers. Also spa, wellness, and some recreational sports are hosted inside luxury hotels. However, these seem to be the only standardised leisure activities provided by hotels that aren't being considered a one-time marketing booster. Not all women expect to wind down from their demanding work and family life in their leisure time in the ways that are being marketed. We are no longer in a world where women are only housewives going to a spa and waiting for their husbands to finish work. We are specifically talking about 'Lady Bosses'. They are deciding in front of mirrors what to wear and how to look, and they are making decisions in meetings and conference rooms about business strategies and financial outlooks.
Almost every time I come across a hotel bar I sense the place is designed to serve male clientele who date back to the 60's. It is usually a speakeasy place where men come together after a long day meeting to loosen up their ties, smoke a cigar, and have a drink to chat about politics, sports, and casual business to strengthen their brotherly bonds. How prevalent is this type of customer today in SEA? Or, just generally speaking, don't we all deserve more cultured and diversified experiences regardless of gender?
What Can You Offer?
Many leisure activities and experiences go beyond the classical F&B or Spa offer. But just taking the traditional Spa & wellness offer, why don't hotels provide them outside of ordinary office hours, giving evening options in a bar-like environment? Then the 'Lady Bosses' can also have a drink, chat with her friends or business partners and get a haircut or manicure at the same time. The same principle can be applied to some exclusive shopping.
I don't mean lavish fashion show events but rather an intimate walk-in closet with great hospitality inside the closet for the ladies and their girlfriends to try on the latest fashion curated by local designers. Thailand has many gifted local designers and rich in boutique brands for unique lifestyle products. Shopping with girlfriends and booze in a hotel is a preferred experience than in a crowded mall during the weekend.
Considering female consumers want to be intellectually and culturally stimulated, there are many ways to make this happen creatively. During COVID in 2021, I collaborated with Sindhorn Kempinski Hotel Bangkok to provide a workshop-like event called "The Love Of Gifting," where a small group of guests was invited to the Royal Suite to learn artful gift wrapping. The experience was designed to let the guests (not only women) share their stories and have fun with interactive and memorable activities. The "Kaiseki Mind Travel Experience" F&B experience I collaborated with The Okura Prestige Hotel Bangkok was tight around the Kaiseki bento box menu from Yamazato restaurant. Guests were invited to immerse themselves in Japanese Kimonos, learn about the history and culture of Japanese Kaiseki cuisine, get active in food presentation and enjoy the dinner together after all the work is done. It's another full day activity from getting dressed, make-up, food plating to enjoying dinner and, of course, taking many photos and videos as shareable impressions. These two examples show that a more diversified experience offer can be provided together with services already available in-house. They are extensions also to communicate what's already there.
Let's get Past 'Ladies Night'
Let's move beyone yet another "Ladies Night". Who doesn't like freebies? But there is no real value behind this buy 1 get 1 offer besides it's cheap. A sophisticated customer with purchasing power is happy to spend for what makes her feel respected and appreciated. And this kind of double standard isn't even desired by her.
As a brand and communication consultant I would like to raise awareness to address the affluent female spenders adequately in Thailand. The personas of the female audience in the communication landscape of hospitality are limited to the archetype "First Lady," "Rich Daughter," or "Beauty Influencers." The portrayal of women is mostly "passive, proper and dainty". The "Lady Boss" is completely missing from my social media feed. By "Lady Boss" I don't mean the "Boss Babe," whom I consider earning their success as a "Beauty Influencer".
The "Lady Boss" is best represented by someone like AOC Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Anna Wintour, successful ladies with intellectual knowledge and confident style. Why does it matter that the independent "Lady Boss" is portrayed in the social media landscape of luxury or lifestyle hospitality? Because a considerable amount of the female Thai hospitality clientele or potential customers falls into this category. However, ironically this customer type barely exists in the mainstream Thai media. And this hurts on both ends. It hurts the ego of "Lady Bosses" because they aren't being seen, and hotels are missing out on potential revenues. There are certain stigmas of the "First Ladies," "Rich Daughters," and "Beauty Influencers" where independent women don't want to be associated with. Regardless of the truth, these traditional role models represent dependencies that a modern independent woman fears the most: dependency on a man, dependent on her parents, or dependent on her physical beauty and youth. Basically, what women and girls have been fighting for so long can be diminished in one social media post. This is mostly done without any bad intention, which is the worst.
Case in Point - Valentine's Day
Let's take Valentine's Day as the most comprehensive example for this topic. Valentine's Day might be the most anticipated occasion next to Christmas and NYE for all hospitality to provide and promote F&B specials. However, the highly romanticised celebration of the togetherness of a prince and princess can be annoying or even offending for career-focused women because a high percentage of them are not in a relationship. These ladies don't reject romance in general. Still, they are often single and focus more on their career and self-development due to the tough dating scene in Bangkok. Each social media post on Valentine's Day is a reminder of her still being single. Again, she is excluded from this romantic experience because no man of her calibre is asking her out.
I don't believe that the hospitality industry wants to exclude them; rather, it's a lack of awareness, a missing connection, or the lack of communication role models in the general media landscape. So, how can hospitality also communicate to attract more female guests to spend a fair amount of their income at their facilities?
How Can You Communicate Better?
The idea of the archetypal woman who can only be either "Rich Daughter," "First Lady," or "Beauty Influencer" is dated and needs to be extended. Make the "Lady Boss" visible in your communication. The inclusion of more confident, independent, ambitious and assertive women into the picture will spark their interest in your hospitality because it's the way they identify themselves. How you picture her in your communication is how she would see herself in your care.
Over the past decades, women have finally moved up the career ladder and achieved goals in their professional lives. However, the challenge just got more significant when looking at their love and intimate lives. The hospitality and F&B industry will be the first one to benefit from a daring woman who makes the first move to ask a man out for dinner, drink or even a staycation at the hotel. I created this video "What''s Your Flava" during my stay at The Okura Prestige Hotel in Bangkok to inspire these women to embrace their femininity sensuality and be bold in taking risks when approaching their romantic lives.
Use your communication to signal that she is being seen, heard, and understood. Inspire her with ideas and set examples on how you see her and how she can enjoy her life and celebrate herself on your premise without needing anyone. For instance, in another video, "Glamorous," I wanted to showcase the lifestyle of an aspiring female entrepreneur in a luxury hotel.
The mindset of the Women of today has changed. Women will be getting into the front line of the economy with earnings and spending. With her own money she earned by herself, she wants to spend, and she needs to spend, because that's part of her liberation and empowerment. How a woman stays, eats, sleeps, or has intimacy will affect how she lives, works, and succeeds.
This will ultimately lead to how she spends her money. And if you show her examples and inspire her on how she can be empowered with your brand, you will win her heart and money.
This article is written by Xuan Xu and reflects her individual experiences and ideas.
Xuan Xu is a Chinese-German Experience Designer, Entrepreneur, and Artist working closely with the luxury hospitality and F&B industry in Thailand and Asia. Her projects include interior design, F&B and entertainment concepts, experience & content production. In addition, she consults in brand positioning and brand communication. Connect with her on LinkedIn or follow her on Instagram.