We shrink from the real reason why people with disabilities are rarely found enjoying the hotel experience, says Arnold Fewell. Is he right?
For years I have been telling operators of the huge opportunity presented by accessible tourism. It has a market potential of £33b, requires only small adjustments to make a real difference to great customer service, and eliminates the risk of negative PR and legal cases, while any fear staff may have of disability can be overcome by a commitment to training.
Yet as I continue to stay in hotels on a regular basis and talk to other people with disabilities it is apparent that very little is happening. Almost every night my life is put at risk as a result of inadequate fire procedures. I have asked myself why this remains the case on so many occasions that I now want to ask you.
I can think of only two reasons for continuing to do nothing. The first is fear. Research by BT has shown that the fear of making a situation worse or doing something wrong is enough to stop the public going to the help of a disabled person in an emergency. But why is it stopping senior managers doing anything in a business where making a few adjustments will increase profitability?
If you talk to hoteliers within a chain they will argue it is not company policy and refer you to head office. When you try and talk to head office you get referred to different people such as health and safety, HR and very occasionally someone who has accessibility as a specific role. These people rarely have the right knowledge and experience; even more importantly they don't have the authority to make the decisions required.
So why are independents doing nothing? Do they fear it will mean extra work for staff, corridors cluttered up with wheelchairs, the need for extra space in bedrooms, or older people being disorientated and needing help in new surroundings?
At some time every family will have to deal with a disability. It could be anything from a temporary situation when a young child breaks their leg to an older relative having mobility issues or dementia.
The industry will have to change and improve at some time, so why not sooner rather than later? I really do want to find out what is stopping the growth of this market and why disabled people are simply not coming to enjoy themselves in hotels and restaurants. We know they have the money, so I am asking for your help. Can we start a debate about why there are so few great examples of where disabled guests are warmly welcomed, time after time, because they have become regular and loyal customers? To those that have already made this happen, I say thank you; to everyone else I am asking you to get your act together now.
I will welcome your comments either directly (firstname.lastname@example.org) or via The Caterer.
Arnold Fewell runs online training resource www.accesschamp.co.uk and is a permanent wheelchair user