Disabled agent Harry Wales has only been on three fam trips in 18 years. Here he talks to Juliet Dennis about his educational with Premier Holidays to the Deep South in the US.
Q. How has your disability impacted your ability to travel?
A. I have muscular dystrophy; a weakening of muscles in the leg. I use crutches and a wheelchair. I’ve been in travel 18 years. I was a regional manager for Thomson and I’ve been at Viceroy Travel for six years. It was only when I came here I started going on fam trips; I’ve been on three. You never quite know how you will cope.
Q. How did the Premier trip come about?
A. They offered me a place but didn’t know I was disabled. A lot of people don’t because they only see me sitting behind a desk. I told them I’d love to go but…and then there was a pause. Luckily, because it was the US and the whole country is disabled-friendly, I was able to work with Premier’s national sales manager Carly Charteris to ensure I could go. I went back with what I needed, and she liaised with the tourist board and airline.
Q. How confident were you about going on the trip?
A. You always have the thought “can I manage” and “am I going to be a burden?” The amount of times I was going to call Premier and cancel! About two weeks before I didn’t want to go, but as it got closer I thought “this is going to work”. Every bit of the trip
had been worked out.
Q. Where there any tricky moments?
A. I took my own mobility scooter – renamed Dolly by everyone on the trip – and it needs lithium batteries. When I got to the airport, British Airways said I could not take them on board. It was embarrassing but luckily Premier sorted it for me. The only part of the trip I couldn’t do was the Jack Daniels Distillery. Everyone went upstairs for a tasting – I got a private tour instead. When I first looked at the itinerary I was worried, particularly as the tour moved round different hotels and because Graceland (the home of Elvis Presley) was not geared up for wheelchairs, but there was an alternative entrance.
Q. What were the highlights?
A. I was up on my crutches dancing in BB King’s bar in Memphis – I’ve never done that before!
Q. Has it changed your view on travelling as a disabled person?
A. It’s given me more confidence about travelling on fam trips. I may even go on a trip on my own now! I’m not as afraid. This trip opened my eyes to what is possible.
Q. What is your view on accessible travel?
A. As an industry we should be able to book anyone that comes through the door. If operators could say whether a hotel is accessible, then it could be the difference between a booking or not.
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