Do you want to extend your season, obtain loyal customers and gain a share of a £15.3 billion market? Follow this guide to improve accessibility bookings for your business.
One in five people in the UK have an impairment, which may affect where they choose to stay. Improving your accessibility benefits all customers and does not always require major or expensive changes. Here are VisitEngland’s top ten tips for being a more inclusive accommodation business.
Train all staff in disability awareness and ensure they are familiar with accessible facilities, services and equipment available
To be able to confidently serve disabled customers, you and your staff need to be disability aware. You can find online and classroom-style courses specifically for those working in the tourism industry at visitengland.org/access. It is also important that staff are familiar with how to use equipment such as hearing loops, emergency pull cords in toilets and hoists, which should be regularly tested and kept in working order.
Always welcome assistance dogs
Thousands of disabled people rely on an assistance dog and it is illegal to refuse them in all but the most exceptional circumstances. Promote the fact you welcome customers with assistance dogs and consider providing water bowls and a toileting area.
Request information at the time of booking to establish specific requirements
Asking guests at time of booking if they have any accessibility requirements can help you make any necessary arrangements ahead of their arrival. It will also reassure the guest that you are keen to understand their individual needs in order to provide a great experience.
Ensure your website meets accessibility standards and all written communications with customers are available in accessible formats
All customers should be able to use your website, including those with screen readers. Follow the guidance in VisitEngland’s Electronic Communication Toolkit and make sure your web designer follows Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1. Offer written communication in alternative formats, such as large print (16 point font or more), audio or ‘easy to read’.
Provide accessible ways for disabled customers to give feedback, acting and responding promptly to comments
Gather the views of disabled customers to help you provide an inclusive tourism experience. You could add a question on accessibility to any customer surveys or invite a local access group to test out your property and give feedback.
Provide sufficient accessible parking spaces
Provide at least one designated parking bay per accessible bedroom. These spaces should be at least 3.6 metres wide, level, marked out/effectively signposted and close to the entrance or in the best possible location. Ensure these spaces are not occupied by non-disabled guests or staff vehicles.
Include images of disabled people in your marketing
Ensure your photography in general marketing represents the diversity of your customers. This will inspire and raise confidence to visit and can also help illustrate your facilities in use. If you need willing models, then approach a local disability group or a specialist modelling agency. Always use disabled people not people pretending to be disabled.
Offer to show all guests with accessibility requirements the accommodation and help with luggage
A familiarisation tour and help with luggage may be particularly useful for guests with accessibility requirements. For those guests identifying themselves as being visually impaired, this should include highlighting any potential hazards e.g. steps or speed bumps on roadways. For guests staying in designated accessible bedrooms there may be additional equipment that can be demonstrated.
Provide twin or zip and link beds where possible
The flexibility of beds is particularly useful for disabled guests, who may be accompanied by a partner or a personal assistant and therefore require different bed configurations. If this is not possible, offer a complimentary room for personal assistants/essential companions and clearly promote this. Interconnecting rooms can also be useful.
Provide a detailed and accurate Accessibility Guide to promote your accessibility
People with accessibility requirements require information on a venue’s accessibility to help understand if it will meet their individual needs. You can produce and publish an Accessibility Guide using a free online tool at accessibilityguides.org. Don’t forget to include photographs, information on the nearest Changing Places facility and supplement your guide with information on accessible places to visit and eat. The link to your guide should be prominent.
Ross Calladine is Head of Business Support VisitEngland. For more tips and guidance on how to be accessible, visit VisitEngland’s Business Advice Hub at www.visitengland.org/access
This article first appeared in the Stayjam Playbook – a free digital magazine to help short stay specialists and accommodation businesses. Download your copy today