Accommodation for disability access Award


The Best accommodation for disability access category awards a hotel or place to stay that is accessible and enjoyable for all, welcoming travellers of all physical and mental capabilities.

Explained: Responsible tourism should be accessible to all travellers. Last year we focused on attractions and facilities, this year the Best disability access in accommodations category is for places to stay that set the standard for accessible tourism practices, and serve as an example to the tourism industry.

What the Judges want: Accommodation providers who have integrated progressive policies and practices of inclusion and accessibility into the heart of the business – this is not only about wheelchair access, but about an ethos of accessibility that runs into the core of the hotel.

2015 Winners

gold award: Endeavour Safaris and Scandic Hotels

Gold award: Endeavour Safaris
It is rare to see a conventional tourism business get its head around what disability access really means, but when a safari company does it, you really have to take your khaki hat off. And most importantly, Endeavour Safaris understands inclusivity in tourism. Because they are not just about providing safari camps for people with disabilities. They are just about providing nop notch safari camps. For everyone.

Endeavour Safaris, based in Northern Botswana, but offering safaris to Namibia and South Africa as well, takes guests on mobile safaris sleeping in state of the art, luxury safari tents. The difference between this and other safari companies is that it caters for people with varying disability and access issues through the use of its specially designed mobile tents. Tourists then travel to different places throughout the holiday, including remote spots such as the islands of the Okavango Delta where they can camp under the stars after a day on safari. Inclusivity is at the core of Endeavour Safari's work, taking accessible tourism away from niche to norm and showing that tourism accommodation, even in the wildest of environments, can be enjoyed by nearly all tourists. Access requirements are not frowned upon at Endeavour, be they mobility, visual, hearing or other medical issues. And with inclusivity at the core of what they do, their vision is to also have people with and without disabilities working alongside each other within the business too, particularly with the forthcoming opening of their 100% inclusive Lodge, where integration will be continue to be the inspiring ethos.
Gold award: Scandic Hotels
Not only are Scandic Hotels about location, location, location, but they are also about information, information, information. The bugbear of most people with access issues, especially in mainstream tourism, is that there is NO information to help them on websites. Nordic Hotel chain Scandic Hotels has proved that this is actually a no brainer, leading the way in mass tourism becoming accessible tourism.

Scandic Hotels has a network of 230 hotels, catering both for corporates and families, in the Nordic countries, Germany, Belgium and Poland. When you go on their website, you will see a link to 'Special Needs', not just a badge to say 'wheelchair friendly'. This link opens up a whole world of information for people travelling with access issues, be they visual, aural, cognitive and so on. They have put accessible tourism at the core of what they do, not only to support their brand image of being a hotel chain that welcomes everyone, no matter what their background or needs, but also through a realisation that there is a rapidly growing market for fully integrated, accessible accommodation in the mass tourism sector. Because, like it or not, we are all getting older and none of us wants to stop travelling, thank you.

From creating the role of Accessibility Ambassador and their own accessibility standard, to refitting rooms and facilities, Scandic get it. For example, the information given on their website goes way beyond the generic 'We have 5 wheelchair friendly rooms', but details door measurements, design aspects such as wardrobe openings or desk design, bed height, bathroom specifications and so on. They also make their resources and knowledge around accessibility freely available to their competitors and other tourism businesses. Because Scandic Hotels knows that giving the full picture, with regards to accessible tourism facilities, is the only picture we should be giving in this day and age, to be fully responsible and respectful towards all travellers.
Silver award: RuralSuite Hotel Apartamentos****
These guys, in the Navarre region of Northern Spain fully understands and embraces the fact that people with disabilities want to travel just as much as other people, whether it is for work or play. They understand that, just like everyone, people with disabilities want an adventure, to stay in beautiful accommodations, discover new places and cultures. Because tourism has to be inclusive, and RuralSuite Hotel Apartamentos realised that in order for them to be inclusive, they had to do more than the basic, legal requirements. But they made that look easy. Maybe because Navarre's tourism is all about natural experiences anyway. And at RuralSuite Hotel Apartamentos catering for all needs certainly comes naturally.

At RuralSuite Hotel Apartamentos, being inclusive is also about being insightful. Finding out not only exactly what people's needs might be, but also what their travel desires are. So, they have created a very informative website, giving all the details travellers with disabilities might require. They also aim to have their website fully accessible in the next year or so too. They have created stylish apartments that are in keeping with the designer feel to the hotel generally, but which also cater for various needs, with accessible kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms. The common areas, from the outdoor Jacuzzi to the restaurant are also designed with accessibility in mind. Activities at the hotel are inclusive, with adapted quad bike trips around their vast estate, horseriding and cycling just a few of the things to do here. Their attention to detail is superb, helped along by their partnership with Spanish accessibility experts ONCE, PREDIF and RedStable.

What's great about RuralSuite Hotel Aparamentos, as with all the award winners in this category, is that they realise one thing: People with special needs would like their needs to be catered for, but they do not want to be treated as 'special'. They just want to be treated as guests. Ironically, because all these award winners have succeeded in doing just that, we think that they are all, in fact, very special.

2014 winners

Gold award: Campo and Parque dos Sonhos and Cavan Town & Environs.

Gold award: Campo and Parque dos Sonhos
From coffee plantation to fully accessible outdoor activity centre in the luscious hinterlands of Sao Paulo. You can't get more fairly traded coffee than that. Because although Campo and Parque dos Sonhos hotel and adventure park started life in 1997 as a coffee plantation and organic farm, it is now a model of accessible tourism for the whole of Brazil, and beyond.

The responsible tourism movement is, admittedly, late in the day in recognising the importance of incorporating accessibility into its movement to make travel more fair and square. And when you see businesses like Campo and Parque dos Sonhos , which has raised the Brazilian and international bar in terms of accessibility and in outdoor adventure tourism, it makes you realise how quickly we can all make up for lost time. Ten years ago disabled people in Brazil hardly left their homes, until a new law enforced basic criteria which enabled people with disabilities to have access to public places within the next four years. At that time, the eco visionary who had created Campo and Parque dos Sonhos, local entrepreneur José Fernandes Franco, was already taking steps that went leaps and bounds beyond his legal obligations.

Not only did they make bedrooms, bathrooms, restaurants, swimming pools, and all of the common areas accessible with the usual ramps and hand bars, but there are also tactile floors, tactile maps and menus for visually impaired people, a reservation center for deaf and kennels for guide dogs. They also invite people with disabilities to get outdoors and active, just like all their fully abled guests and have adapted adventure equipment, created new operational procedures and provided free motorised wheelchairs, meaning that staff are fully trained to assist and welcome guests with all disabilities - mental, developmental and physical. Consequently, they now provide accessible zip lining, canopy tour, carriage rides, hiking trails and accessible bicycles, to name but a few.

As well as hosting over 4,000 visitors with disabilities in 2013, it is not surprising that Campo and Parque dos Sonhos has inspired the council to make the entire city accessible, seeing that it was not only ethical but excellent for improving visitor numbers too. Campo and Parque dos Sonhos was not only the first hotel to be certified for accessibility in Brazil but also still works with organic principles, with all food grown on the plantation being used in the hotel, and the land still used as a working dairy farm. It's just all go at Campo. Maybe it's something in the coffee.
Gold award: Cavan Town & Environs
Cavan town is the heart of County Cavan, Ireland, a region packed with lakes and luscious countryside. Cavan town is also a celebrated town with many fine buildings and historic sites attracting 100,000 visitors a year. Since it undertook an Access Audit in 2007, Cavan has also made major efforts to become a fully accessible town.

Cavan town is a drumlin town with steep hills which have made it tricky in the past for visitors with physical disabilities. Since it undertook an Access Audit in 2007, Cavan County Council incorporated various changes to the town, such as introducing by-laws to prevent street signage and furniture blocking the footpaths. The Tourist Board works closely with hotels and other accommodation to ensure they understand the social and economic benefits of enhancing accessibility. This has been supported by the CRAIC (Creating Reasonable Accommodation in Cavan) Advisory group which comprises thirteen local disability groups (it is now called the IDEAL network). Cavan town has provided training for a hundred people in disability awareness and also had 500 local businesses audited by UK organisation DisabledGo with regards to accessibility within their business. Already awarded an European EDEN award for accessible tourism, Cavan may be a small town on the Emerald Isle, but it stands out as one of the most glittering examples of what all towns can do when it comes to providing equal access to residents and tourists alike.
Silver award: NATIVE Charming Hotels and Accessible Tourism
Based in Madrid, this alliance of hotels promotes total accessibility at all of its hotels, focussing on excellent communication methods so that people of all disabilities can inform themselves about hotel facilities. This starts with its website,, which is in six languages, and has two systems of accessibility, the well-known W3C-WAI (level AA) system and the new Inclusite system.

Native Hotels believes that the lack of communication in tourism for people with disabilities is "a blatant apartheid for millions of people who can't enjoy leisure time with dignity". Consequently, they have created an easy booking system for visitors with disabilities who can book without assistance or intervention. You can select a hotel and make a reservation whether you are deaf, mute, blind or have no use of your hands, just by blowing over a microphone, for example. Signage and hotel information leaflets are all in Braille, as are the toiletries, bath taps and so on. And using smart technology, Native Hotels gives guests a magnetic room key, which includes a BiDi code containing all the information you need about the hotel and its environs. This information can then by converted to vocal text using a smartphone. Which is smart. Just like the whole chain of hotels, not only in the forward thinking way, but in the contemporary chic way too.

Videos about disability access

Lynne Kirby from Enable holidays talks about how accessible travel is changing: 10 years ago some people didn't even entertain the idea of going abroad. Much has improved but we need to build confidence.

José Fernandes Franco describes how Parque dos Sonhos holidays facilitate disabled travel:

Our infrastructure and activities include everybody. From enabling people with quadriplegia to go rafting and people with paraplegia to zip line, to allowing both the able bodied and people with a range of disabilities to go horseriding and sightseeing together. The reactions are fantastic. "I never thought about doing this before. I feel like all the other people."

Written by Justin Francis
Photo credits: [Page banner: Endeavour Safaris & Scandic Hotels]