Intolerance and barriers can make disabled travellers lives a misery

LONDON - WTM 2012 - REPORT: Disabled holidaymakers who still face countless problems and difficulties when travelling abroad often give up trying to take a holiday overseas, Fiona Jeffery, OBE, Chairman of World Travel Market has said.

“Despite the efforts of some people within the travel industry, the sad fact is that disabled people still encounter notable difficulties from the moment they try to make a booking to go away”, she said.

“The industry has made some strides to overcome these obstacles and ensure access for all, regardless of their disability - but there is still room for substantial improvement.

“The success of the 2012 Paralympic Games in London may have a positive affect for disabled travellers, particularly in terms of people’s unfair and often prejudiced and pre-conceived ideas about disability, but that remains to be seen.

“Disabled people do not want to be pitied or patronised”, she added. “They just want to enjoy the same rights to travel as everyone else and it’s up to the travel industry to make this a total reality, regardless of their disability.

“Issues such as disabled hate crime and obstacles surrounding ease of access encountered by many disabled are still making disabled travellers lives a misery.”

Hate crime – where a victim of verbal or physical abuse believes it was carried out because of disability – is, for example, on the rise in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Police figures revealed this month that there had been more than 2000 offences of disability hate crime had been recorded in 2011, up a third on 2010.

Jeffery is hoping that a second seminar ‘Is the Industry Doing Enough to Cater for People with Disabilities?’ on Thursday 8 November and part of WTM World Responsible Tourism Day’s programme will help to bring into the open some of the problems.

“This important session will ask how much progress has the industry genuinely made and what more needs to be done”, she said.

According to the national UK charity Disabled Living Foundation (DLF), there are more than ten million disabled people in Britain. This includes 770,000 disabled children under the age of 16. In total, around 10 per cent of the world's population, or 650 million people, live with a disability. They are the world's largest minority.

Chairing the seminar on disability and the travel industry is Philippe Rossiter, FIH, Chief Executive of the Institute of Hospitality. He said: “The provision of high quality customer service for people with disabilities is not rocket science but it does mean looking through the eyes of the person with the disability.

“Making sure your building is accessible to wheelchair users, for example, is straight-forward enough (and a legal requirement), but the most important aspect of disability awareness is staff training.

“Is your staff trained to ask the right questions at the time that a disabled person makes a booking so that his or her stay can be as enjoyable and comfortable as possible?

“Do they know how to deal with a disabled person’s needs once they arrive”, questioned Rossiter. “Well-trained and knowledgeable staff is the key to winning the loyalty of this large and lucrative customer base.”

Speaking at the session is Lynne Kirby, Managing Director of Enable Holidays and pioneer operator of disabled holidays who was the first company in the UK to introduce a personal auditing service to identify the levels of accessibility in hotels, apartments and villas throughout the Med, Aegean, Canary Islands, Florida and Egypt.

The company is still believed to be the only operator in the UK to undertake an audit that covers in excess of 140 points.

She emphasised, though, that the situation for disabled had improved in recent years. “Once upon a time it was almost impossible for the disabled to travel with too many barriers, hardships and disappointments”, she said.

Other speakers include Andrew Stembridge, General Manager of the five-star country house hotel Chewton Glen, Hampshire, UK and David Stratton, Holiday Extras and Spike Marketing.

WTM Word Responsible Tourism Day, in association with the UNWTO and sponsored by BBC World News, is the world’s most ambitious responsible tourism initiative designed to educate, motivate and inspire the travel industry to adopt year-round responsible tourism activity.

The actual day -Wednesday 7 November- is supported by a three-day programme of responsible tourism seminars, debates, presentations, speeches and networking on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday 6,7 and 8 November.

‘Is the Industry Doing Enough to Cater for People with Disability?’, South Gallery Room 19 and 20, ExCeL London, 11.00-12.00hrs, Thursday 8 November.


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