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Our previous blog post relating to accessible tourism explored the markets and opportunities that this area of development offers to both businesses and destinations.  This article explores the barriers that disabled people, and others with access requirements, can face when travelling and looks at the practical things that businesses and destinations can do to improve accessibility and potentially deliver benefits for all visitors.

A recent report for VisitScotland [1] highlighted that, for some people at least, the time, energy, stress and planning required for disabled people to have a successful holiday in Scotland was so great as to put them off.  Indeed, when asked where the best place was to go in Scotland as a disabled person, one participant answered simply “Home”! How many other disabled people feel like this about businesses and destinations that don’t necessarily put themselves into the shoes of their visitors and see their whole experience and their perspective on booking, travelling to and from the destination, getting around and identifying in an easy and consistent way what each business offers them?

The key issue is that we in the tourism industry tend to think of accessible tourism as being something 'different', that needs to be managed separately from, and in addition to, the management of the rest of the business or destination; something that cuts across all our other business activities rather than being integral to them. We need to get away from this way of thinking. Disabled people do not form some sort of niche market: they are just part of the mainstream market that all successful businesses and destinations need to be, and in many cases already are, reaching out to, if they are to be sustainable in the longer term.

After more than twenty years of legislation it’s time to move away from seeing accessibility as being simply about compliance, where you are required to make changes to your business because there is a legal obligation not to discriminate against disabled people, and think instead about the genuine positive business case for accessibility, which we explored in the previous article. 

There are great examples of businesses that do understand the enormous benefits to be gained by developing their offer to be inclusive and accessible to everybody.  These businesses have in common their aim to deliver outstanding customer experiences and great memories for everybody and their recognition of the benefits, for their customers, their business and the destination, of adopting this strategy. They truly see this as a win, win, win situation for everybody.

The VisitScotland research found that what disabled people want are the things that every visitor wants: good customer service, that makes them feel welcome; marketing and information that is reliable, accurate and relevant, to help them in their decision making, and appropriate facilities to enable them to enjoy their experience to the full. At present these are key barriers for some people, but they can be removed by businesses with the support of their DMO.

Customer Service

Outstanding customer service is driven by two key factors: choosing the right managers and staff and then empowering them, giving them appropriate responsibility to take decisions that are right for the customer and the business.  It also relies on those key words ‘How can I help you?’, listening to customers and responding appropriately.

1.  Staff Training

For some staff there may be a barrier of fear when serving disabled people.  Understandably they may not know what to say, or do, and don’t want to do the wrong thing.  This is of course applicable when serving all customers.  Training staff in awareness and understanding of disability and accessibility can help overcome any fear they may have and help them serve all customers with confidence.

There are a number of providers offering training specifically for those working in the tourism industry. Welcome All and World Host both offer classroom based training courses, but self-paced online courses are also available:

  • VisitScotland’s free online Accessible Tourism training course is designed for managers and frontline staff of tourist accommodation, attractions, eating and drinking establishments;
  • VisitEngand, in partnership with Disabled Go, offers Disability and Equality training;
  • Tourism for All provides an online learning programme ‘Access for All’ which is free to Partners. This programme is shortly to be relaunched under the new title ‘TFA Training’; contact Tourism for All for more details;
  • Inclusive Tourism training slides, can be downloaded from VisitEngland, for use in staff induction and refresher training.

VisitEngland has also produced guides with tips on welcoming those with hearing loss and customers with assistance dogs.

2.  Access Champions

Accessibility in a business will probably be more successful if there is an Accessibility Champion. This is someone who is responsible for embedding accessibility throughout the business, by assessing access provision and promoting equality and diversity.  England’s Inclusive Tourism Action Group has developed a brief for the Champion role, as well as the Top 10 tips for inclusive tourism.

3.  Tourism is for Everybody

Businesses that have a genuine commitment to providing great customer service should join the Tourism is for Everybody campaign. No costs are involved, but the campaign asks businesses to make 9 commitments, that will give potential visitors confidence that they will receive a warm welcome.

Marketing and Information

As for all customers, it is essential for a business to tell those customers with accessibility requirements what exactly they can expect. No one likes nasty shocks and it can be very disappointing if there is a noticeable gap between a business’s marketing promises and the customer’s experience.

As with all marketing and promotion, a business’s accessibility information should be:

  • easy for the customer to find
  • accurate
  • relevant to the customer’s accessibility requirements
  • kept up to date

It is also helpful to offer information in alternative formats, e.g. large print or audio.

1.  Website Accessibility

The first thing to remember is that customer service begins before the business ever sees the customer. It begins, often, with the impression a business gives through its website, or with the impression of the destination a customer gains from the DMO’s website. So, whether from the business or the DMO perspective, think about the accessibility of your website.

Bear in mind that, while accessibility for websites focuses on people with disabilities, it also has benefits for older users, mobile device users, and other individuals, as well as businesses and DMOs themselves [2].  Organisations with accessible websites feature higher in search engine results, reduce their legal risk, demonstrate their corporate social responsibility (CSR), and increase their customer loyalty.

2.  Accessibility Guides

Accessibility Guides (previously known as ‘Access Statements’) give customers information about the accessibility of a business, through photos and descriptions of the business’s premises, services and facilities. 95% of visitors with access requirements look for the Accessibility Guide before deciding to visit a business [3], so it really is an invaluable marketing tool. Not only that, but the Accessibility Guide can be an invaluable staff training tool too, helping to ensure that staff are familiar with the accessible services and facilities the business offers.

VisitEngland and VisitScotland have worked in partnership and developed an online Accessibility Guide tool, to help make it really easy for businesses to produce and promote their own guide.

3.  Detailed Accessibility Information

Alongside Accessibility Guides, businesses and DMOs using systems and websites supplied by New Mind and NVG have the facility to record and promote Self-Assessed Accessibility Details, as shown here:

The value of this facility should not be underestimated. Users of these websites can filter search results according to these fields, which means that customers with specific requirements can easily find businesses that are right for them. The key message here is: make sure these fields are completed accurately and kept up to date, because it could mean more business.

4.  Customer Communications

Another important area to focus on is communications with customers, through your website, in your brochures, over the phone and in person.

VisitEngland’s ‘Communication Toolkits’, based on Universal Design principles, are useful resources to help you communicate effectively with your customers, while the guide ‘Speak Up’ offers businesses key tips on marketing their accessibility effectively.

Facilities

Perhaps surprisingly, being accessible need not be expensive for a business: small changes, often at low or even no cost, can make a huge difference to customers.

The ‘Easy Does It’ guide, produced by VisitEngland and VisitScotland, suggests simple and low-cost improvements that businesses can make to improve their access.

In England, the National Accessible Scheme (NAS) is the only scheme that formally rates the accessibility of visitor accommodation. Holding an independently awarded NAS certification shows that an accommodation provider is committed to provide access for all and gives potential guests a label they can trust, by providing clear expectations for customers when booking.  A number of accommodation businesses that profit from their accessibility have used the NAS scheme as a guide to help them take the first steps toward becoming accessible.

Accessible Destinations

Destination Managers have a very important role to play in the development of accessible tourism.  There are a number of key things you can do:

  • Have a very clear public aim to make your destination as accessible as possible for the benefit of everyone, remembering that local communities, as well as visitors and businesses, are key beneficiaries
  • Promote all the guidance above to businesses in your destination and encourage them to review their customer service, information, marketing and the facilities they offer their customers
  • Promote those businesses in your destination who are working hard to be accessible
  • Have an ‘Accessibility’ tab on the Home Page of your website, which is easy to find and which takes visitors to relevant information
  • Ensure that users of your website are encouraged to look and ask for the Self-Assessed Accessibility Details and Accessibility Guides.  Promote these strongly, because together they are a powerful combination, giving additional information which may mean a customer is either lost or won to the business and your destination
  • Promote and support the Tourism is for Everybody campaign within your destination, through links from your home and accessibility pages, and encourage local businesses to sign up to the campaign (there’s no charge), so that you can encourage visitors to look for businesses that state their commitment to give a warm welcome and great service to disabled customers
  • Consider partnering with a specialist organisation, who could help you to provide training and other services for businesses in your destination at a reasonable price, (and who could, by doing so, add real value to your offering). Tourism for All, for example, offers a range of Partnership packages, one of which could be right for you
  • Consider working with bloggers (as many destinations already do), who can help promote the accessibility of your destination by sharing their local experiences. For example, Carrie-Ann Lightley, of Tourism for All, also has a blog website which relates her own experience and encourages disabled people to travel

VisitEngland has produced some useful resources specifically for destinations, to help develop their accessibility. Destinations for All provides guidance for destination managers on creating a destination for all, while Winning More Visitors provides useful guidance on providing accessibility information on destination websites.

[1] Accessible Tourism Consultation Events – Summary of Findings

[2] Developing a Web Accessibility Business Case

[3] Euan’s Guide Survey

Further information and support:

VisitEngland

Visit Scotland

Tourism for All

Chris Veitch - Biography:

Chris Veitch is an independent consultant with significant and wide experience in the field of accessible tourism. After gaining a First Class degree in Tourism Management, Chris was a policy executive in the English Tourism Council (ETC) managing projects to improve the accessibility of tourism in England. In 2003 he set up his own practice.

Chris has been, and is currently, involved in major European projects, working across Europe including developing accessible tourism in Georgia and Turkey. Nearer to home Chris works closely with Visit England, Visit Scotland and Visit Wales, to help develop and promote Accessible Tourism.

He has collaborated in writing a number of papers and book chapters on this subject and is a regular guest speaker at conferences in Europe and elsewhere. He is also a guest lecturer at universities in the UK and elsewhere.

He recently has assisted the Australian Government in the area of Accessible Tourism working with Tourism Australia, Accessible Tourism with Austrade, Visit Melbourne, Local Govt New South Wales, Queensland Tourism and Events, Gold Coast Management and Commonwealth Games organisers.

Chris’s expertise and knowledge has been recognised by the UK government when in February 2017, he was appointed to be the UK Government Disability Champion for the Tourism Sector.

Chris is a Trustee of the UK Charity Tourism For All and a member of the European Network for Accessible Tourism.

Underlying all of Chris’s work is his passion for providing outstanding customer service for all. The development and implementation of Accessible Tourism is a key step in achieving that goal.

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