Business

Dine in peace: The firms supporting lone female travellers

Women at a Maiden Voyage afternoon tea Image copyright Dan Eycott
Image caption All-female concierge services help not only with finding a restaurant, but organise socialising and networking opportunities too

If you've ever stood alone on the street of a foreign city at dinner time, with your stomach rumbling, you'll know this feeling.

You'd really love to sit down to a tasty meal in a comfortable restaurant, but everyone around you will be chatting merrily and exchanging glances over their glasses of wine.

You'll be drinking a toast to your smartphone and staring at the wall, or the window, or your plate.

Plus if you are a woman on your own you may receive unwanted advances or looks.

Suzanne Randolph worked as a fine art advisor, and travelling a lot, she often found herself alone and facing the problem of finding a restaurant where she would feel comfortable to dine as lone female.

"I was always pressing my nose up against a restaurant's window to see if it was a good place to eat as a solo woman diner," says the former fine art advisor.

And if the venue was a bar, she didn't want it to have a "happening singles vibe", or be full of guys hanging out after work.

Suzanne spent years keeping city lists, and making recommendations to friends and acquaintances, before she realised she could use her expertise to set up her own business.

Image copyright Alix Experience
Image caption Alix Experience organises cultural events for members, such as trips to art exhibitions

She came up with the idea of a travel concierge service that caters solely for the needs and wants of women.

Launched in May of this year, her company, the Alix Experience, invites women to take out membership, which costs from $2,000 (£1,500) a year for a single city.

For that fee, not only will the company book a table for you in a top restaurant, but it can also secure tickets to popular events, provide detailed city guides and arrange cooking classes and spa days. It can even get someone to do your shopping, and book you a personal trainer.

The service first started in London and then New York. Paris and San Francisco are set to follow later this year, and the company plans to expand to a further 30 cities over the next five years.

Image copyright Kevin Gibson Photography
Image caption Carolyn Pearson got the idea for Maiden Voyage after a business trip to Los Angeles

It might sound like a niche market, but Alix Experience is part of a small, but growing number of concierge and networking services just for female globetrotters.

Avoiding embarrassment

Xenia Horne, a professional harpist based in Norfolk, in the east of England, found she could do with some help when arranging a work trip to India.

"I had been booked onto an overnight train journey in a mixed sleeping compartment," she says.

Image copyright Alix Experience
Image caption Alix Experience members can also attend drawing workshops

"All my colleagues advised against this, both in terms of personal safety, and the amount of sleep I would likely get."

She decided she wasn't comfortable with the plan, and got in touch with Maiden Voyage, another female-focused travel support company set up in 2008 in Leeds in the north of England.

Maiden Voyage put Xenia in touch with an Indian travel company, which switched her itinerary to a flight, and then a car with a driver.

"It enabled me to organise a much more sensible trip," adds Xenia.

Maiden Voyage's founder, Carolyn Pearson, set up the service in 2008, following a lonely business trip to Los Angeles.

Upon returning to the UK she did some market research, which confirmed that many other business women were in her shoes - spending evenings in their hotel rooms to avoid the embarrassment of going out for dinner on their own, or receiving unwanted attention.

Maiden Voyage now has 8,000 members, operates in more than 80 countries, and offers services including recommending female-friendly hotels and restaurants, as well as cultural training for women going to less familiar environments.

Membership is free for individuals, but companies pay for their female employees to join, and the company's corporate clients include oil and gas companies, luxury brands, and universities.

'Make demands'

But perhaps the most attractive thing that both Alix Experience and Maiden Voyage offer is the chance to avoid being stuck on your own in the first place. They both promote networking opportunities, such as regular organised dinners.

At Alix, six members can meet in a restaurant to share ideas around a specific topic, or listen to a guest speaker. And the company also arranges for small groups to visits art exhibitions, or fashion shows and sports events together.

Image copyright Dan Eycott
Image caption Businesswomen are increasingly confident to ask for what they want

Jessica Robinson, founder and chief executive of New York-based security business Pure Point International, says a recent Alix Experience event was "a unique and wonderful opportunity to be able to have a great conversation over wine with incredible women".

But is there really a need for such women-only networking, and women-only concierge services?

Kate Torgersen, founder of Milk Stork, a breast milk delivery service for travelling mothers, says it is all about women feeling more confident to ask for what they want.

"As women are occupying higher and higher levels in organisations, they're able to make demands."

Carolyn Pearson says she has seen similar changes since launching Maiden Voyage.

"When I first started, there was an emphasis on not treating women differently," she says.

"But services that explicitly cater to women do better [in terms of demand], and the industry has cottoned on.

"I wanted to create a network for women to connect and have dinner, and do nice things."

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