Skift Take

Tune in to hear from an accessible travel advocate about why the industry shouldn't overlook customers with disabilities. But looks like it’s a long road ahead for players to become truly inclusive.

Family vacations and holidays never existed for Neha Arora as a child — with a visually impaired father and a wheelchair-bound mother. 

“As a child I thought money was the barrier. So, when I started earning, I planned and organized a family holiday only to realize that the reason why we never traveled was because of the inaccessibility, insensitivity and the prejudice of our society,” said the founder of Planet Abled, an inclusive travel brand promoting travel for persons with disabilities and the elderly. 

In conversation with Skift’s Asia Editor Peden Doma Bhutia in the latest episode of the Skift India Travel Podcast, Arora tells us how a series of not-so-good travel experiences led her to start Planet Abled. 

The podcast discussed about how the starting point of creating accommodations and accessibility needs for disabled travelers is to realize that disability comes in various forms — which extends beyond just being a wheelchair user. 

“When I started Planet Abled, I had to work hard on training and sensitizing industry stakeholders towards the needs of travelers with disabilities. And I shouldn’t have been doing that if inclusive tourism had been a part of hospitality and tourism institutes,” she said. 

It All Starts With The Right Training

Verbal language is the starting point, Arora said. Giving the disabled euphemisms like ‘specially-abled’, ‘people with determination’, etc. are things to be mindful of, she cautioned. 

Talking about the lack of disabled-friendly infrastructure in the country, Arora said, “Ramps and toilets are only present as check marks. We don’t even have accessible rail or intercity road transport. Air is the only mode of travel, and that too is not without its share of unpleasant experiences.”

Training is another important aspect and it is also important to understand how this training is imparted at various touchpoints of the customer journey — how would you communicate with a person suffering from loss of hearing if they check into a hotel? How would they manage room service? How would a visually impaired person navigate around the hotel by themselves? How would you help them at the buffet breakfast? 

Staring at a Billion-Dollar Opportunity

India can surpass the world in terms of being an accessible tourism destination, given how it is emerging as the world’s technology and services hub, Arora said.

“The world comes to us for technology. But when it comes to assistive technologies and technological interventions in hospitality and tourism for persons with disabilities, we haven’t even got started yet,” she said.

The time is particularly ripe for India to tap into the market well, especially at a time when the country is looking to grow its inbound numbers and struggling to reach the 10 million-tourist mark. 

“We have already shared the tourism guidelines for inclusion with the tourism ministry pro bono but there is hardly any implementation of it,” she said, underlining that now it’;’s time to look at creating a standardized framework which people can adopt. 

“We’ve been working with tourism boards and have also onboarded a few hotel chains to run the pilot for implementation,” said Arora. The early adopters, she believed, will stand to profit.

“The human experience is a lifetime of changing needs and abilities, and the need for good accessibility can affect all of us at different stages in our lives — from parents with babies in strollers to elderly wheelchair users,” she concluded.

4 Other Takeaways from the Episode

  1. A key reason why the disabled are not considered a potential market in travel, Arora said, is in assuming that they are not a big enough market to cater to. Accessible tourism is set to comprise a decent share of the global tourism market that could generate a potential revenue of around $94.2 billion by 2025. 
  1. To begin with, India could start small, said Arora. One state can initiate to take lead in becoming accessible for all, setting an example for others to follow.
  1. It is important to make information about the accessibility of destinations and services readily available to everyone, and also to make the travel planning and booking platforms accessible.
  2. The disability travel market is often viewed through the perspective of legal compliance but overlooked as a real opportunity for airlines, hotels, destinations, and other travel companies.

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Tags: accessible travel, disabled, india, india podcast, skift podcast, travelers with disabilites

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