- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 23, 2007

One hotel in Michigan has a come up with a revolutionary concept aimed at business travelers: no boys allowed.

At least not on the 19th floor of the new J.W. Marriott Hotel in Grand Rapids, Mich.

When the 24-story, 340-room hotel opens this September female guests can pay an extra $25 to $30 to stay on the single-sex specialty floor.

“The idea is that the hotel will offer women travelers a setting where they can interact with other women while reducing the safety issues they face,” said Jeanne Englehart, president of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce.

Nearly half of today’s business travelers are women, a growing customer base that is demanding more amenities and better security from hotel chains.

The rooms on the proposed floor will offer amenities that aren’t available in other rooms such as bath products, ionic hair dryers, chenille throws and a stool in the shower for leg shaving.

Access to the floor will be limited to an elevator that will only open with the authorization of a key card, similar to that of other specialty suites in most hotels.

But some legal professionals question the legality of the restricted accommodations.

“There is an issue of whether or not this classifies as discrimination,” said Jim Butler, a lawyer at Jeffer Mangels Butler & Marmaro LLP, a law firm in Los Angeles and author of www.hotelblog.com.

“Hotels are places of public accommodation, and discrimination in such places is a violation of the Civil Rights Act,” said Mr. Butler.

“If you look back, people didn’t think that men’s clubs like the Friars Club were discriminatory, but that changed when women began attacking them for being so,” said Mr. Butler.

Civil rights activists agree. “We’ve been fighting for 20 years in this country to get rid of private clubs that have men-only restrictions, and here we have a hotel that has an entire floor set aside for women,” said Ward Connerly, the chairman of the American Civil Rights Institute in Sacramento, Calif. “If this was a floor for men, you better believe that there would be a lot of furor over this.”

Marriott officials would not comment on the legality of the proposed floor until the details for the new hotel had been worked out.

“I don’t think that the goal is to have pajama parties for women only,” said Erin Fuller. “It’s a security issue.” Ms. Fuller is the executive director of the National Association of Women Business Owners, a lobbying organization in McLean.

Ms. Fuller said security can be a big concern for women travelers who may feel unsafe in a strange environment or city.

“We as women travelers are taught a number things to protect ourselves and to have an environment where those precautions aren’t necessary would be ideal,” said Ms. Fuller.

But Mr. Connerly said the argument doesn’t hold up. “The hotel is going to have to secure everybody in the hotel, no matter what floor you are on,” he said.

“So the idea that women would feel more secure if they had their own floor doesn’t make sense to me.”

Roger Conner, a spokesman for Marriott said that the hotel chain generally accommodates men and women equally.

“This is something we are not looking into doing brand wide but we are interested in seeing how this works out and how guests like it,” he said.

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