Responsible accessible tourism holidays

Responsible accessible tourism holidays


A CALL TO ACTION

We all need to wake up and smell the coffee when it comes to making tourism more inclusive, and we include ourselves in that statement. We admit that we are very good at creating change when it comes to communities, conservation or carbon usage. But when it comes to basic care, consideration and communities of travellers with specific needs, we and many of the companies whose holidays we represent have been slow to act. Ask for gluten free bread at breakfast, and the chances are you’ll be in luck. Ask for a fridge to store your vital medication and you could just send the hotel into crisis mode. The travel industry is, sadly, still guilty of creating a ‘them and us’ scenario. Or just waiting for the law to make change obligatory. But we shouldn’t rely on the law to be truly hospitable. And so this is our call to action to tourism organisations, from tour operators to tourist boards. Hotels to hostels. In consultation with some of the leading world experts, here are some fundamental pointers to creating a more inclusive and, therefore, responsible form of tourism. We look forward to hearing your feedback.

Understanding accessibility


Martin Heng, Accessible Travel Manager & Editorial Adviser, Lonely Planet (Australia): “It is important to remember that people with mobility issues are the most visible sector of the disability community but by far not the only members of that community. The main categories are mobility, sight, hearing and cognitive, such as acquired brain injuries or autism. But then you can take it a step further and talk about people who suffer from allergies, and food allergies in particular, are also on the disability spectrum. So the categories within the disability sector are huge.

“The idea of what is accessible is a very broad term, and what is accessible for one person may not be for another, even though their injuries or diagnoses are the same. I am a very good example of that. My brother and I are both C4 quadriplegics, but my brother has no movement below his neck, whereas I can ambulate indoors with a pair of crutches or a walking frame. That means our needs are completely different, even though our condition can be described as pretty much the same. So, you can’t rely on someone saying ‘oh yes, we have accessible rooms’. It means almost nothing actually”.

Julià Montero Ortega, founder of our supplier, Barcelona Zero Limits: “When we started our company, we wanted to not just talk about accessibility, but about being inclusive in tourism. Because accessibility is a concept that is about buildings. About putting ramps, extra handles and so on. However, I prefer the term ‘inclusive’ in tourism. So, if a hotel or activity is inclusive, this means that it can be enjoyed by everyone. It is not only for people with disabilities. Because when you seek out an ‘accessible’ activity, it isn’t always the best option. Because it is just been created for people with disabilities, doesn’t mean that it is the best activity or hotel. They are two different concepts – we need to move from accessibility to inclusivity”.

“If you use the concept of ‘disability’ in a product, it is blind marketing really. Because it is a negative concept. Disability activities, cultural visits and so on. No, this is wrong. It is not necessary to use ‘disability’ or ‘handicap’ or any other word, but the most important thing to understand is that I am just a customer. I would choose a hotel because it is beautiful rather than because it has a ramp instead of steps. I can work out a way of handling the steps, or the hotel can help me, but really I would really prefer to enjoy the building”.

Fiona Smart co-founder of our supplier Mas Pelegri, a superb sports hotel in Girona Spain: “So many businesses don’t really understand disabilities, or elderly people, who need very different things than other guests. So, you can’t take a customised approach, like on booking websites such as booking.com. I hate those, because you can’t chat with the guest. If they go through a generic booking website, then we don’t get their details until they have paid, and even then we often don’t get all their needs. So, it is really important to have direct contact with the guest, so that you can understand all their access issues, before they book.”

Brian Seaman, accessible tourism expert, who worked at leading charity, Tourism for All UK for 19 years: “Tourism businesses need to remember that accessibility isn’t all about wheelchairs, but also about sensory disabilities, learning disabilities and particular needs such as medical conditions – and try and cater for all these needs as much as they can, given their resources.”

Customer service


Chris Veitch, leading consultant in accessible and inclusive tourism: “Research shows that the major barrier according to people with access issues, is attitude – the lack of welcome. The lack of warmth. The second barrier is lack of information available. And then, only third on the list, are the physical barriers and lack of facilities. Accessibility is an issue of quality of service, not rights. So, don’t give me a menu written in gold font, in 10 point Times New Roman font on a white background, because I might have a lovely meal, but it will already have been spoiled because I couldn’t read the menu. By just being a bit clearer, it would have improved the quality of the experience so much. And this is just at one end of the spectrum. For people at the other end of the spectrum, knowing about door widths, bed pulls, and so on, is fundamental.”

Tourist Boards


Chris Veitch, leading consultant in accessible and inclusive tourism: “The tourist boards need to produce tools and supports for businesses in this area. But what they also need are successful businesses in this area talking to other businesses. Tourist boards also need to mainstream accessibility into all the areas of business. So, if they are talking about marketing, they need to reference the benefits of accessible websites. If talking about customer service, they need to include the message about accessibility. It should not be a separate subject, but integrated in all areas”.

Information


Chris Veitch, leading consultant in accessible and inclusive tourism: “Developing information is one of the key areas of inclusive tourism. We are not talking about people who have come from another planet. They are just people, first and foremost, who want to have a lovely holiday. It is not about having a product that says ‘this is for disabled people’. Because they might want to go skydiving, an archaeological dig or whatever. It is about just adapting existing products. For example, if a young person who is deaf wants to go skiing, how can we ensure that when they are not skiing, they can fully participate and really enjoy the other facilities? And this is where information is key.”

The business case


Martin Heng, Accessible Travel Manager & Editorial Adviser, Lonely Planet (Australia): “People with disabilities are a huge potential market – the UN puts the figure at 1 billion people with disabilities, and then the multiplier effect on top of that, with studies showing that people with disabilities travel on average with 3.4 other people. And the argument that businesses will listen to is, of course, the economic argument. This has shifted away from just talking about the accessible tourism market for people with disabilities, but also for retiring baby boomers. And this is what is catching the attention of the tourism market than people with a disability per se. And these retiring baby boomers are retiring with access issues, whether they identify as disabled or not. People talk about the value of the disability sector as the Purple Pound. And there are a growing number of tour companies responding to this.”

Chris Veitch, leading consultant in accessible and inclusive tourism: “Recent research shows that the European tourism sector is missing out on as much as €142 billion due to rubbish services and attitudes. If destinations were accessible, demand could increase by 44% a year. Shall we repeat that? You shouldn’t need a hearing loop to catch the message loud and clear on this one. People with access needs really want to travel.”

So, why the Purple Pound? No one seems to be able to answer that. At Responsible Travel we think this quote sums it up rather wisely.

“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it.”
- Alice Walker, The Color Purple

Think beyond the wheelchair


Fiona Smart co-founder of our supplier Mas Pelegri, a superb sports hotel in Girona Spain:“I was just training someone this morning. This amazing woman who is turning 60 this year and has just recovered from breast cancer. She has decided she wanted to do a 100 mile bike event and do a spring triathlon. So this week was the first time on a road bike and she has already biked 50 miles yesterday. She was a little afraid of the open water swimming, but with a wetsuit for buoyancy and our support, it helped her lose the stress a little. Real inspiration.”

“We had a lovely guest recently who had Parkinson ’s disease, and who was in his electric wheelchair all the time. He wasn’t able to take part in activities but he loved being able to get around the place, and watch his family enjoy the facilities and get to do stuff. That is really important for families. For example, we have had families to stay where one child was not technically ‘disabled’ but just not as motor coordinated as others. We just had a family where one child had a palsy and pretty limited motor control. We went to the ropes course, but he felt that was a bit too much for him, so the other guys did the ropes course, and he did the archery there. And that was within him. They went off on bikes every day, as he was very happy cycling. So, there is such a range of what people call ‘disabilities’.”

Chris Veitch, leading consultant in accessible and inclusive tourism: “Only 4 percent of the UK’s ‘Purple Pound’ or disability sector are wheelchair users. People with learning difficulties account for 12 percent and 47 percent are people with long term illness. And then there are dietary requirements. Gluten free is a huge market right now. 70 percent of disabled people have invisible disabilities. But no matter how extreme the person’s needs, it is all about hospitality and giving the guest an amazing, memorable experience. It is about that smile. This intangible element of good service is very important in tourism. We all know that. But for people with access requirements, it is absolutely crucial.”
Responsible Travel would like to thank Catalunya for their sponsorship of this guide
Photo credits: [Braille info board: Catalunya.com] [Guest at Mas Pelegri: Mas Pelegri]
Written by Catherine Mack
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