As far as wheelchair-bound holidaymaker John Roberts’ Disability Travel Challenge is concerned, I am not surprised by his comments about his trip. I am encouraged by the number of positive experiences he has had.
Many in the trade are ill-equipped to sell holidays for the disabled. Hindrances include inaccessible shops, poorly trained staff and, most importantly, a lack of quality, verified information concerning the suitability of properties and the infrastructure of many destinations.
Some agents’ perception of disabled travellers is that they are time consuming, difficult to accommodate, and not that many of them regularly visit high-street agencies.
Why would one devote time and resource to catering for the sort of customer who rarely visits and can seldom be helped? Being a wheelchair user myself, I can get away with saying this, but why would agents try hard to help somebody they probably don’t know how to address?
In a competitive environment, agents are looking for niches and new markets – ignoring the disabled community may be a costly mistake.
Larger travel agency chains could consider opening up flagship offices, where the staff are trained, their facilities meet the needs of the disabled traveller, and the staff are briefed on suitable products.
While things are getting better, the world is not totally accessible and not everyone is familiar or comfortable with disability. So a wheelchair user cannot expect to be able to access all the facilities or attractions in a foreign country.
Therefore, it is unreasonable and unrealistic for a disabled person to apportion blame to a travel agent or tour operator when some facilities are lacking in foreign resorts.
What is important, however, is that when suitable facilities do exist, they need to be accurately represented and procured in a detailed and professional manner.
If a hotel professes to be wheelchair friendly, it is imperative that the agent or operator validate this information independently and accurately record details of the facilities.
Therefore, any agency or operator contemplating serving the disabled community must ensure suitability reports are carried out by its own staff, and not rely on third-party information.
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