The London 2012 Olympics is a huge opportunity for the leisure and hospitality industry, but it will also bring its challenges as we prepare for the influx of a diverse mix of tourists, sporting competitors and support staff visiting the Games.
With ten venues scattered from Glasgow and Newcastle to Cardiff and Coventry, visitors will be eating, travelling and sleeping around much of the country. Though many venues are in large cities, some like Weymouth and Brands Hatch are clearly not, and others like Hadleigh Farm and Lee Valley are well out in the sticks. This has some unexpected implications.
Making everyone welcome
London and most of our big cities are fairly diverse places. People from a huge range of nationalities, ethnicities and faiths live and work together; restaurants, pubs, hotels and places of worship cater for most needs; lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) people feel generally at ease and public transport and hotels are largely accessible to disabled travellers. But this doesn't mean that those who live there will automatically be comfortable travelling to other, for them, unknown destinations. Some will be less comfortable doing this than well-travelled overseas visitors and occasionally their concerns will be justified.
Last year a Bristol couple in a civil partnership won a case against a Cornish B&B which wouldn't let them share a room. You cannot exclude same sex partners from your hotel or pub or ask gay or trans staff not to work their usual shifts in case their presence offends specific guests. Sexual orientation can still be an awkward area for people of some religions and cultures and it is important to know that UK law offers the same protection to LGBT people as it does to anyone who shares a 'protected characteristic', be it their ethnicity, gender, religion or disability.
Only age is unprotected when it comes to providing a service, as the Government is still considering how and when to introduce this, but it is unlikely to happen before the Olympics. So it's still notionally legal to refuse someone a room because they're too old (or too young) so long as it's shown to be an established policy and not a cover for some other form of discrimination. Pregnancy and maternity are also covered, although like disability, there may be health and safety factors that would make it reasonable to refuse admission say to an amusement park ride or scuba diving course.
The right ingredients
Catering for a diverse audience requires careful thought. Pork products including bacon, ham and possibly gelatine are proscribed by both Jewish and Muslim faiths; last week I saw pork gelatine listed on the ingredients of a supermarket fruit fool. Even if not pork derived, some Jewish and Muslim guests would require the source of the gelatine to have been appropriately slaughtered (Kosher or Halal) as they would any other meat product. Many Hindus and most Sikhs are vegetarian and with cows being sacred to Hindus, fish, eggs and beef products could be on a 'best avoided' list. Alcohol too is contentious; some Muslims as well as not drinking themselves would not wish to be anywhere where alcohol is served. And Christians may still need a fish option for Fridays.
Providing a comfortable environment
When determining where to stay, religion can have an unexpected impact. Muslims in particular will wish to have access to an appropriate mosque even if this is only to attend Friday prayers. Strict adherents of many faiths, particularly when this is apparent from their clothing, can feel uncomfortable when alone or in areas where few locals share their ethnic background. This sentiment is amplified for women, say in healthcare settings, or - if alone - perhaps when a room is being cleaned or while travelling by taxi.
Delivering a great experience
But it is around disability that accommodation and travel is most critical. Given the ever increasing popularity of the Paralympics and the huge demand for any Olympic ticket, there will be a lot of disabled spectators as well as support staff. Having enough accessible accommodation doesn't just attract individual disabled people but whole parties, as large groups, perhaps with only one wheelchair user, will all want to stay together. And as disability is as much about sensory as physical impairment; the key to ensuring a good guest experience is well-trained staff. Having staff understand the kind of adjustments to offer and how best to communicate with deaf or blind guests is far more critical than having the right 'kit'. Increasingly well travelled sensory impaired people have their own accessible applications for their smart phones and laptops.
While we all want to 'put on a good show' in 2012, most of the issues outlined here apply to the here and now. We should all be treating our guests as far as possible in ways they will find appropriate, but we must bear in mind that occasionally this will bring up issues that run counter to UK law, and these need to be carefully handled to minimise offence to both guests and the very staff we rely on.