"What's the fastest emerging market?" said Tim Kobe, founder and CEO of Singapore-based Eight Inc. "It's not China, it's not Brazil, it's not India, it's not Indonesia. It's actually women."
Kobe, best known for helping Apple develop its retail strategy, made the comments in an interview with Dezeen at the Inside interior design festival, part of the World Architecture Festival in Singapore last week.
"One of the things that we've seen with the companies that we work with is that traditionally the brand really focuses on the functional aspects, and to a large degree thats really targeted towards a male's sensibility and behaviour," Kobe said.
"But as women become more and more influential in the marketplace, so places like hotels and airlines and retail have to shift towards more of an emotional brand ideal versus a functional brand ideal."
Kobe made the comments in an interview following a discussion on luxury design at the Inside Festival, chaired by Dezeen editor-in-chief Marcus Fairs.
Also taking part in the discussion was Paul Wiste, Asia Pacific regional director of development and design for luxury resort group Jumeirah, who spoke of the growing importance of women travellers to the luxury resort chain.
The group recently introduced women-only floors at some of its Middle Eastern resorts, anticipating demand from Saudi women. "But it's been completely booked out by groups of Western women," he said.
Architect Sadie Morgan of London practice dRMM, another Inside festival speaker, agreed with Kobe's comments.
"I think women are the next big thing," she said. "Women are now much more self-possessed, we have the ability, we are professionals, we have the money and my goodness do we have the energy."
Five years ago it was the pink pound," she said, referring to the emergence of gay consumers as an economic force. "Women are the next big spending power."
"We are absolutely fired up, our generation, and we want spaces that reflect our needs and our preoccupations. People building hotels, retail, housing have to start responding to a much more feminine community."
In 2009, women controlled an estimated 27% of global wealth, worth $20 trillion, according to a 2010 report by Boston Consulting Group. The figure has been rising by 8% per year and will soon outstrip the combined economies of India and China. The number of women in the global workforce doubled between 1980 and 2008 to 1.2 billion and continues to grow, while their earnings are catching up with those of men.
Kobe said that the growing influence of women would improve design. "I think we're going to see a lot more work in that area, where people are actually focusing on the female customer and delivering an experience that's actually better for everyone," he said. "Women tend to have a different set of sensibilities and I think its going to change all of those categories."
Kobe said he is working with hospitality industry clients who have already identified this shift and are starting to redesign hotels around the needs of women as a result.
"If you look at the way most hotels have been set up, it's for male business travellers," he said. "There's the typical bars, there's the typical location, there's the fundamentals of the experience that are there to cater to the male business traveller.
"When that becomes a female business traveller, the ways that you interact with them, the kinds of experiences that they're looking for, the issues of sanitation, all of these components that are part of the hospitality experience have to be considered differently and that's changing the way people think about creating a new type of experience."
Kobe said he believes the design of interiors and products "will start to shift" as a result of the emerging female market. "We do a lot of retail that's targeted towards women," he said. "But if you look at hospitality and airline travel, [those] products and services will naturally have to follow suit."
Morgan said: "Girls are so much easier and so much more full of life and energy and they need environments that aren't too stuffy, and that are much more relaxed. If we are going to a hotel or a space that we're paying to stay in we want to make sure that it responds to what we want and not what our husbands want."
She added: "Our husbands are not paying for us any more. We're paying for ourselves."