Accessible travel from booking to dream destination: ship ahoy
Accessible travel from booking to dream destination: ship ahoy
Prefer to book online or use a travel agent? Looking for destinations across the Atlantic or fancy vacationing in Europe or exploring your own country? Traveling alone or in a tour group? Staying at a hotel or hanging out with the locals? These days, the travel industry has options for everyone to find and book their dream vacation. A recent online survey asked people with disabilities and their family members about their travel habits. REHACARE.com has reviewed the study findings and highlights a new favorite way to travel: by water.
What holiday destination you want to go to and how do you want to travel? Meanwhile there is a tourist niche for almost all travel preferences. However, when it comes to accessibility, you should not always rely on the information found online.
Once again, this article starts by pointing to changing demographics. Why? It seemingly is one reason that prompts many industry sectors to finally effect more accessibility - the travel and tourism industry is one example of this. A recent online survey of people with disabilities and their family members conducted by the International University of Applied Sciences Bad Honnef-Bonn (IUBH) revealed that these respondents like to travel. Yet that’s only an enjoyable event if the booking process, travel, and activities on-site are truly accessible. Apart from that, people with disabilities have the same expectations as everyone else. So far, none of this should come as a surprise.
Booking preferences – as unique as you
As one would expect, unlike able-bodied persons, people with disabilities need to plan differently and obtain more preliminary information about their vacation destinations. Their planning process requires more diligence. This starts with inquiries about the availability of accessible hotels, special onboard airline accommodations, all the way to the settings pertaining to local activities and adventures. Incidentally – many cities are much more advanced in getting people with mobility impairments from A to B than German cities.
The IUBH survey also revealed that many travelers get their information from websites for accessible travel and vacationing, or find inspiration from travel bloggers who are accessibility experts due to their own type of disability. Apart from wanderlust, which is immediately triggered by reading the travel blogs, the reports also make recommendations on how to avoid certain problems or listing mishaps travelers should be prepared for. Travel newbies can also expect helpful tips on insurance, additional gear they might need or what medicines they should always carry in their luggage.
Many travelers use online services to book their holidays. These pages are not always accessible. That's why it sometimes takes a little patience and more detailed research before you get where you want to go.
Examples of this are Kim Lumelius' blog Wheeliewanderlust, which offers all sorts of useful information from booking accommodations to airport transfers and tips on flying as a wheelchair user. For blind or visually impaired people Aleksandar Pakusevski can be called a travel expert. The journalist has been working for the tourism company Holiday Extras for nine years and also enjoys travelling in his spare time. On teilzeitreisender.de he has written down the hurdles that blind people face when travelling and how he plans his holidays. Booking an accommodation is less of a problem. In addition to special tour operators such as Tour de Sens or Vision Outdoor, also the German Federation of the Blind and Partially Sighted (DBSV) offers information on the subject of traveling and the opportunity for it's members to book so-called Aura Bed and Breakfast venues and hotels. Problems mostly only arose with the transfers to the holiday resort, for example with train travel or flight. According to Pakusevski, especially the online booking of flights requires some patience and unfortunately the websites of the airlines are not necessarily accessible. "Some airlines do not have a suitable online service or trained call center staff. Moreover, it is often only possible to book a standard package for all people with disabilities, including a wheelchair transport. But a blind guest does not need that." Therefore he recommends to book the flight rather through a travel agency, because "a travel agency can easily book the assistance really needed at the airport". Nevertheless, the Munich travel agent also likes to book online at well-known sites such as booking.com.
Travel and tourism associations are also increasingly recognizing the benefits of accessibility information. More and more German cities, states, counties, and districts are subsequently showcasing their accessible cities in various apps. Online booking platforms also offer filters that enable travelers to find a room that meets their unique needs. Having said that, guests are advised to book the accommodation directly with the provider - or in the case of Airbnb users by contacting the host. This allows travelers to prevent unpleasant surprises. Confirming and verifying the accessibility of a hotel room or accommodation, as well as knowing the local contact person make your stay easier and more enjoyable. The IUBH study also came to this conclusion. When interviewed, 42.4 percent of the respondents indicated that they booked accommodations directly with the provider and source without the involvement of a third-party platform or travel agency.
When it comes to accessibility, cruise ships surprisingly offer a great deal of service and comfort. This is why they are also very popular with people with disabilities.
Ship ahoy – cruises are right on trend
When it comes to travel, cruises have become an increasingly popular option. Volker and Iris Westermann are very passionate about this type of travel. Even though it’s possible to book cruises via travel agencies or special providers like Runa Reisen, the Westermanns prefer to take the direct route and contact the cruise line. Volker says, "in general, I recommend visiting the website and checking out your options. AIDA Cruises also has a so-called barrier-free team (accessibility team). Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) also has a German office that answers all of your questions about your cruise vacation. One time we were interested in traveling with them and their service was amazing." Jenny Bießmann is likewise an avid cruise traveler, who books directly with the cruise line. "I usually spot a cruise in one of the travel brochures and I love the countries. That’s when I grab the phone and ask the cruise line if they offer an accessible cabin. If that’s the case, I book it through them directly – after first consulting my care team of course." For safety reasons, cruise lines generally recommend that people with disabilities should travel with a personal care assistant. Having said that, the majority of travelers tend to not vacation alone, but holiday with their partner, family or friends.
The AIDA team strives to support the self-determination of a person with disabilities during their voyage and offers separate check-in points, accessible public areas, as well as accessible cabins, audio induction loop systems and orientation signage in high-contrast tactile letters and Braille. Under certain conditions, travelers can even bring "certified leader dogs for the blind onboard that replace the personal care assistant," explains Uta Thiele from the AIDA Cruises Communication Team.
Since 2009, TUI Cruises has been offering premium cruise experiences thanks to its Mein Schiff fleet. To be able to perfectly accommodate guests with disabilities, the cruise line asks travelers to fill out a questionnaire and specify all their special needs including specific auxiliary means and resources. As one might expect, all public areas are also accessible in this case. Cruise ships 1 through 6 each have ten accessible cabins - four balcony, four outside and two inside cabins – and seven cabins on the Herz vessel. When asked about the equipment and setup, Godja Sönnichsen, Director of Communications at TUI Cruises says, "the accessible cabins of the Mein Schiff fleet feature extra space, wider doorways and bathroom doors, special hand rails, and emergency phones. Plus, they are always located near our elevators."
Without a smartphone, no one is likely to explore foreign cities today. For blind users Aleksandar Pakusevski recommends apps like Blind Square, Ariadne GPS, Google Trips, Google Maps and Apple Maps.
Accessibility onboard and offshore
There are no barriers on the ships but travelers want more than just sail across the oceans. They also like to visit cities and countries along the way. Apart from so-called tender ports – where the harbors are too shallow for big cruise ships to dock at the pier, forcing them to anchor offshore and using small boats to shuttle passengers between the ships and ports - the large ocean liners meet (almost) all accessibility guidelines. The shore and land excursion brochures specify if shore excursions are not an option for travelers with mobility impairments. AIDA cruises also hosts an accessibility meeting at the start of the voyage, "providing individual consultation on suitable excursions and the planning of the holiday on board." Mein Schiff travelers with disabilities can also ask the excursion team about suitable shore excursion options.
If these luxury cruise ships that sail the seven seas are simply too big for you and you prefer to spend your vacation on Germany’s waterways, houseboats might be the right choice for you. There are several providers that specialize in accessible travel. Friends of customized nature travels can contact the German Unfallopfer-Hilfswerk (English: Victim Relief Organization) and check out the many vacation options listed at its handicaptravel.de website. The site allows users to conveniently view available dates and directly book the tours. Find out in our interview with Andreas Fenske why houseboats are right on trend and learn how you can vacation without a boating license.
No matter what type of travel you choose - whether it’s by water or on land – vacations are finally an attainable goal and accessible to people with disabilities. It only takes a little more research prior to departure, some strategic foresight and a dash of courage when you might face some temporary complications at your destination. But that only heightens the anticipation and – let’s be honest- a little adventure and spontaneity never hurt anyone. Travel expert Aleksandar Pakusevski is rarely on the road unaccompanied, but if something should go wrong, his tip is: "Don't panic!" In most cases, the local people are very helpful and in some countries much more service-oriented than in Germany. It also helps to always have any contact numbers "at hand". In this sense: anchors aweigh!
Anne Hofmann (Translated by Elena O'Meara) REHACARE.com