Earlier this week, the newly reformed Thames Valley branch of the Institute of Hospitality held their first event of 2021. This addressed how hospitality businesses could benefit from the Purple Pound by better looking after guests with a disability and promoting their accessible services more widely.
Associate member, Nicola Proud AIH watched the panel with interest having seen her late father, Arnold Fewell champion accessibility for many years. He set up the business, AccessChamp, to encourage hotels, restaurants, bars and leisure venues to appoint key people within the business to drive change and he provided face to face and online training on accessibility. The family are continuing Arnold’s important work and Karen Fewell had been asked to host this session. Nicola shares her thoughts on some of the issues raised…
I know how proud dad would have been to see the impressive panel which the Thames Valley Branch pulled together as it included:
- Mark Lewis, CEO of Hospitality Action, who set up the first Accessible Catey
- Robin Sheppard FIH, chairman of Bespoke Hotels
- Ross Calladine from Visit England
- Michael McGrath, a popular speaker, charity founder and Catey judge. Michael was the first disabled person to lead expeditions to the North and South Poles.
Mark talked about how over the last year we have all realised how much we miss that trip to our favourite restaurant, an ad-hoc visit to the local pub or the chance to have a night away to recharge our batteries and make memories. If hospitality businesses don’t get the service and experience right for everyone, many guests will miss out on these opportunities forever. As a family, we were often limited on where we could eat out with dad so we went back time and time again to the places which we knew he felt comfortable and could enjoy the experience.
Ross Calladine from Visit England shared some valuable insight on accessibility:
- Accessible tourism is defined as tourism experiences that can be enjoyed by people with physical, sensory and cognitive impairments and others with accessibility requirements.
- There are currently 13.3 million disabled people in the UK alone with disability impacting on the lives of 1 in 4 people, this includes disabled people’s family and friends. This really highlights how hospitality businesses need to be aware of the spending power and influence of disabled people.
- Only 9% of disabled people are wheelchair users so everyone must think about the full picture when it comes to accessibility.
Accessibility training is vital
Michael McGrath is founder of the charity Muscle Help Foundation which aims to fulfil life changing Muscle Dream experiences for children and young people with muscular dystrophy. He said it’s people who either make an experience accessible or break it. This highlights the importance of ensuring that all staff are trained on accessibility and feel confident in delivering outstanding customer service. Michael says his biggest frustration is lack of information and this is often down to operators simply not understanding the business case. If Michael doesn’t find the information he needs on a website he will simply look elsewhere. One venue that was mentioned throughout the webinar was Rudding Park. It was actually a venue which dad trained, and they still have Access Champs within the business. If you go on their website, you will find a wealth of information under accessibility. This includes an in-depth accessibility guide, technical specifications, videos and details of their accessibility champions.
Making reasonable adjustments
Mark reflected on his first conversation with my dad about accessibility and what making reasonable adjustments meant. He said: “Arnold described accessibility as a state of mind and how you needed to make that decision to be more accessible.” He also recalled a moment he watched Arnold trying to manoeuvre around a lift in his wheelchair. Mark suggested the lift would need changing to make it accessible, whereas Arnold simply said to put a mirror on the back wall so a guest could see clearly behind them and move straight backwards to exit the lift.
The barriers to accessibility
When it came to the barriers for hospitality businesses to be more accessible, Robin cited attitude, finance and passion as the main ones but feels all of those are solvable. He talked about one of the Bespoke Hotels in Manchester called Hotel Brooklyn. When staying there you won’t even know you are in an accessible room and I believe that’s how it should be as dad never wanted to be treated differently. The rooms feature subtle details like basins with integrated hand grips, removable matt black grab rails, accessible bedroom storage and a hidden ceiling track hoist.
Look to others to learn
Ross said to look to the main awards programmes for inspiration. He gave the example of Cottage in the Dales in Yorkshire which has won both the Accessible Catey and the Visit England Accessible Award. The owner, Diane clearly saw a strong business case for adapting her five-star luxury cottages and by becoming an accessible venue she simply expanded her market rather than change it. Dad would have agreed about the importance of celebrating success stories. How amazing would it be for someone who felt motivated by this IoH Thames Valley session to win an accessibility award one day?
Market your accessible venue
As a family we’d look for those who were actively promoting accessibility to give us confidence before booking. Ross said it was important that venues don’t simply state “we are fully accessible” as disabled guests need much more information. If you don’t have an accessibility guide on your website already, the Visit England templates are a great place to start. Make sure your guide includes lots of photos as seeing what you are offering can put people at ease before they visit.
The eureka moment
Operators need to have their “eureka moment” and this is when they will realise that accessibility is not only the right thing to do but it can bring huge business benefits and return on investment. In a year when you really need to drive sales, once hospitality reopens, there has never been a better time to put this on your agenda. We’ll be continuing dad’s legacy of training staff and giving them the confidence to make a real difference, not just for their guests but for long-term sales.
If you missed the IoH Thames Valley session, it’s really worth a watch. I’d love to know your thoughts on the topics raised and if you want to learn more about what we do, please get in touch via Nicola@digitalblondemarketing.com or you can find me on LinkedIn.