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Not able to see the benefits

25 August 2005

When is this industry going to realise that there is a £5b market opportunity to attract customers with disabilities? Despite efforts by Caterer to encourage the industry to provide for this sector more fully, from my experiences there seems to be very little happening.

This situation is still more mystifying when there is now a legal responsibility to make facilities and services fully available for people with disabilities.

I spend between 100 and 150 bednights away from home each year. I am a wheelchair user, a former Trusthouse Forte general manager and an industry consultant, so I believe that my experiences have some validity.

When I phone to make a booking, my first request is for an accessible bedroom. What I believe is accessible very rarely matches the hotel's idea.

On arrival, one often has to face an obstacle course, from trying to find an empty parking space to being peered at by a receptionist over the front desk. Next, there is a long haul to the bedroom furthest away from reception, to find that the wheelchair won't go into or round the room and bathroom. This happens not just in old buildings but in those of a far more recent construction.

A person with a disability is a profitable opportunity. They may well come with a carer and/or members of an extended family. They often will be staying several nights, and if they are well looked after, they are very likely to return.

A disabled person, like anyone else, wants to arrive safely, get to their room easily, use the bathroom and enjoy the facilities in and around the hotel, restaurant or pub.

Why is it that when a customer makes a booking with access requirements, more information is not offered? By simply asking a few questions, most, if not all, issues can be sorted out before the person arrives. If your facilities are not suitable at present, it is far better to make the potential guest aware of the situation and explain when any access improvements will be completed.

Staff attitude can make all the difference when dealing with disabled people. A quick offer of help or to gain further assistance is often all that is required.

At Caterer‘s breakfast meeting on the Disability Discrimination Act last autumn, it was suggested that it would take 15 years before major accessibility changes had taken place in the UK. Surely this industry is not going to wait another 14 years before it makes co-ordinated efforts to attract this massive market?

Arnold Fewell is managing director of AVF Marketing

Over to you

Sian Alexander, front of house manager, the Cottage in the Wood, Worcestershire

"We have 19 rooms and one has disabled facilities. We got advice as to what we'd need in there but, because we're located at the top of a hill and are popular with walkers, we didn't feel the severely disabled were likely to visit. I don't think you have a choice, as you must conform, so we do what's necessary."

Anthony Flinn Snr, business director, Anthony's, Leeds

"We've put a disabled toilet into the restaurant and arranged a wheelchair access through the addjacent building. We looked into our options and foind that, without great expense, we could accommodate disabled customers. It's easy if you put your mind to it, but the danger is to see it as a chore."

Craig Turner, manager, Blue Lion, East Witton, North Yorkshire

"We had facilities in place before the act, like an accessible bedroom and a ramp. It is difficult to adapt the premises as it's a Grade II-listed building, and we haven't been able to adjust all the rooms. Training staff is important, so they understand you don't have to have wheelchair to be disabled, and you know how to make things easier for guests."

Malcolm John, chef-proprietor, Le Vacherin, Chiswick, London

"Nothing. When I took over, I inherited the restaurant without a disabled toilet, and I haven't made any structural changes, so legally I don't have to put one in. I will add one next year, though. However, in the 18 months I've been here, I've had only one wheelchair user in."

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