In brief, at present information and reservation services provided by the majority of travel agents, travel web sites and other travel outlets worldwide make little provision for travellers with disabilities.
This is staggering when management consultants, Deloitte & Touche have estimated the market for mainstream travel services for people with disabilities to be worth more than £25bn per annum within the EU alone. This figure does not necessarily take account of family members, carers or friends, who are likely to accompany the majority of travellers with disabilities.
Discrimination does not seem to be the reason for the absence of disability travel information. The main barrier stems from what appears to be the complete disregard to provision of facilities by the US based Hotel Electronic Distribution Network Association (HEDNA), which is the trade association of the Global Distribution System industry worldwide.
HEDNA are responsible for determining the types of information on any GDS worldwide and, to date, no consideration of the needs of travellers with disabilities has ever been undertaken. HEDNA do not have a disability advisor and appear to be acting illegally under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Australian Disability Discrimination Act, and the Canadian Human Rights Act. This is because such legislation demands travel agents have the ability to adequately serve customers with disabilities.
Indeed HEDNA may also currently be acting illegally in the UK, and certainly will be doing so come 2004 when the Disability Discrimination Act is fully implemented. There is also relevant impending EU legislation.
By way of background, as a wheelchair user with cerebral palsy myself, and with personal experience of travel difficulties, I carried out research on the travel market and started and run Allgohere (www.allgohere.com). The directory is commercially based and is thought to be the most geographically comprehensive UK listing of mainstream, disability-friendly hotels. Every hotel listed has been assessed as having both accommodation and a restaurant which are accessible. The web site also includes a guide to the disability policies of world airlines. ‘Allgohere’ has been strongly endorsed by the Association of British Travel Agents for both general public and travel industry use, and they are actively encouraging their members to use it. The site has been cited as an industry leader by the Travel Weekly (UK) magazine as well as being ranked by The Times’ newspaper as one of their “Top 50 travel sites on the web” for two consecutive years. The site has links from many other leading web sites and Internet Service Providers.
Despite numerous attempts over 18 months, just one GDS operator was eventually prepared to meet with me, only for negotiations to flounder because they found that the HEDNA system was unable to accommodate my requirements. My intention to use a GDS as a means of offering booking functionality within Allgohere is of interest to such operators. However, because of HEDNA’s policy of having no disability related areas of operation, categorisation of my area of interest is impossible and therefore impractical for a GDS operator to implement.
Apart from anything else, in the light of recent events the travel industry currently needs every customer it can get, and the largely untapped disabled travel market would be ideal to capitalise on.
Whilst writing, I would like to further suggest that besides considering the particular issue I am raising, now may be an ideal time for the GATT to consider in a wider sense whether there are disability related barriers to trade across other industries too? I would envisage such a debate or investigation to culminate in a general all-embracing statement actively encouraging greater disability-awareness in the design and provision of goods and services worldwide.
By Jonathan Kaye
Managing Editor, Allgohere