Evan Clulee has travelled extensively, and he does it in a wheelchair. He has been to 13 different countries and has seen first-hand that there’s a massive difference depending on country as to accessibility and accommodation.
“Generally, accessibility is improving, but it’s still not there yet. Over the last 25 years hotel owners/management are more aware of accessibility needs than they were, and there is generally a willingness in New Zealand to get it right. Which is helpful.”
What Clulee would like the hotel and accommodation sector to know is that people with disabilities travel. They enjoy travelling and have discretionary income, but if a hotel is not accessible, not only will they not stay there, their family and friends won’t either.
“Disabled people, when we find good accessible accommodation, and customer service is great – we will return, and we’ll let many other disabled people know about that business. To have a hotel accessible simply makes good business sense.”
Travelling overseas can be really hit and miss, explained Clulee. One big point is that it can often be very difficult to find out prior to travel what a particular hotels accessibility is like.
“Often customer service will tell you that ‘Yes, we have wheelchair accessible rooms’, but this means so many different things, in different countries. I now insist on photos being sent of the room, and the toilet, to ensure it meets my access needs.”
Unfortunately, sometimes hotel management aren’t willing to send photos, or engage like this when seeking information.
“We experienced this on our last trip to Singapore. We simply chose to stay at another hotel. Finding out about access can take a lot of time and be stressful, especially if customer service communication isn’t brilliant. So, it isn’t always easy to find out the details you need to about the accommodation prior to travelling/booking, this is frustrating.”
Clulee has found that when ringing to explore/book a hotel room, it is common for customer service to say they have accessible rooms. But they’re not always accessible. He noted that it’s frustrating in New Zealand, with the number of older styled motels, or motor inns, that might have flat access into a room, but the bathroom isn’t accessible. And often with an older style building, they simply aren’t large enough rooms to meet accessibility standards.
“We were caught out when staying in Manukau a few years ago, booked an accessible room in an older hotel, we booked because of the low cost, on arrival at the motel I found that I couldn’t use the shower safely, so we had to shift to another hotel.”
Even with “accessible” hotel accommodation – Clulee keeps encountering the same issues. Overhead cupboards up too high to reach cups and items while seated in a wheelchair. Power Plugs in rooms not easy to access from a wheelchair, and the shower head too high to reach.
AND the perennial issue of the mirror in the bathroom being too high for a person in a wheelchair to see in.
“Over 80 percent of the accessible bathrooms I have photographed, the mirror is positioned too high to see in. This is particularly annoying, as it is an easy fix. Easy to lower the mirror or have a full-length mirror in the bathroom.”
Luckily, Clulee does have a go-to accommodation provider – the Quest serviced apartments.
“The Quest as a business is committed to accessibility, and it’s a no brainer. It’s stress free, knowing you can book at the Quest, and it IS accessible. Comfortable, clean, and well appointed. With good customer service.
“I’ve just checked out of The Quest, Albany, this morning. And have previously stayed with them in Highbrook, Taupo, and Dunedin. I will keep revisiting them, for the peace of mind it brings while travelling. And generally, the rooms are modern, and the accessibility is the same, or very similar across the different apartment chain. (This morning I spoke with management at the Quest Albany and pointed out one or two access issues that should be improved., they took notes. When I revisit, I’ll check if they have followed up, and I will also reiterate the same points in the customer feedback survey).”
Clulee wants accommodation providers to know that people with disabilities have wallets too, they travel, and stay, and spend money, so it just makes sense to be fully accessible. Clulee suggested designing accessibility from the start. And if a hotelier is making alterations, do consult with disabled people, an accessibility consultant, and perhaps your local council, prior to starting any accessibility alterations.
Remember it’s not just about being able to get in the front door. There are many accessible features to check:
- is there enough space in the room for a wheelchair user to move around?
- can cupboards be reached while seated in a wheelchair?
- is the bathroom all following NZS4121 standards on accessibility?
- is the fold down shower bench secure, safe, and level?
- are there non-slip surfaces in the bathroom?
“It’s a long check list. But the hotelier needs to think about the whole of the stay. It’s not just about meeting minimum accessibility standards, but going the extra to make our stay enjoyable, and comfortable. (can be as simple as asking the individual wheelchair user when we check in, if the hotel room is appointed the way it needs to be, or do beds, chairs, or furniture need to be moved to give more space, and make it more accessible, and user friendly).”
Clulee has plenty of horror stories but prefers to focus on the positive. He does note that there simply aren’t enough really brilliant accessible accommodation options across New Zealand.
“We’d really like to see more choice, and more fully accessible rooms across several different hotel chains. Including more choice right across the price point range from budget accommodation, to boutique, and everything in between.”
Clulee’s other advice for business owners is to not over sell what you have.
“I.e., don’t say you have wheelchair friendly accommodation, when you don’t. Just be very clear and honest on your advertising, and online web page, what you offer, exactly what the accommodation is like, what accessibility features your rooms have, and what you don’t have or aren’t able offer.
“All we need is good information, so we can make an informed choice. There is nothing worse than turning up to a hotel that was meant to be accessible, to find out it is not, and to have to find accessible accommodation last minute, and have to shift.”
Both the accessible accommodation and tourism sectors are yet to reach their full potential. It is a market that is yet to be tapped fully by Kiwi businesses and there is a real opportunity in this area.
“It would be great if we also had greater choice of where we stayed with our families. More accessible accommodation leads to peace of mind, great accommodation experiences, and creates good travel memories.
“If a business is accessible, people with disabilities and our families will come, and we will let other disabled people know about outstanding, and accessible tourism businesses.”