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Women and safe business travel in India

I was once in a taxi in New Delhi en route to a business meeting at the Imperial Hotel in the heart of the city when my taxi driver decided I should go shopping instead (certain stores pay a commission to taxi drivers in exchange for driving tourists to the store).

We sat in the parking lot of a store arguing about where I needed to be. Finally, he started driving and took me to the entrance of the Metropolitan Hotel. When I reminded him that my destination was the Imperial, he told me the hotel had changed names the week before, that the Imperial is now the Metropolitan. A little unnerved and frustrated, I exited his taxi and called for another taxi to take me to the Imperial. All in all, I was 30 minutes late for my meeting.

Since then, I’ve hired a car and driver to get around New Delhi even though it’s not as efficient due to horrendous parking situations. I still take taxis in other cities in India, but in New Delhi I just don’t feel comfortable.

There has been heightened concern about safety issues in India because of the recent media reports of horrific violence against women in the country. Based upon my experiences of traveling in India, I think it is just as safe as traveling in the United States. Some places require extra vigilance but common sense is usually sufficient.

Because my firm helps U.S. companies sell their goods and services to other businesses in India, I have flown all over the country from Assam to the Laccadive Islands, but I spend most of my time meeting with Indian corporations in the major cities of Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore.

When in New Delhi and points north of Delhi, my experiences have led me to be extra careful about safety. I avoid being out in the city alone after dark, for example, and even during the day I curb my curiosity to go off the beaten path on my own. I try to keep a low profile when in public, keeping expensive electronics out of sight and dressing conservatively. I ask for referrals and check references before retaining a driver. I spend more money to stay at high-end hotels for extra safety and peace of mind.

However, in most other cities such as Mumbai and Bangalore, I enjoy the lively hustle and bustle of city life after dark, much like I would do in New York City. I happily explore parts of the city that are not on the tourist maps. I rarely feel like I stand out in a crowd. When choosing a hotel or a car service, I focus more on getting a good deal. I feel no less safe in these cities than I do in Baltimore.

Travel in India can be hard, especially for first time visitors of either gender because of the poverty and the onslaught on all the senses – especially sight, sound and smell. But until recently, safety wasn’t a top subject when discussing the challenges of doing business in India as a woman.

Despite the recent news, I think women business travelers to India will be safe if they use common sense precautions. There are unique problems that American women doing business in India face — for example, I feel they struggle more with the cultural disconnects posed by India’s patriarchal business culture.

But that’s a topic for a series of future blog posts. In the meantime, I’d welcome your stories of business travel in India.

One comment

  1. Thanks to all those who forwarded me the article about a new taxi service in New Delhi catering only to Women by women drivers.