Earlier this month ABTA announced new guidance and a checklist to help members better understand disabled customers’ needs. As the MD of the UK’s leading accessible holidays tour operator I have been championing the cause of accessible tourism since I set up Enable Holidays ten years ago and I welcome this move by ABTA. However, there’s still a long way to go.
Enable Holidays is the only disabled travel specialist to inspect each and every property it features in its programme and I know from personal experience that although many hotels claim they are accessible and offer fully adapted facilities, on inspection they fail to meet expectations.
Regardless of whether misleading information has been supplied intentionally or unintentionally owing to a lack of awareness of the needs disabled travellers, it gives the industry a bad name. The problem is that many businesses, and not just those in the travel industry, see improving the quality of their services and providing better access to their premises as a burdensome task.
It should however be recognised as a golden opportunity. According the ‘2012 Legacy for Disabled People: Inclusive and Accessible Business’ produced by Atkins Limited for the Office for Disability Issues, the UK alone has an estimated 10.6million disabled people who have a combined annual spend on goods and services of up to £80billion!
The report also states: “Businesses with a better focus on the disabled customer have seen a rapidly expanding customer base, increases in sales and profitability, have gained a substantial ‘foothold’ in their market and a distinct advantage to their competitors.”
But the onus is not only on business owners and destinations improving accessibility. People working across the industry, from airport information assistants to tour guides, need to properly understand disabled customers’ needs.
Understanding the needs of travellers is essential to ensure everything goes smoothly from the flight to the transfers, the accommodation and booking excursions in resort. At the moment the majority of mainstream operators don’t have the knowledge required and don’t know the right questions to ask, and if they do they often feel too embarrassed to ask them.
This is where a truly specialist tour operator like Enable Holidays comes in as we have visited every property and we know the smallest details down to the door widths, bed heights and ramp gradients, information about floor surfaces, the number of steps and the availability of special equipment.
But sourcing and checking the accessibility of hotel accommodation is only half the story. Our service also covers contacting airports and airlines to arrange any assistance that may be required, organising adapted transfers and providing a tailor-made holiday service to meet precise requirements.
Unfortunately, through our work we’ve discovered that vital information about services provided for disabled passengers or those with limited mobility is often not made readily available. For this reason we were delighted to hear that the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) recently set out its approach to meeting its new publication duties, following an extensive consultation with stakeholders representing industry, communities and consumers.
Iain Osborne, Director of Regulatory Policy at the CAA, recently admitted that reliable, accurate and easily understandable information can help build better relationships between businesses and those affected by their actions. However, left to their own devices, aviation markets may not always provide the information that consumers and the public want.
Despite all this, however, it’s not all bad news and there are businesses in the travel and tourism sector who are providing an excellent service to disabled travellers and some terrific adapted properties. In fact we have recently launched our brochure for 2014 featuring an additional 50 properties and ten new destinations.
So while there is still along way to go in achieving excellence across the industry, progress is being made towards what the German National Tourist Board termed in its recent campaign ‘barrier-free’ travel. And, following the release of the new guidance from ABTA, we hope that accessible tourism will climb more swiftly up the industry agenda.