Will adverse publicity be the new driver for the accessibility market in hotels?

By Arnold.Fewell

December 22, 2013

A recent blog on the World Travel Market suggested there were three stages for the accessibility market.  Let’s call them the “Three principles of O”.  They stand for:

  1. Obligation: this is the legal requirement which should have been covered by the Equality Act of 2010 and the Disability Discrimination Act of 2005.  However, it is concerning that I still see and hear examples of discrimination.  I went on a hotel site that had just invested £1.5 million on its property.  It claimed how family and pet friendly it now was.  As a grandfather, let alone a disabled person, I found myself excluded.  I became a third class citizen behind the dog.  The hotel ignored the  fact that 35% of grandparents take their family away every year but my money seemed unacceptable and unwanted.
  2. Opportunity: this is the stage we are at now but if we don’t get our act together soon we will lose out to Europe.  For example Germany has already put together tours marketed at disabled people.  VisitEngland is aiming to do the same but for it to be successful it needs hotels and conference venues that provide great customer service to all.  This has still to happen in my opinion.
  3. Ordinary: I wonder how far off we are from this and if I will ever see it in my lifetime.  This is where disability is accepted as normal, where everywhere is accessible and you can turn up anywhere without experiencing a problem.

This is why the article in the Mail on Sunday, just before Christmas, was so disappointing.  It talked about the experiences of a wheelchair user who had come to London as part of a Christmas party.  Some will say that it is just typical of the Mail on Sunday and I have some sympathy for that point of view.  It was apparent the journalist knew what to expect and a lot was said about other hotels that did not have accessible rooms or were unwelcoming to a disabled person.  But my biggest worry is that it will be adverse PR that drives the accessible agenda when it should either be about the law or the business case.

For those that don’t know about the value of the market, may I suggest you look at the figures from VisitEngland.  They estimated the value of the stay away from home market for disabled people at £2 billion and is set to rise as we all live longer.  So is adverse PR the big stick that will spread from national print, TV and radio to local and digital channels.  Will they expose poor and inadequate service?  If there is a case found against you under The Equality Act you will have to make the changes required, pay compensation and experience the bad PR.  Surely it would be better just to do it in 2014 and reap both the financial benefits and avoid the negatives.  That is my wish for the New Year as the bells of the New Year fade into the background..