Saudi Arabia's first women-only hotel: Is it progress?
Some say it's a sanctuary for business women. Others see it as another sign of gender segregation in a male-dominated society.
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Several hotel officials said that they have seen a definite increase in unaccompanied women guests since then. Danny Naludasan, guest relations manager at Riyadh's Intercontinental Hotel, said, "From what we have observed there is a significant increase" in female guests traveling alone.Skip to next paragraph
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And at the Rosewood Corniche in Jeddah, "We definitely are receiving more calls and have more ladies checking in," says Shamel Droubi, director of sales and marketing. "It's notable, we can feel it."
The Rosewood Corniche made news last fall when it unveiled a "dedicated Ladies' Floor," where service is provided by an all-female staff and amenities are geared to women. Mr. Droubi says that "ladies like" the seven-room floor but he hastened to explain that "it's not about isolating males from females. It's about giving to ladies their own privacy while traveling.... It's about giving an added value."
But while women can now stay in regular hotels, the gyms and swimming pools still are just for men, or available to women only during inconvenient hours. Few have spa facilities.
That's where the Luthan beats the competition. The hotel, which opened in mid-March, is far more sumptuous than a no-frills, low-budget YWCA women's hotel. Room rates range from $93 for a studio to $260. Spa treatments, which include both beauty and healthcare, are extra – and exotic. They include collagen facials, aqua healing, Reiki, Tibetan bowls therapy, sea clay, seaweed and sea algae body wraps, and Balinese massage.
There's also a swimming pool and fitness classes in aerobics, yoga, Pilates, tae bo, and spinning.
During a recent visit, the hotel was operating at only 30 percent occupancy. But Ms. Coutinho says she expected that to rise to around 60 percent during the upcoming wedding season when brides reserve rooms for themselves and their female attendants to prepare for the big day.
Indeed, Coutinho says, the hotel grew out of a bridal banquet facility previously launched by the hotel developer, Luthan Trading Company, whose 20-member, all-female board is chaired by Princess Madawi Bint Mohammad bin Abdullah.
The few men employed by the hotel are not in direct contact with guests. Apart from heavy-lifting maintenance staff, they include a male finance controller and security guards outside.
Coutinho, who is from Goa, sees the hotel as part of global trend.
"The need for privacy within public spaces for women worldwide is increasing and we're just filling a demand that already exists," she says, noting that there are women-only hotels "all over the world, from Berlin to the US," a "pink beach" in Italy, a "ladies' special" train in India, and female-only compartments on Brazilian trains.
"Regardless of where we are in this world," she adds, "I think women are finding the need to have spaces that are dedicated to themselves."