Paul Fogarty hears horror stories every week from disabled holidaymakers whose trips have been a disaster. If nothing else, customers know Paul will understand their plight. Paul is severely disabled. Born with phocomelia, a malformation of the limbs, he has no arms and just one leg; he walks using a false leg and writes using his mouth.
So when he hears customers’ travel tales it makes it even more important to sell them a hitch-free holiday tailored to their needs.
To this end, one of his biggest selling points is that he will ensure a hotel room is guaranteed within 24-48 hours, before customers pay. As hotels only offer a limited number of accessible rooms suitable for disabled guests, this guarantee is worth its weight in gold to clients.
“Unfortunately, people are told they will get an accessible room, but when they get there it’s not available. I hear horror stories like this every week,” says Paul.
He set up his online travel agency Holidaysforthedisabled.com in 2011 after a three-year struggle to keep his mainstream agency Fogarty & Co afloat.
“People had said to me why don’t you sell holidays for the disabled but I brushed it aside. As a kid I never went on ‘disabled’ holidays; I never needed wheelchair hoists. But when I looked into it, I saw there was a huge gap in the market,” he says.
Paul can boast he is one of a handful of travel companies specialising in disabled travel, instead of being “one of a million websites trying to sell everything £5 cheaper”.
To ensure hotels meet the necessary standards he sends out assessment forms asking about everything from the height of the light switches to whether there are water pipes under the bathroom sink (unsuitable for wheelchair users).
“It’s not just the rooms, it’s getting to the bar, the gym, the pool,” says Paul, a Global Travel Group member. He puts together dynamic packages using Triton Rooms and also offers extras such as arranging accessible excursions and for mobility equipment to be delivered to clients.
A further challenge is that he is often dealing with clients who have never been abroad. “We have to talk them through it. Some of them have been going to Butlins for the last 15 years. Often they are most worried about the flight, but that’s the easy bit,” he adds.
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