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January 4, 2009

Saudi Arabia's WOMEN-ONLY Hotel

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Photo Credit: Jeff Harris

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IMAGINE:
You're traveling on business, and the hotel you've booked kicks you out on your ear because you've forgotten to bring a "permission letter" from your father or husband. Believe it or not, career women in Saudi Arabia face this problem — the sexes are strictly segregated there, so most hotels won't let women check in without the authorization of a senior male relative or registration with the local police. Now a group of 20 Saudi princesses and businesswomen has devised a solution by opening the kingdom's first hotel exclusively for female guests — no males are allowed inside (not even children), so women can toss away their veils when they enter the lobby.

"We're providing a private space for Saudi women to relax and do business in comfort," says Lorraine Coutinho, executive director of the Luthan Hotel and Spa outside the Saudi capital, Riyadh. After six years of gnawing through red tape, she opened the hotel in March. Its entire staff — from bellhops to electrical engineers — is made up of women. Coutinho is most proud of the swimming pool and fully equipped gym at the Luthan (which means "sanctuary" in Arabic). "In other Saudi hotels, exercise facilities are reserved for men," she explains. The core clientele so far is businesswomen in their 30s and 40s, but others are beginning to flock to this man-free zone. "There's no need to hide here; women can be themselves," says Coutinho. The hitch: As women are still banned from driving in Saudi Arabia, it's impossible to get there without a man at the wheel.


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