Conferences, consultancy assignments and business meetings are bringing more and more women to India. While the NRI may be well equipped to deal with the India that is, the foreign traveller has to rely more on blogs, company advisories and other tips that come their way.
What makes the foreign female business traveller more cautious, bordering sometimes on paranoid behaviour, is the occasional report of rape, abduction, molestation and cheating which some of the foreign tourists encounter and which the media often plays up with all gory details.
India provides a generally safe environment for foreign female business travellers. The country's wide range of religious and culturally separate communities (all with differing attitudes towards women) can initially be a daunting experience for female executives, despite the prominent role played by women in the nation's political and commercial life.
Formal meetings with Indian business executives should present few problems, other than those associated with caste and religious taboos and protocols. Caste is rarely an issue, but religious differences are more sensitive. The simplest method of not inadvertently causing offence is in all cases to dress discreetly; maintain an even conversational tone; and show no obvious signs of impatience, frustration or anger. Usually, its good to ask one’s Indian counterparts or those expats who have been in the country long enough to understand sensitive cultural issues.
In public and in informal moments, women travellers are likely to experience the unwelcome attentions of curious or emboldened men. A female business visitor must expect to receive a certain amount of unwelcome attention when sightseeing or shopping. But by and large, if some care is taken, the female traveller can have a pleasant stay and also enjoy the good side of Indian hospitality and attention.
Tips for women travellers
* Try to merge with the locals and do not look helpless. Appearing to be in control is one sure way of warding off unwelcome attention
* If walking through busy streets or markets, avoid casual eye contact and do not react to pestering.
* Ensure your hotel room number remains confidential. Do not display the room's key tag in public areas, and stress that the room number should not be given to any inquirers. Insist that the room has a key-chain, deadlock and spy-hole.
* Book a suite on an executive floor if business meetings are to be held in the hotel.
*Incidents of sexual assault are more common in northern India, but are known to occur in southern India as well, including fast developing cities such as Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai with large migrant population; and it is not only Indian women that are at risk of assault. Female business travellers, especially foreign nationals are therefore advised to be aware of the risk of sexual assault, and exercise vigilance and observe stringent security precautions. There is also a risk of date-rape type situations. So play safe.
* Avoid going off with strange people especially those who lure you with exotic deals – be it massages, shopping, buying of antiques or sightseeing
*Avoid travelling on public transport after dark without a known male companion.
*When going out on your own or visiting a local acquaintance, make sure someone knows about your movement plan so that if you do not reach on time they can try finding your whereabouts
*Try to enter taxis at hotel entrances instead of hailing them on the street. Avoid yellow cabs. Alternatively, hire a car and driver from a reputable company for the entire stay.
*Remain vigilant in informal gatherings, hotels and restaurants in the evening. If alone, restrict evening entertainment to five-star hotels or membership clubs.
*Avoid walking through isolated roads and parks at any time of the day.
*You can indulge in street shopping, street food and other informal activities but not before you have checked with a reliable person on how to get there, what to do and what to avoid.