Disabled travellers ‘continue to be overlooked’, says inclusive travel entrepreneur

The travel industry has been accused of being afraid of making mistakes when booking holidays for disabled travellers, meaning the community “continues to be overlooked”.

Inclusive travel entrepreneur Richard Thompson told Atas operators they “fear getting it wrong” because they “don’t understand” some customers’ requirements.

The co-founder and chief executive of Inclu said “travel does not exist for the majority of disabled people” because the infrastructure is not there to support them, claiming no advancements had been made in nearly 30 years.

More: Comment: The narrative around ‘accessible travel’ has to change

How to plan a holiday for a family with a neurodiverse child

Agents call for ‘one-stop shop’ for accessible travel information

He urged operators to invest in educating staff so they can better advise disabled travellers on the tours and itineraries that would be suitable for their specific needs.

“[Disabled travellers] are not a niche group,” he said. “This is the last major untapped market in travel and we have to realise this is the lowest-hanging fruit we’ve had in decades.

“No one needs [operators] to become inclusivity specialists. This is about understanding the requirements for people with physical and sensory challenges – the vast majority of whom are regular travellers who have a slightly different set of requirements – and to support them.”

Gold Medal managing director Simon Applebaum had a different view. He said enquiries from disabled travellers should be left to experts, because educating the trade to the level of detail needed to fully advise someone with a disability would be too challenging.

Applebaum emphasised operators are not in control of the aircraft, hotels and transport providers they work with, so it was not always possible to confirm whether a disabled traveller would be catered for on every step of their holiday.

“It isn’t fear that’s stopping advancements in this space, it is corporate risk,” he said. “We don’t control our environments like cruise ships do – they have 360-degree ownership of their space. Operators and hoteliers don’t have that.

“This is best in the hands of specialists who can understand the individual needs of customers. I am a huge supporter of the trade, but when someone has very specific needs, I encourage them to book direct with the accommodation because they need an expert.”

Thompson responded by saying “things will never change” if that was the mindset of all in the industry.

“I totally disagree,” he said. “You shouldn’t be sending someone on a holiday unless you understand the hotel you’re sending them to.”

Share article

View Comments

Jacobs Media is honoured to be the recipient of the 2020 Queen's Award for Enterprise.

The highest official awards for UK businesses since being established by royal warrant in 1965. Read more.