Twenty-five of Europe’s leading lights in the Accessible Tourism Field gathered for an Accessible Tourism Workshop at the Oculus in Aylesbury on March 1st to share best practice and to see how new standards relating to more inclusive visitor standards could be delivered as the norm. The workshop was organised by the Buckinghamshire Legacy Board in partnership with the Buckinghamshire Disability Service who aim to make Buckinghamshire the most accessible visitor destination in Britain. To do this they aim to encourage through a new Buckinghamshire wide Destination Management Organisation, attractions, accommodation providers, transport and hospitality providers to all aspire to the “Stoke Mandeville Standard” around accessible tourism visitor experience.
Ross Calladine, Accessible Tourism Manager for Visit England helped set the scene by outlining the national context where Visit England have secured regional growth funding to work alongside a number of destinations to develop new visitor guides and promotional material based on the visitor experience rather than any perceived barriers to services. This approach was supported Brian Seaman of Accessible Outlook who explained that the most important skill for a tourism business was to listen to its customers and to make sure it adapted its services to their needs. Seaman said the most important message he could provide to any tourism business looking to make its service more accessible was: “customer service, is what the customer thinks it is.” This ethos became a recurring theme of the workshop with many speakers saying how they had benefitted from taking personal care with all of their customers and how by doing the right thing they had also benefitted their overall profitability. Geraldine Lundy, Head of Accessibility at Virgin Atlantic explained their philosophy which was based on a total customer experience and highlighted how by employing people with different disabilities had given the company a competitive edge and better insight into all of its customers
Magnus Berglund from Scandic Hotels, one of the fastest growing hotel chains in Europe, said simply that “I can get you more business” He explained that award winning Scandic had adopted a simple 110 point standard, many of which were mandatory for all of its hotels. Many of the standards such as providing a stick holder in all receptions were extremely cheap to implement but had proved instrumental in increasing the profitability for the hotel chain. Scandic offers free web training for best serving guests with disabilities. Damiano La Rocca, the director of double award winning tour operator Seable Holidays, shared his passion for making exciting accessible holidays, creating a fully accessible offer that includes sport activities, cultural excursions and gastronomic experiences.
The delegates agreed that 10 themes had emerged from the workshop:
• Always listen to and ask questions of your customers
• Don’t be fearful
• Often, accessibility costs very little
• Where possible, keep it simple
• Embrace innovation
• Share knowledge and involve all of your staff
• Doing the right thing can also be financially rewarding
• In the UK many aspects of visitor accessibility are done very well
• We need to share and celebrate best practice more widely throughout the UK and internationally
At the end of session, delegates agreed to work together to start planning for a much larger event linked to the Paralympic Heritage Flame Lighting for the 2016 Rio Summer Games.