Discrimination against disabled people is not only illegal but also shows a lack of PR savvy says Arnold Fewell, managing director, AVF Marketing
Just before Christmas, an article in The Mail on Sunday exposed the shortcomings of some London hotels when it came to accessibility. It focused on a wheelchair user (and journalist) who had come to London for a Christmas party and experienced limited access to the majority of hospitality establishments.
Some will say that this type of article is typical of The Mail on Sunday, and I have some sympathy with that. It was apparent the journalist knew what to expect and a lot was said about hotels that did not have accessible rooms or were unwelcoming to a disabled person. But my biggest worry is that it will be adverse PR that drives the accessible agenda, when it should be the law or the business case.
A blog on the World Travel Market suggested three stages for the accessibility market:
• Obligation: this is the legal requirement, which should be covered by the 2010 Equality Act and the 2005 Disability Discrimination Act.
• Opportunity: this is the stage we are at now, but if we don't get our act together soon, we will lose out to Europe.
• Ordinary: I wonder how far off we are from this and if I will ever see it in my lifetime?
Let's take these one at a time. In spite of people's obligation to the law, it is concerning that I still see and hear examples of discrimination. I saw recently on a hotel's website that it had just invested £1.5m on its property and claimed how family and pet friendly it now was. As a grandfather, let alone a disabled person, I found myself excluded. I became a third-class citizen behind the dog.
Germany has already put together tours marketed at disabled people. VisitEngland is aiming to do the same, but it needs hotels and conference venues that provide great customer service to all. This is still to happen in my opinion.
As for ordinary, if only we could see a day where disability is accepted as normal, where everywhere is accessible and you can turn up anywhere without experiencing a problem.
VisitEngland has estimated the value of the stay away from home market for disabled people at £2b and this is set to rise as we all live longer. If there is a case against you under the Equality Act, you will have to make the changes required, pay compensation and experience the bad PR, so surely it would be better just to do it and reap the financial benefits.