Pantou: Martyn, what do you do for a living – how would you describe yourself?
MS: My overall mission for some time now has been to change the world for and with disabled people. I have achieved this through harnessing a community through social media. It all started with my blog and sharing my personal experiences of living with a disability. Both good and bad. It really struck a chord because I was a person and not a brand. Subsequently I left my day job and co-founded Disability Horizons magazine (now in the UK, Spain, Arabic regions, Portugal and Italy), Accomable for accessible accommodation, and recently Accessible Traveller for customer information and discounts. I travel a LOT too, writing about and making videos of my trips. Furthermore I work with governments, charities, the media, accessible travel companies and disabled people throughout my journeys. This is always to improve holidays and general infrastructure for disabled people in the world!
Pantou: You've said once that you weren’t a big traveller in your younger days, as you lacked confidence and it was so complicated to arrange – but you have certainly moved on since then. What inspired you to start travelling? What gave you the confidence enough to do that?
MS: As a person, and separately from having a disability, I think I have always loved travel. To see the world, its different landscapes, diverse people, interesting cultures and languages; it's vital for growth and a fulfilling life. Unfortunately in having a severe disability there are many barriers. It is getting better and there are solutions to get around the existing difficulties. However it can be exhausting and expensive. Having gone away to university, learned to manage carers, passed my driving test, and gained confidence – travel suddenly seemed more possible. I went to Australia in 2005 and never looked back. Having got the travel bug I've been to California, New York, Mexico, Japan and literally all around Europe a couple of times.
Pantou: I'd like to ask you about the start of your new venture with ACCESSIBLE traveller magazine. Why do you think it's so important to convince people with disabilities that they are actually able to travel?
MS: In life there are things we cannot do. However there is a lot we can do too. Travelling with a disability is difficult but more and more possible. The key is 1) getting people to know it's possible and aspire to do it 2) explain the reality of the difficulties 3) provide solutions. Accessible Travel Week shared videos and free downloadable guides in travel. We had videos with Virgin Atlantic on flying and Holiday Inn for accommodation. Accessible Traveller will provide a monthly newsletter and discounts on holidays for our subscribers. We're giving solutions and making the cost lower.
Pantou: And how are businesses responding to your request to give special offers to disabled customers? What is the "business case" for this, in a nutshell?
MS: On Disability Horizons we've had difficulties getting businesses to pay for advertising. It's more unknown and risky. With our discounts, they are giving up a percentage of income for customer acquisition. This is very normal in business. We also receive a small commission. As long as a business is making more revenue, they are willing to pay something for that. We have finally found a win for us, for companies, and most importantly for the customers.
Pantou: Pantou has a mission to promote Accessible Tourism Suppliers in Europe by making them more visible to travellers with access needs. Do you think we can move on from focusing on “specialised” travel companies catering for the accessible tourism market? Are “mainstream” companies coming into the accessible tourism space? Do you have any good examples?
MS: Idealistically we will never need specialist companies. But because mainstream business doesn’t understand the accessible tourism market, they ignore it. This leaves opportunities for specialist providers. For me the problem here is lower economies of scale and higher prices for customers. Some mainstream companies are trying to enter the disability travel market. Agencies like Thomsons are getting better. Websites like hotels.com are trying. I believe the disruption comes from agencies like Disabled Access Holidays, Enable and Accessible Travel and Leisure (in the UK) by proving the market size, then collaborating with the mainstream providers. Although I'm sure they all have concerns, following this path would give the necessary knowledge and economies of scale necessary for a perfect market. The same can be said for Accomable.com and Airbnb or homeaway. Time will tell. The most important thing is to realise disabled people and older people are the customer. Their money will go where the best quality and price converges. Everyone has a chance to join this growing market.
Pantou: Have you found useful contacts on Pantou for your business or travel possibilities?
MS: ENAT and Pantou have both helped me to raise my profile and to find other suppliers. I've used Pantou as a disabled customer with travel needs, and as an entrepreneur looking for partnerships in the sector. It is my honest view that the annual subscription cost of being an ENAT Associate Member is a great investment for growing your accessible travel revenues in the long run.
Further reading – Martyn Sibley’s website