Travel Industry 'Failing to Cater for Disabled'

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Britain's leading travel companies are failing to serve the needs of disabled travellers, new research has found.

Tourism for All UK logoBritain's leading travel companies are failing to serve the needs of disabled travellers, new research has found. 

The study, carried out [by Co-operative Travel with the assistance of] Tourism for All, a British-based charity that specialises in travel for the disabled, found that 85 per cent of respondents did not believe travel agents understand the needs of disabled travellers, and 78 per cent did not feel they were catered for by high street agents. The survey also found that 35 per cent would not consider booking with a mainstream travel agent.

There are approximately 10 million adults and 750,000 children in the UK who suffer from some form of disability. It is estimated that a quarter of these regularly travel abroad.

Brian Seaman, head of consultancy at Tourism for All, said the travel industry needs to do more to understand the needs of disabled travellers.

"We have conducted independent research in the past by sending disabled travellers to the high street to find a disabled-friendly holiday to Majorca," he said. "In every case, not one travel agent was able to offer a product that might have resulted in a booking. The agents had great difficulty in finding suitable accommodation and when it came to visiting the accommodation on the island that they were able to find, they turned out not to be as accessible for disabled people as the agents had suggested."

Keith Richards, head of professional development at Abta, the travel association, admitted that the level of awareness of disability issues within its membership was not as high as it should be, but said there had been a big improvement in recent years.

"In June we will be launching our e-learning tool on accessible travel for all our members. We're developing this jointly with the Equality and Human Rights Commission to tackle the issues raised here," he said. "The services are mostly provided overseas where there is rarely any legal framework to provide access to goods and services generally, let alone hotel or tourism services. It is left to British tour operators and agents to try to find out how accessible a hotel is."

Jane Witherington, commercial and market development manager at the Co-operative Travel, which commissioned the Tourism for All research, has promised to improve its service to disabled travellers.

"We have launched a new tailored service aimed specifically at disabled travellers," she said, "and trained staff from 40 branches nationwide to ensure that they are up to speed with all aspects of holidays for people who require specialist travel."

This week Expedia, the online travel agent, launched new search tools designed to help disabled travellers find accessible accommodation. The move follows a court case in the US last year that resulted in Expedia being instructed to add content and search features to its websites that would allow people with disabilities to reserve rooms. The service is currently only available on the US website.

Leonard Cheshire, a British charity that supports disabled people, has given warning that many airports still fail to meet the needs of disabled passengers, despite EU laws introduced in 2008 that make it the responsibility of airports to provide assistance to disabled travellers. [ See: Leonard Cheshire article, July 2009].  The Civil Aviation Authority is close to completing its own report on how these laws have been implemented.

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