The Paralympic Games present the perfect opportunity for Britain to show that it's open for all. Making your business accessible may seem daunting, but simple steps can improve the experience for everyone. Nick Huber explains
The 2012 Paralympic Games in London present a golden opportunity for the capital's hotels, restaurants and bars that are prepared for the needs of people with disabilities. Visitor spend generated by the London games between 2007 and 2017 will be £2.35b, of which £1.85b will spent in London, according to research by Oxford Economics, commissioned by tourism bodies VisitBritain and VisitLondon.
And with just over a year to go before the "greatest show on earth" begins, operators have limited time to show the world that London and the rest of the UK is a great destination for people with disabilities.
Making your restaurant or hotel welcoming for disabled visitors may sound daunting, but experts stress that improving accessibility need not be expensive, complex or time-consuming.
And with a little planning, making your business more accessible for disabled customers should pay off for years after the Paralympic Games. Around one in four (27%) of the UK population have a long-standing health problem or disability, according to VisitEngland.
But where should you start? Disability is a broad term, of course, including people in wheelchairs, people who have hearing and sight problems, people with speech problems, and elderly people who need help to climb stairs.
Three steps to accessibility
Experts say hospitality operators can tackle making a restaurant or hotel accessible for disabled visitors in three basic stages: facilities, marketing information, and staff training.
First, review your facilities for disabled people. Consider the lay-out of the hotel or restaurant. Does it have wheelchair ramps? And how many steps are there to the front door?
The second step is to provide detailed and accurate information online and in print about your facilities for disabled customers. The third priority is to make sure that your staff are given training to help them understand the needs of disabled customers.
"An accurate and honest access statement may mention that a [hotel or restaurant] has 16 steps to the front door and provide the width of the door, as well as the number of rooms on the ground floor," says Jeremy Brinkworth, director of business development at VisitEngland. "This information helps visitors gauge what they can or can't do."
Hotels and restaurants should explain their facilities for disabled customers, including how they comply with regulations such as the Equality Act. This information can be included in an "access statement" on your web site. You can get advice on how to write an access statement from tourism industry groups such as VisitEngland.
If your facilities for disabled people are good, your business may qualify for the "National Accessible Scheme" (NAS) - a nationally recognised rating run by VisitBritain to ensure that accommodation meets the needs of people with physical and sensory needs.
Don't forget to train your staff in how to better understand the needs of disabled customers. Training can be done online (between shifts if necessary), or in the classroom. Tourism for All, a charity which provides tourist information to the public, especially to older or disabled people, gives members free training courses in welcoming disabled customers.
"Often [hospitality industry] staff don't have the confidence to deal with people with disabilities," says Tim Gardiner, consultant at Tourism for All.
Some modifications for accessibility, such as wheelchair ramps or fitting hoists in hotel rooms to lift disabled customers out of bed, can be relatively expensive. But many others solutions are cheap and quick to do - for example, fitting a doorbell at hotel's front door to alert reception staff if a customer needs help getting into the building.
10 ways to benefit from the Paralympic tourist market
â- Make sure you are at ease and confident with disability - sign up for disability awareness training.
â- Check out the key skills and knowledge templates devised for your front line staff and management team - www.visitengland.org/improveaccess.
â- Know the law - the Equality Act 2010 replaced the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.
â- Check out business case studies to find out what other hospitality businesses are doing.
â- Review checklists to identify the skills and knowledge required in your business.
â- Facilities - get your business accredited - apply to VisitEngland "One Step Ahead" and the National Accessible Scheme (accommodation) and the "Visitor Attraction Quality Assurance Scheme" (attractions).
â- Information, communication and marketing - write an "access statement" - a description of your facilities and services to inform people with access needs.
â- Join OpenBritain, a published guide and website used by disabled visitors and tourists.
â- Check your website is easy to navigate. Is its design easy to view for people with disabilities, in accordance with W3C guidelines for accessibility?
Investing in training can boost sales
International hotel group IHG, whose brands include Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza and InterContinental, is the official hotel provider for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
In the UK, the company has been working on projects to make its hotels more accessible for disabled customers for about 10 years.
Facilities include vibrating pillows (to alert customers with hearing problems to a fire alarm); emergency alarm pull-cords; room hoists, wide doors for wheelchair access; and roll-in showers. UK staff do half-day training courses every six months in how to deal with disabled customers and have to re-sit the training if they fail a test at the end.
IHG says its accessible hotel rooms have a high occupancy rate and have a bigger share of the disabled tourism market than rivals.
Your guide to the perfect welcome… China
To ensure you are equipped to offer the best possible welcome to every international visitor, each month Caterer and Hotelkeeper will feature key phrases in a selection of languages that you're likely to encounter. This month we look at China.
Hello Nihao (pronounced "knee how")
Good morning Zao An
Goodbye ZÁ ijiÁ n (pronounced "zaijen")
Tip Avoid saying "thank you" to a compliment. Instead, politely deny it to show humility. If you compliment a Chinese person, expect a denial.