The next time you have a friend flying down to Mumbai, warn them that they might be in for a real surprise. Chances are, the chauffeur waiting to pick them will be pleasant and courteous… and a woman.
The Oberoi Hotel at Nariman Point has launched its lady chauffeur service to ferry around female travellers who are on their own. Currently a fleet of five BMW-driving women between the ages of 25 to 53, they are the hotel’s way of changing the perception guests have of India. “Most of our international travellers, especially those who are visiting India for the first time, have a certain perception of the country. When they find a lady chauffeur waiting for them in a luxury car, they are surprised. And any hesitation they have about women drivers melts away in three minutes,” says Varun Chibber, rooms division manager, The Oberoi.
Chibber explains that they handpicked the five women, putting them through a two-month training period wherein they learnt to master the technicalities of the luxury cars, communicate with guests, and even to offer tidbits about the city. “Not many women were interested in the job initially, and even among those who were, it was difficult for us to find the right kind,” adds Chibber. “But once they saw the facilities offered, they were convinced.”
The hotel has separate restrooms with bunk beds for the female chauffeurs and a female administrative supervisor. “But they don’t get any special treatment as compared to our male chauffeurs, even working on a 24-hour basis like their male counterparts,” Chibber clarifies. “At the moment, the men are watching the women to see how they progress. It’s natural when women enter a domain otherwise dominated by men.”
Guest reactions have been positive. “They love the service, mostly because they are impressed that we are empowering women. I’ve travelled to many hotels across the world and I can’t recall anyone having a similar service,” says Chibber. And the lady chauffeurs couldn’t be happier. Chibber reveals, “They have a sense of pride that they work for a big hotel. They understand the dignity of the job.”