Interview with Timo Hermann, project manager of travelable.info
Hamburg? Berlin? Munich? Regardless of where your travels take you, it’s essential to prepare if you want to see as much of a city as possible. For many people with disabilities, this also includes obtaining information on accessibility on location. The online portal travelable.info provides just this type of information – for instance, about tried and tested city tours.
Timo Hermann is the project manager of travelable. REHACARE.com spoke to him about the project and the growing market for accessible travel.
Mr. Hermann, how and why was travelable created?
Timo Hermann: We know from experience that there is a great lack of information about the respective destinations. That is to say, the obstacles people with disabilities generally face are not related to the actual traveling aspect or mobility but already start with information acquisition prior to making a trip: what is a good place for me to visit? What are things like at my destination? What types of accessible accommodations – wheelchair accessibility or adjustments that meet my respective disability needs – can I expect to see there? What am I able to experience on location? After all, the environment is also very important. The best wheelchair accessible hotel doesn’t help me if it is somewhere on top of a mountain and I am not able to travel up there or come down from there and if there are no accessible restaurants or excursions nearby. Those are exactly the points our project wants to address. At the start of 2016, we decided to create a new project that is sponsored by Aktion Mensch. This subsequently greenlighted the travelable project.
What is the objective of travelable?
Hermann: The project has three main goals. The first goal is to provide information others are unable to find or offer.
I have to explain the second goal in a little more detail: when it comes to our research for the city pages, we are in touch with city officials, community representatives or travel marketing agencies. They need to be sensitized about existing obstacles and made aware of the fact that accessible travel, in particular, is a fast-growing market with huge potential. People we talk to are always surprised when they see the numbers and realize how big this market really is. Needless to say, one of our major goals is to increase awareness about the needs of people with disabilities.
Naturally, the third goal is to motivate and encourage people with disabilities by showing them that it’s all possible. You can travel to Munich. Sure, you might run into the occasional problem but you are fundamentally able to do it.“ I think it’s sometimes not on people’s radar and they are unaware of what is already possible these days. Things have changed dramatically over the past twenty years. And we want to highlight this fact and improve the situation for all parties involved.
Our service generally addresses all people with disabilities but needless to say, based on our own experience, our major focus is on physical and mobility impairments. Having said that, if we find information on city pages that’s relevant for visually or hearing impaired people, for example, we definitely pass it along.
The online portal features city pages, one for Berlin for example, which was set up with the support of visitBerlin. And you also feature day trips. How exactly are these city tours created?
Hermann: For the city tours, our network looks for local, affected people, who want to introduce their respective cities. We believe it’s very important for these people to intimately know their city and to also be willing to present it. If they are not locals, they should at least know the city well and be frequent visitors of said location. The tours should also be tried and tested. Our hosts might be wheelchair users but we also have companions of wheelchair users as guides. The Munich Tour is hosted by a friend of Laura Gehlhaar, who experienced travel first-hand on location and can vouch that the tour works. He has visited the city many times with his girlfriend, who uses a wheelchair.
Hermann: The tours are always individualized. Our only requirement is that it needs to be a day trip. Like we always say, "Imagine you are a tourist in your own city for one day. What would you like to see on this day?" This might pertain to shopping or sightseeing or cultural aspects. It’s important that the tour has a structure that makes sense. Maybe you are able to make restaurant or café recommendations or can suggest a pub crawl. We actually leave a lot of things up to the respective guide and always get great feedback from people.
What are your plans and hopes for travelable?
Hermann: That’s always a difficult question. Obviously, we have many wishes and requests but this is a funded project after all. Funding will end in early 2018. At that point, we rely on follow-up funding because we certainly are very interested in continuing the project even then. And we also hope that we will be able to provide even more information – also as it relates to other types of disabilities – so that the city pages can continue to expand. After all, the size is still manageable. And although the scope is already quite broad, the depth of information could definitely still be increased.
Needless to say, we would also like to pass along information about cities in other countries but this obviously requires funding. That means we once again rely on sponsors etc., for example, companies that would like to support us. Or there might be cities that are interested in becoming a part of this growing market and would like to independently showcase their town.
Anything else you would like to get off your chest?
Hermann: Something that’s obvious: tell your friends. It’s very important to spread the word and we obviously would love for people to participate – by hosting day trips or by approaching local people with disabilities or local politicians and the city commission and making them aware of this project so it can continue to grow – as quickly and as much as possible. So we are able to reach and help as many people as we can. And we still need more tours. Even though we presently still focus on the bigger cities, smaller towns can also be interesting for tourists and thus for us as well. So if you would like to take an active part in creating a tour, we would love to hear from you.