Yesterday I took a trip across to Excel, London to see what this years World Travel Market had to offer. I have attended for the past few years having no idea what I was doing and just walking around dreaming of trips to every country, resort, hotel, safari, theme park and cruise line exhibiting at the event. I had big dreams and ideas but no idea how to put them into action. This year was different. This year I had more confidence to speak to people, to chat to them about ideas of how we could work together on this very blog. It was a huge change, I walked away not only dreaming of travelling, but with contacts that could help me make that happen.
During the day I attended three seminars, two based on blogging and how we can collaborate with companies within tourism, which I had an obvious interest in.
The third seminar I attended was called 'Everyone Deserves a Holiday: Social Inclusion' a subject close to my heart as you can expect and one in which I was excited to attend. This is what I want to do, this is where I want to make a change and this is what I want to learn all about. I want people with disabilities just like Kyd's to be happy and able to create memories travelling, just like we do, it seems this is a market being majorly ignored and yet the disability tourism industry is worth a whopping £80 BILLION, which is not being tapped into.
The session addressed the barriers which prevent people from taking holidays and discussed ways in which the disadvantaged can be offered a holiday experience. The panel and audience discussed what the industry can do to create opportunities to create great experiences for those with disabilities. The audience included industry experts in many regions, people who have set up companies to help families and friends and people like me, bloggers, press and parents of children and adults with disabilities.
The problem is, it seemed like they completely skipped over the special needs aspect of disability. Focussing on accessibility for wheelchair users and people with mobility problems, they seemed to not even think about the social inclusion of children and adults with special needs such as Down Syndrome, Autism and even other able bodied disabilities. I desperately wanted to put my hand up and ask what the industry were doing to help these people too? But I didn't. I sat there too scared to ask just in case I stumbled on my words in front of so many influential people. Luckily a man at the front of the room placed his hand n the air and said what I was thinking,
The panel looked baffled, they answered with a few stumbled words about cultural differences and pre notification but not much more. It seems the industry experts hadn't placed them into the same bracket, focussing on wheelchair accessibility and ramps, lifts and spacious rooms that people can get about in. Which are hugely important, don't get me wrong, but so are the human rights mentioned above for those with able bodied disabilities and invisible illnesses, who come across the same sort of issues within the tourism industry as the wheelchair bound do. In fact, they come across a lot more discrimination across it because usually industry experts are ignorant to their needs, yet the need for a ramp is a bit more obvious. I am not undermining the wheelchair issues involved in the tourism industry, they are shocking in themselves, I am just highlighting that many companies can see the needs of a wheelchair user and help them in some way, other disabilities can be harder to help but can take just a few moments of time to understand.
Need For Change
I am involved in many online forums for special needs parents, all expressing their concerns about taking their children on holiday. Some physical concerns, some medical ones and some just because there is very little information to ease the nerves of travelling with such disabilities. These children and adults have to deal with a whole heap of issues, medically, mentally and physically and who deserve to express their human right to rest, leisure and travel. Parents who have to care for their children's medical and physical needs and who go above and beyond 24/7, deserve a well earned rest, some very rare leisure time and to travel to places they have dreamed of, to make those memories they will hold so dear. Why then are we over looking them, even in a session dedicated to 'Social Inclusion' it seems we have a long way to go.
It was a very eye opening session, I learnt a lot and I especially learnt that my initial understanding of the overlooking of special needs in several areas and businesses, is in fact apparent. This makes me want to travel with Kyd more and work closely with these companies to highlight the fact that this doesn't need to be the case. This is a simple task of getting information out there, to those who can change things for the better and for those who need it changed.
This journey has just begun.
The 'Everyone Deserves a Holiday' Panel -
- Nicola Davis, Special Assistance Team at Virgin Holidays
- Jose Fernandes Franco, Director, Campo dos Sonhos and Parque dos Sonhos, Brazil
- Lynne Kirby, Managing Director Enable Holidays
- Nikki White, Head of Destinations and Sustainability, ABTA
- Ade Adepitan, Paralympic medallist and TV presenter.