Fear factor is hampering accessibility

By Arnold.Fewell

October 31, 2014

For hotels to embrace accessibility, they need to invest in training from people that really understand what those with disabilities are looking for, says Arnold Fewell

In 2010 VisitEngland announced that the value of the stay away from home market for people with disabilities was £2b in England alone. This makes it a huge market and surely one that would be of interest to hoteliers.

Unfortunately, the figure didn’t focus many minds, and few hoteliers embraced the point that looking after people with disabilities was not about hiding behind the Equality Act but more about providing great customer service. Those that embrace accessibility, like the past winners of the Cateys Accessibility Award, reap the benefits.

So why didn’t more follow suit? That is a question I find very difficult to answer. There are very few hoteliers that do not put the provision of great customer service at the centre of the business. I accept that for all sorts of reasons this can’t always be delivered.

It might be due to an error by either the guest or a member of staff; a misunderstanding; a shortage of staff; failure by a third party to deliver an order; bad weather that causes a maintenance issue; sickness and mechanical breakdowns. Despite the challenges hotel staff will make every effort to provide great customer service. Unfortunately, the exception is people with disabilities.

I stay in hotels on a regular basis and have conducted market research with people that have an impairment. The sad fact is that the hotel industry is not providing great customer service to this market segment. One of the reasons for this is that 65% of the general public will not go to the help of a person with a disability, according to BT Research. In the main this is down to fear – either of doing something wrong or
making the matter worse and being prosecuted.

The only way to overcome this is through good quality training from people that really understand what those with disabilities are looking for.

Some will say they can’t afford this investment in training. But the latest VisitEngland figures present a compelling argument. The results of its accessible tourism research for 2013 found that:

• The value of overnight tourism in England from this market has risen 33% since 2009 to more than £2.7b in 2013, involving 14 million trips by Britons

• There is a further £300m spent by visitors from abroad

• £9.4b is spent on day trips I hope these figures will encourage and inspire hoteliers to put the accessible market much closer to the heart of their business plans. Many people come to understand this market when either they personally have a disability or a member of the family does.

The latter situation might be unavoidable as we all live longer. Whenever we do experience disability two facts remain:

• The value of the market is huge and is set to grow still further, so will repay most investments that are made

• Staff must be trained in how to look after people with disabilities so they are more confident and the fear factor disappears.I just hope that in four years’ time I am not writing a similar article because hoteliers have missed the point again.

Arnold Fewell is managing director of AVF Marketing and AccessChamp, the online accessibility training resource for hoteliers