Travel missing out on billions from disabled market (input from Ataxia South Wales)

The travel industry has been accused of doing nothing to help disabled travellers – despite their hefty potential spending power.

The issue of accessible travel was discussed at the fourth round-table talk hosted by The Travel Tech Show at World Travel Market and Amadeus.

Alan Jones, chairman of Ataxia South Wales – which helps people with the incurable condition – highlighted the UK Government’s 2012 Legacy for Disabled People, Inclusive and Accessible Business report.

He said that it showed the UK’s estimated 10.6m disabled people have a combined annual spend on goods and services of up to £80bn.

‘It is a big market out there. What’s the travel industry doing about it? In a word, nothing,’ he told the debate.

He said the problems start as soon as he tries to book a holiday, as many people in the industry see his wheelchair rather than the human being using it, leaving agents too embarrassed to deal with him.

Lynne Kirby, Enable Holidays’ managing director, said such problems are endemic in a trade which has failed to educate staff how best to handle disabled people.

Geraldine Lundy, Virgin Atlantic passenger disability adviser, said information needs to be accurate to allow disabled people to make informed decisions, and must take in to account that some disabled people are blind or have learning difficulties and will need the information presented in a different way.

Rob Sinclair-Barnes, Amadeus’ director of marketing, pointed out that, as the babyboomer generation enters old age and faces increasing health problems, the industry must take action.

‘It (accessible travel) is a growing market. I’ve found it quite astonishing how little (product) there is,’ he said.

The round-table also discussed the issues surrounding responsible travel, which faces problems, largely because the market is so fractured.

Micaela Juarez, WTM head of marketing and communications, said: ‘Someone should form a body that comes up with a system that’s impartial. It is too vital an issue to be left to chance.’

For more from the WTM debate, click here.

It’s been 3 years since I last had to negotiate an airport and take a long haul flight.
Then I was still able to go the distance on my own two feet safely. There’s no
getting away from the fact that airports are a hive of activity and can cause confusion
to even the most able bodied person. To someone with Cerebellar Ataxia who has
all the neurological problems this presents, it can be off putting to say the least.

But, that shouldn’t stop us from travelling. As long as it’s understood we can’t stand
for ages shuffling forward in queues, and need time to digest information etc, etc.
Obviously I’m referring to those of us who as yet are not using wheelchairs.

Airlines make lots of money from us, it’ll be interesting to see if they put their money
where their mouth is.

Yes, I agree Beryl.. it's not just a physical disability and we need to be aware of 'consequences' of travel. I have found my four wheeled rolator with seat as enormous comfort but I still have a dread of large areas. It is very different to using a wheelchair especially if you dont have youth on your side.

Airlines do need to be aware of our needs and those of the elderly too.

I can only say that I would totally agree with Alan and Beryl concerning this obstacle facing those with handicaps when it comes to air travel.
Since we are in a minority, airlines generally place the economical factor of the utmost priority which is directly connected to a governmental legislation or better still, attitude to people by the people.
The U.K government stands out admirably in this sphere reflecting the "get out of my way" attitude of the citizens in general, albeit many exceptions.
In my experience there are airports that can only be admired in the governmental/national attitude in those particular countries and their amazing service/ willingness to help out - anywhere in Switzerland and Portugal as well as their airline staff.

Having just returned from a week in Cornwall I can see pros and cons to travelling.

Cons is the availability at short notice of accessible cottages.Many have wheelchair access and a wet rooom with one grab rail, several round the toilet but often the wet roomss are so big that you would need a waterproof wheelchair.

I was glad to get back to my poky shower with walls thaat I have learnt to balance on.I think when ppeople say accessible cottages one should look carefully at the photo of the showering and toilet facilities and see if it meets your needs at the time.Ataxia is a changing condition for some and what suited us last year may not suit now.Confusing for landlords who think they are accommodating the disabled.Showering was even more of an ordeal ;not conducive to getting up.

I took a wheelchair but found although I was safe a lot of getting stuck ,lots of slopes, lots of kerbs and I needed a very strong man to get me over the obstacles(or woman).

We went out of season so we did not have to contend with lots of tourists in queues but you are at the mercy of the weather.We were lucky as we had sun most days but when I was restricted to half term in October I remember tramping around in the rain with two bored children.

We have a dog so there was lots of sitting around beaches while it ran round and swam in the sea.A very sandy,stinky car afterwards.

Then there was food.It wasn't easy finding a dog and disabled friendly pub.I first have to try to manoevre around the table in a wheelchair. Then you are offered a drink which you promptly spill everywhere because of the intention tremors.

After a grand mopping up ceremony you are given a straw, you sit there with a bib and plastic beaker and they bring your food which is piping hot and gets emptied all over your bib so you feel even more of a baby.No wonder no-one wants to take us out.Of course this has only happened this year and does not affect everybody.


There are many.The National Trust were very good with disabled people but it depends where you go.Llanhydrock was good because they have a route for wheelchairs.They also have lifts, someone accompanying you and two disabled toilets.Many Natoinal Trust places have trampers for steep inclines in the grounds.These are worth having but again you are restricted as you need to plan ahead and book a Tramper if they have one.This is all weather dependent.Nothing worse than tramping on a Tramper in soggy wet grounds. You get lots of understanding if you are in a wheelchair.This boosts your self esteem so you don't feel a misfit.

I have learnt that it is useful to take in addition to your regular aids,a packet of wet wipes for sticky fingers after consuming food or ice creams especially if you have tremors like me and a good book to read while carers or husbands go for a stroll or somewhere inaccessible to us.

It is possible to travel and enjoy yourself but there are pros and cons.I am just outlining my experiences so this would not be applicable to our American members or anyone who doesn't have these symptoms.

Bon Voyage and take your sense of humour.


I use a cane and haven't had trouble traveling, although I'm certainly not fond of airports, but wouldn't be anyway, even without a cane. They're a jungle to negotiate, that's for sure! I understand other's points of view, especially those using a rollator, wheelchair and dog! Marie really summed it all up, "take your sense of humor"...,LOL! Thanks for the information Alan! It would be wonderful for the disabled to see some progress made! ;o)

All attendees, at this meeting were interested in this subject and will be taking the issues forward.

Alan Thomas (Jones- A media mistake!)

Ataxia South Wales chairman

Good post. I emailed a copy to my son-in-law who will be designing the interiors of several Hotels over the next few years. He’s remarkably creative so I hope this gets his attention. I was terrified of traveling until my son took me on part of his around the world trip. I needed a walking stick at that time. I had to go to Tokyo by myself and get to the Hotel. This was a breeze. Tokyo is a good place for a disabled traveler. Lots of help and very safe. He and I went on to Thailand. I was very grateful he was with me to help. Thailand is not at all prepared for disabilities. I found myself nearly crawling in and out of fishing boats to get to our destination. It wasn’t pretty, but in the end wonderful. We stayed on a gorgeous tropical island and I even went snorkeling. I’m not afraid to travel now. It really restored my confidence.

One new thing I never thought of is a big problem in dealing with aging people. I have so much hearing loss that I nearly need hearing aids. I’m a fast thinker and was a fast talker. I appreciate people who don’t waste my time but lately every fast talker I’ve run into speaks jiberish to me. I have to tel them to repeat and slow down. The high pitches in certain words are totally lost. My brain has to piece the words together without the high tones and try to understand the sentence. Try doing this while standing when you have ataxia and also trying to maintain an upright position – my brain is overloaded. Getting service people to understand what this hearing loss is like so they can communicate with us older folks without treating us like we’re stupid would be a good change for travel industry to think about.