A few years ago, I was visiting Mumbai with a group of journalists. We arrived at the airport and were swiftly taken to our impressive new hotel.
It was late at night, so the hotel quickly gave us keys to our assigned rooms. When it came to handing me my key there was puzzlement and some conferring behind the desk before the key was finally relinquished. I knew I wasn't looking my best after the flight, but I hadn't thought I'd looked that peculiar.
We all rushed off to the elevators and, along with the male journalists, I was directed to a wing on one side of the hotel. The female journalists waved goodbye and were sent off to a separate wing.
The manager looked embarrassed as he opened the door. He explained that there was a female wing of the hotel but they had thought the name 'Lee' was male. There weren't any free rooms that night so I would have to sleep in the male quarters.
I said I didn't mind. I didn't. I'm used to being mistaken for male, especially in America where no one under 60 seems to have heard of Lee Remick or Lee Grant.
I was fascinated by the concept of a female wing. I hadn't come across this before, although it's not that unusual in countries where the women don't mix freely with men. I was told that "the ladies preferred it" and maybe they did. If you're a lone female traveller I imagine you might feel safer. And, now that we've heard a number of distressing things about sexual harassment of women in India, it made a lot of sense.
I spent the second night in the women's wing. It wasn't done up in pink, nor did it have frilly décor. It was much the same as the men's rooms, except for a few welcome feminine toiletries in the bathroom. I suppose I did feel a bit safer, knowing that if I accidentally locked myself out of my room only in my bath towel, I was less likely to run into a man. (Although for others this might take away some of the thrill.)
As a woman who travels frequently and stays in hotels alone most of the time, I've often wondered why so few hotels show interest in the female traveller. All too often, I've found myself in a luxurious room, full of amenities such as shoehorns and bottle openers, and haven't been able to find a shower cap or cotton ball. There has been plenty of hanging space for shirts and plenty of those clamp hangers for suit pants, but not always enough long hanging space for dresses.
Showers never seem to have enough shelves to store a face cleanser, let alone the other products a modern woman needs for beautification. And the positioning and lighting of bathroom mirrors often sends me in a rage. If a hotel room doesn't have a well-lit magnifying makeup mirror they get a fail from vain old me.
And what about a full-length mirror? A power point for the hairdryer somewhere I can see what I'm doing? These are essentials, not optional extras.
You can usually tell if a hotel has been run by women, because it will generally stock a better quality of hair conditioner and bath foam – and often scented candles and fragrances as well.
Peninsula Hotels are ahead of the game here, boasting some clever female-friendly amenities, including desks that turn into vanity tables, dumb waiters to take laundry so that you never see the room service attendant, and dedicated dressing rooms with nail dryers.
I was happy to hear that Sir Richard Branson's first Virgin Hotel, which opened in Chicago in January, has been designed to entice the long-suffering female business traveller.
Research undertaken for Virgin by Cornell University indicated that female guests don't love being seen in their bathrobes by staff, so rooms have two chambers, divided by a sliding door, meaning guests don't have to interact with service staff. There are also other many features women requested, such as well-lit vanities and large showers with a bench for shaving (legs presumably.)
The hotel product is apparently designed to deliver "emotional outcomes" in a safe, comfortable, empowering and pampered environment.
I look forward to all this. In the end, many of these touches are sensible things that men appreciate too.
But the only empowering I'm looking for is a decent and flattering bathroom light.