Hoteliers that don’t cater to the accessible travel market could be left behind

Several studies have indicated that the accessible travel market is poised to grow dramatically over the next few years. These analyzes have been conducted in Europe and Americas, and the results all tell the same story: multi-billion dollar growth. Given that more than 600 million people worldwide require some level of physical accessibility assistance (due to a permanent, temporary or situational disability), it’s no wonder that so many hoteliers, tour operators, OTAs and destinations have included accessible travel as an essential part of their strategic plans. But are we including the right components and satisfying the needs and wants of these travellers?

Of course, we have considered meeting the requirements imposed by state and federal authorities, but if we are trying to improve, there are undoubtedly better questions to ask: are we doing everything possible to excel and delight these potential travellers? Do we support them throughout the marketing and booking process? Do we ensure that the human factor has been taken into account at our respective points of contact? What are some of the critical factors to consider for these areas?

As a mother of a person with multiple disabilities and as the founder and CEO of Exploryst (a disability travel planning site), I have traveled often and encountered many challenges. Here are some reminders for hoteliers who could help you if you plan to do more to support people with various physical handicaps in this segment:

—The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is not fully comprehensive in the United States. ADA Title III is the bare minimum for hotels and other public accommodations, which include private entities that are open to the public or provide goods or services to the public (restaurants, experiences, commendable transportation, activities, etc.) .

—Invite people with various disabilities (hearing, visual, motor, sensory) to the table when designing spaces and experiences where you want us to feel welcome.

—Ask about any assistance the traveler may need beyond standard protocol.

“Don’t gape, but don’t ignore either – this can be an educational opportunity.

—Recognize and dialogue with people with disabilities, not with a companion, helper or interpreter. We know the world is not built for us, but in recognizing ourselves and the situation, our common humanity goes a long way.

—Ade many failures physically accessible in hotels and accommodation establishments occur in the bathroom, cupboards, beds and entrance doors.

– Having roll-in showers where it is impossible to reach the shower controls from the shower bench, out of reach towel rails and sinks with no space for a wheelchair are common problems. Mirrors can also be hung too high for anyone to see. Soaps can also be out of reach.

–Doors may be too heavy to open on their own when entering a space. In the United States, the door equipment must be able to be activated with a closed fist and not require more than five force pounds to be used.

–The beds may be too high or impossible to adjust by the staff. This might be necessary due to the necessary use of a Hoyer lift.

–Leader’s suggestion: Move a chair around the room and figure out what you can do while sitting.

Wheelchair user sleeping in a hotel room. (Photo via Istock/Getty Images Plus/Vadimguzhva)

One of the best things you can do is have an open discussion with your team. Here are some good questions to discuss with your staff:

1. Where in our environment a person with various bodily needs could he come up against a barrier preventing him from fully accessing space?

2. What assumptions do we make that we should not make? (Advice: do not presume the status of capacity of anyone concerning the transport of luggage, the march over long distances, the borrowing of stairs, etc.)

3. Does our current signage provide options to make the traveler’s journey more accessible and comfortable?

Perhaps the most important thing you can do is be patient with people. Please assume travelers are doing their best. Remember that everyone has the right to be in public places. Do not be evil. Do not shame others for their needs.

Finally, although often neglected, the training of staff on disability awareness and on how to support disabled travelers is essential. Provide general awareness training in disability to all staff and more detailed training on accessibility to staff in contact with customers. Enhance this training with tips, resources and ongoing support. Accessibility training should cover a wide range of topics, including an overview of types of disabilities, disability etiquette and terminology, education on appropriate and inappropriate terms, general awareness of barriers and features of Current accessibility, tips for helping disabled customers and specific knowledge of on -site accessibility characteristics and how to use them. All staff training must also take into account unconscious prejudices, including stereotypes and hypotheses, and actively fight them.

The accessible travel market is indeed exploding; however, the business benefits of the boom will likely depend on how well we educate, prepare and execute to meet the needs of these travelers.