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Catey award winner to pitch to Richard Branson in drive to improve customer service for disabled guests

20 May 2016 by
Catey award winner to pitch to Richard Branson in drive to improve customer service for disabled guests

An inspirational business venture which could revolutionise the hospitality industry is appealing for votes in the Virgin Voom Business competition.

AccessChamp, run by Special Award Catey winner Arnold Fewell, aims to improve customer service for disabled guests and provide hotels with an opportunity to gain part of a £12b market.

Entrants have to battle it out in a public vote and then impress expert judges to be one of just six contenders who pitch their idea to Richard Branson.

In 2003, a life-changing accident made Fewell a permanent wheelchair user. As a former hotel general manager he was shocked at how hotels and restaurants looked after him and other disabled guests and wanted to drive changes that would help others for generations to come. He created AccessChamp to give disabled people a more enjoyable hotel experience and provide hoteliers with a share of this vast growth market.

Fewell said: "Providing great customer service for all guests is key to driving sales and footfall to a hotel or conference centre. However, many hotel staff have received little or no training on looking after disabled customers. I've worked in the industry for many years and can honestly see this from both sides, which is why AccessChamp offers ideas that are easy and affordable to implement."

AccessChamp has been entered into the Voom ‘Growing Business' category and you can vote for them to get through to the next stage online. Voting closes on 23 May and at this point only the top 80 will be submitted for review by an esteemed panel of judges.

BT research carried out in 2012 showed that 65% of the general public would not go to the help of someone with a disability.

Commenting on the research, Fewell said "Having the confidence to fully look after disabled guests is key to increasing revenue. Since my accident, I've stayed in hundreds of hotels and if one has looked after me really well I'll go back time and time again. It only takes one wheelchair user to sell a conference, dinner or wedding and that could lead to an event attended by hundreds of people. So providing appropriate accessibility training for all staff really can make a significant financial difference."

So far the business has been based solely on Fewell's knowledge and experience, but future plans involve creating a network of AccessChamp trainers, who would be able to work with hospitality staff across the UK. Another area of further development is a dedicated website section where hotels, who have received AccessChamp training, are able to promote their venue including all accessible features and benefits. Disabled guests would then be able to search for hotels and have total confidence their needs will be met when they book and arrive.

If AccessChamp was to receive funding from the Virgin Voom competition, one of their trainers will run a free accessibility training course for up to 100 hospitality delegates as a thank you, so your vote really could make a difference to the industry.

Cast your vote for AccessChamp in the Virgin Voom Pitch to Richard Branson competition here.

The Caterer Interview: Arnold Fewell >>

Viewpoint: The shameful truth about dealing with disabilities? >>Are you looking for a new role? See all the current hospitality vacancies available with The Caterer Jobs >>

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