Pantou: Chris, congratulations on being appointed as the UK Government’s "Disability Champion” for the tourism sector. What would you say are the main challenges facing the industry?
Chris: Many tourism businesses are doing great work to be inclusive and accessible, we need to celebrate these and make sure more people hear about them. There are also businesses that are already offering great customer experiences without necessarily realising they are being 'accessible' and of course they are not telling anyone about this. We need to change this and help them realise what they are doing and how they can promote this side of their business.
Some businesses do not understand the market; they think that accessibility relates only to serving people who use a wheelchair. Thinking this, they assume they must spend vast sums on ramps or lifts. For some larger businesses it may be right to do this but for smaller businesses the costs may be prohibitive. They may also think that because they are in an old or listed building it is protected and they can make no changes, again, this is not always the case. The reality is they can serve a wider market and achieve a lot for little or no cost at all by making some simple adjustments. Then there are those businesses, that see no need to change anything at all; they may not want to grow their business and the demand from customers is strong, so for them there is no call to action, they do not see the need to make changes when they are doing okay. Of course, the reality is probably a little different for these and all businesses in the tourism sector. There is a large market of disabled people that is relatively untapped. People who have money and want to travel. The other key factor which affects all businesses is the need to adjust and cope with the demand from the ageing population - another growing market of people who are used to travelling, who want to continue to travel and have the money to do this. Add to this the multiplier effect, as they usually travel with friends or extended family or with grandchildren. Also there are many customers who do not necessarily see themselves as disabled, they just have bad knees or hips, but they have access requirements. The challenge for the tourism industry is to start thinking about their business in a different way, to ensure it is inclusive, so that they maximise their business opportunities. By focusing on accessibility they will most definitely improve the quality of the customer service for everybody!
Pantou: Where do you see the greatest need for change and what would you advise businesses to do first?
Chris: Businesses don’t have to spend huge sums to improve their accessibility. Get to understand the market, know your customers and their access requirements. Everyone is different and businesses need to acknowledge this, especially at a time when many want to offer a more personalised service and say that the customer is at the heart of their business. Unless the customer’s access requirements are considered, understood and met, it is hard to see how any business can truly say the customer is at its heart. A good place to start is by reviewing the business; the service, facilities and buildings. Businesses may not know - and therefore do not tell about their accessibility, and they leave this vital information out of their marketing and promotion. Having an Access Statement or Access Guide is vital, it is a valuable marketing tool. An Access Guide to the business or venue can help paint a bigger picture of the business and say more about the services and facilities on offer. Accurate and relevant information is potentially helpful for all customers, but especially those with a disability, to make a more informed choice.
Pantou: We see information as a key element in improving accessible tourism services, which is why we have developed Pantou.org. Do you have any suggestions for improving Pantou?
Chris: We need to encourage more businesses to sign up to Pantou. This online directory has potential to be a valuable one-stop-shop for disabled people travelling across Europe, to find out what is on offer, not just in terms of hotels and attractions, but also specialist equipment, transport and guides. To be successful, Pantou needs volume of choice and a wide range of information to draw people to it. Pantou is not only a valuable resource for travellers, it is also another way for a business to promote itself and market their offer, at no cost to them.
Pantou: You spoke about examples of successful accessible tourism businesses. As the UK's Tourism Sector Champion for Accessible Tourism, how will you measure progress? Is there a way for tourism business to show that they are genuinely aiming to welcome people with disabilities?
Chris: We want to encourage as many businesses as possible to do as much as they can to be accessible. What we don’t really appreciate are the numbers that already are doing lots as they are probably not that visible to us. A new campaign, launched by the UK charity Tourism for All, helps to address that. The campaign ‘Tourism is for Everybody’ is aimed at businesses, not to demonstrate how accessible they are, this is not a standard, it is more of a public declaration that the business is committed to being accessible and signs up to some key commitments, which are achievable by all businesses. The campaign encourages those that may not have looked at this area of their business before. For these businesses and ones that are already active in this area, it is a way of promoting their commitment to potential customers and reinforces a message that they take their social responsibility seriously. The campaign also encourages individual travellers to sign up, to show support for the aims of the campaign. These visitors will be more likely to use businesses that are displaying the logo and showing their commitment to being accessible. Tourism is for Everybody will be one way that success can be understood, by looking at the number of businesses that sign up over the year.
Chris Veitch was interviewed by Ivor Ambrose, Managing Director of ENAT, 24 February 2017
Further reading (ENAT News) : New Voice for Consumers with Disabilities: UK "Disability Champion" for the Tourism Sector