I have a confession. When I think about responsible tourism, I mostly think about issues relating to the environment or community development. I don’t think about disability, or issues relating to accessibility and tourism very much at all. Put me in a situation and I’ll notice how animals are treated, how waste is being disposed of, whether the staff seem to be local or not. But as I walk up the steps, read the signs, listen out for announcements, it rarely crosses my mind that many other people in the world may have problems with accessibility in these situations.
This makes my focus narrower than it should be. Present me with websites like Expedia or Skyscanner, and I marvel at the way the internet has facilitated the experience of booking our flights. My responsible tourism issues when it comes to air travel are to do with carbon emissions, lengths of runways, numbers of terminals, or how mass inbound tourism changes destinations. And until this week, that’s where it ended.
That’s when I came across the accessibility website of Reduced Mobility Rights, dedicated to ensuring that the travel industry delivers on its legal requirements to passengers with reduced mobility. The site has been running since 2011, casting a much needed light on stories such as Pakistani airline AirBlue’s lack of provisions for the carriage of passengers with disabilities in its conditions of carriage. (In an interview on the subject the airline’s management replied: ““Handicapped persons would have to get their own attendants to carry them and climb up the stairs to the plane.”)
However, what caught my eye was a campaign launched this July to pressure travel agent websites to comply with EU regulations in terms of the accessibility information they supply to passengers with special needs. Under Regulation (EC) 1107/2006, adopted on 5th of July 2006, all airlines or their agents or tour operators are obliged to request and provide necessary information about a wide range of criteria, covering everything from mobility devices and medication, to the limit of four guide dogs per flight. Failure to provide access to this information makes it harder for disabled passengers to book their holidays, and adds to confusion at airports and on airlines who are unprepared for the requirements of passengers with reduced mobility when they arrive for their flights.
Article 6 of the regulation makes the legal situation pretty clear: “Air carriers, their agents and tour operators shall take all measures necessary for the receipt, at all their points of sale in the territory of the Member States to which the Treaty applies, including sale by telephone and via the Internet, of notifications of the need for assistance made by disabled persons or persons with reduced mobility.”
However, as Roberto explained to me: “One of biggest issues is lack of knowledge. The airport and airline needs information on hand to make the journey as seamless as possible. But most customers don’t know the accessibility regulations. And, from those we’ve looked at, most of the websites aren’t supplying it.”
Most? So far Reduced Mobility Rights has studied the websites of 29 major travel booking companies. From that, just three – Kuoni, Netflights and Cheapflights – were found to be fully compliant. Since launching the campaign, Fly.com, Lastminute and Expedia have introduced changes to their accessibility information. And each day, more companies are having their websites studied – for roughly half an hour each, far more than a traveller should have to spend looking for information. And those that are not compliant are being publicised through their site.
It could be a long campaign. Roberto explained that the UK is the only country in the EU that, when this directive was passed, refused to grant civil penalties for failures to comply. As yet, naming and shaming is the only recourse to action that there is. So if you are frustrated by the lack of support given to PRMs by a website you use, save Roberto some time – give him a call and let him know which one.
It’s not all bad news. There is some good accessibility information at the UK government website, https://www.gov.uk/transport-disabled/planes. The Italian Civil Aviation Authortiy has released an app, available in English, Spanish, French and Italian, giving useful info on disabled passengers rights, as well as guidance on which services are available to passengers requiring assistance, how to book them, and how to complain when services do not meet standards.
Accessibility is one of the key themes at World Responsible Tourism Day 2011 at WTM London (click here to register). On Tuesday 5th November at 16:oo there will be a pabel discussion on the topic: “It is Good for Business:Taking Responsibility People with Disabilities”.
Chair: Ross Calladine, Head of Business Support, VisitEngland,
Arnold Fewell, AVF Marketing TBC
Olaf Schlieper Innovations Manager at the German National Tourist Board
Brian Seaman Access New Business
Chris Veitch European Network for Accessible Tourism