Reception is the hub of any hotel regardless of its size. It keeps all departments informed about a wide range of matters and has a pivotal role in delivering great customer service to all its guests and visitors. There is a great advantage when dealing with disabled people as they tell you they have special needs. They want to book an accessible room or need extra space at a restaurant table because they have an electric wheelchair.
The issue is that the person from the hotel that receives that buying signal is not automatically tuned in to what they should do next. This will require training and the sooner that is done the better for the hotel's financial performance because this market is worth £2b in the UK alone. Too often management say, "Oh we can't do that for disabled customers because we can't afford it" but that is simply not true. What it does require is a change of attitude from "I can't do that" to "I will do that".
A person with a disability wants to be treated as a person. They usually love going out, seeing or hearing different things and talking to new people. They share hobbies and interests like everyone else and it is very easy to provide them with a great customer experience. However, the really important first contact with reception needs to be handled correctly. The receptionist must know how to react when someone asks for an accessible room. My advice is ask all the questions you would do normally and then ask "At XYZ hotel we like to welcome every guest and ensure all their needs are met, our rooms are accessible but is there anything extra we can help you with?"
You can also find out how they will be arriving at the hotel and at what time. The future guest may need help with taxi information and if they are arriving by car find out when and then ensure an accessible car parking space is reserved. On the day of arrival tell the porter to expect the guest so he can help with luggage or impairment aids. It really is that simple and it makes a huge difference to the person with the disability and the carer with them.
eight tips for an accessible reception
1 Be honest about your facilities. If there is no access to certain parts of the building such as the spa then tell the guest at the outset. This will avoid any disappointment later. It will also give the guest the opportunity to book elsewhere.
2 If there are some restrictions about accessibility, for example, you are a listed building, then have details of hotels in your area that can help. A referral in this situation will be very much appreciated.
3 Have a sign at the end of the accessible car parking space to show that this space is reserved for Mr Smith. Do not use a bollard to reserve it as this is just another obstruction to overcome.
4 Provide a space for checking-in people with disabilities. This could be lowering part of the reception desk, having a suitable table opposite reception or by taking the person straight to the room.
5 Don't ignore the person with the impairment, it is very easy to talk to a carer and forget there is another person there. When offering assistance ensure you suggest this to both the carer and the person with the disability.
6 Make sure you and the guest know what action is needed and what will happen if the fire alarm rings. This will vary according to the disability. A wheelchair user may need a refuge area and someone with a hearing impediment may need a buzzing pillow to alert them.
7 You may have different types of accessible rooms. For example, a wheelchair user needs more space in the bathroom while a visually impaired person needs more light in their room. Receptionists need to know the difference as it is very annoying to be sent to the wrong room type.
8 If you have key cards then is there a telephone or intercom nearby that the disabled person can use to call reception. If not make sure they have the hotel number so they can use their mobile.
Arnold Fewell is managing director of AVF Marketing. He is a permanent wheelchair user