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Travel Insider : Here's What the Pros Look for on the Road : Advice: Much-traveled women tennis stars tell where they look for hotel safety, reliabilty-and good food.

August 22, 1993|Christopher Reynolds | Times Travel Writer

The point of trave, for most, is to escape workaday responsibilities and take in some new sights and sounds. A professional traveler, on the other hand, is likely to want safety, comfort and reliability above all else.

These goals may not sound too adventurous, but most leisure travelers I know could take a lesson or two from those who travel for a living. That's why I've surveyed a group of travelers who show up in different cities almost every week, dine out often, consider their security carefully, and revisit most of their U.S. destinations every year: the women of the professional tennis tour.

They harbor the usual concerns of traveling women (and there are plenty of women traveling on their own; 1in 4 business travelers in the United States these days is female), with the heightened safety concerns of celebrities and the practiced tastes of those who are often out and about. And they demand good service.

"I'm like Sally in 'When Harry Met Sally ...,' " confesses Zina Garrison-Jackson. "One of those high-maintenance people."

Certainly, women tennis players are paying more attention to safety these days than ever before. On April 30, their colleague Monica Seles was stabbed on court during a tournament in Germany. Seles' injury wasn't life-threatening, but she has not yet returned to competition.

"That shook everyone up," says Pam Shriver. Now, Shriver adds, "you're just a little more aware and careful when you're on your own. In a hotel, I always put on every single lock that they offer."

Lindsay Davenport brings Mace when she goes running. Garrison-Jackson goes a step further and brings a companion.

"I'm a firm believer in traveling in at least twos," says Garrison-Jackson. "You just never know. If you're a loner, you're asking for trouble. Especially women."

But safety is only the first of many considerations.

Shriver, who lives in Baltimore (and recently purchased a small portion of the Orioles baseball team), took her last vacation in Australia. She looks for hotels with "a good gym and good message service -- or voice mail." A nearby movie theater is a plus.

Despite her years of travel, she says she recalls no particular hotel crises ... but then, of course, one comes back to her: Once in Australia, her luggage arrived in the hotel lobby, then vanished before she could collect it.

"Somebody inside just liked the look of this tennis bag," Shriver says, "and off it went." (Still, after years of carrying her racquets personally aboard flights, Shriver has recently taken to checking them through as baggage.)

Once inside a room, Shriver says she pays close attention to safes and safety deposit boxes. "If there's a safe in the room, I'll use that," she says. "And recently, I've starting using the one down at the front desk."

Garrison-Jackson, who lives in Houston and spends about five months a year on the road, took her last vacation on the Caribbean island of Antigua, where she started learning how to swim--at age 29--and made efforts to water-ski. ("I tried to get up a bunch of times, but never did," she says.) Her next vacation will be to another Caribbean island, St. Thomas.

"What's a drag," she says, "is when you go to check in (at a hotel), and you're tired after coming in from the airport, and they make you wait."

Another Garrison-Jackson requirement: "I would absolutely not stay in a room where there was no remote control on the television.," says Garrison-Jackson. " There's no reason for that in this day and time."

Jennifer Capriati and Mary Joe Fernandez both say they count heavily on 24-hour room service; Arantxa Sanchez Vicario of Spain brings along her dog, Roland, whenever she can.

The tennis players' tastes, as it happens, match up closely with the findings of a recent survey of women travelers. Kempinski Hotels questioned 2,500 of the estimated 13.5 million American women who traveled on business last year, and came up with the following list of most-sought attributes:

1. Security.

2. Convenient location.

3. Clean rooms.

4. Reasonable cost.

5. Workout facility.

6. Large guest rooms and bathrooms.

7. Full-service property.

8. Friendly, professional, helpful staff.

9. Quiet rooms.

10. Luxurious ambience.

The most disliked attributes: Rude or impersonal service; noisy hallways and public areas; dirty rooms; small rooms and bathrooms; poor lighting in rooms and hallways; extra charges for toll-free, local and long-distance calls; high prices; slow check-in and check-out; poor room service; and uncomfortable beds.

And just which hotels are the tennis players' favorites?

"I love staying at the Plaza in New York," says Garrison-Jackson. "It's comfortable, it's beautiful, it's not too much. It's just right. You feel at home there."

Lindsay Davenport names the La Costa Resort & Spa in San Diego County. Fernandez names the Hyatt Grand Champions Resort in Indian Wells. Sanchez Vicario names the Four Seasons in Chicago, and the Parker Meridien and Essex House in New York.

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