Despite their numbers as a growing force in the marketplace, women business travelers are still often shoehorned into a model designed for men. Hotel rooms for business travelers offer downcast décor and so-so amenities; the hotel's social area may consist of a bar that is at best uninviting or at worst, vaguely creepy. In addition, women travelers often perceive that airline employees treat them more grudgingly than the guys.

As a result, a valuable market is still waiting to be served; that goes double when one considers women's substantial role in organizing their families' leisure vacations. So said five travel professionals who spoke at a panel session of the Harvard Business School Dynamic Women in Business Conference, held January 22. Laura Begley, style director for Travel & Leisure magazine, moderated the session, whose theme was "Women Exploring the World."

The two identifiable market segments—business and recreational travelers—are not even mutually exclusive, panelists agreed. "There is a trend for incorporating family: taking a business trip and adding a family component," said Jenifer Ziegler, senior vice president of brand management for Holiday Inn Express.

Any company that understands its female travelers' experiences and wisdom is likely to succeed, everyone agreed. Rewards for the travel and hospitality industry overall will come when women occupy more senior management positions, added Kathy Stewart, a program director for Butterfield & Robinson, a company based in Canada that runs high-end, active trips. "The more we talk about women as travelers, the more it will be clear that these positions need women," she said.

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