31 January 2017
When an Inspector calls……
With a growing rise in the number of people with access needs in the UK, Deborah Heather, Director of Quality in Tourism talks about the National Accessible Scheme and how it can benefit your business. Deborah manages a field force of more than 40 assessors, as part of the accommodation assessment scheme for VisitEngland; each assessor grades around 300 properties a year, ensuring that they are safe, clean and legal.
With over 11.5 million people in the UK classed as having a disability and over £12.1billion spent on trips where one member of the party has an impairment, the Purple Pound is a growing market for accommodation providers to target. It’s one that can be lucrative for truly accessible businesses, but businesses need to be careful about claiming they are accessible, without knowing all their responsibilities.
If you are finding that access is becoming a key consideration for your Hotel, there are improvements you can make to become more accessible to all of your guests. It’s important to note that this isn’t just about wheelchairs, only 8% of disabled people use a wheelchair, so even if you can’t ‘reasonably’ provide wheelchair accessible accommodation, there are lots of other improvements you can make to broaden your appeal.
There are three key areas for consideration:
It’s well documented that disabled consumers can struggle to find suitable accommodation for their stay due to out of date information. Including an access statement for your business is a great way of highlighting your facilities and services to someone who may have access needs. Write a concise and accurate description of what you offer, and if possible include photos; give consideration to all parts of your business from car parking through to the bedrooms. Once completed, ensure you make it available to potential guests through your website and any promotional literature. A top tip we always give businesses is to invite guests with impairments to stay, and request specific feedback and recommendations. We once received a complaint about a business which hadn’t been assessed under the NAS scheme, to say that they had done all the ‘right’ things, but that they weren’t fit-for-purpose; for example the hand rails to support using the toilet were too far from the toilet to actually be useable, and the sink was too low to fit a wheelchair underneath.
The most positive experiences for those with a disability tend to be at properties where there is a high level of customer service and disability awareness within the staff. This usually comes from staff having the right attitude and confidence to welcome and assist disabled people, which can be fostered through proper training. Take a look at local or national training courses such as Welcome All or WorldHost to give your staff a boost in the right direction.
Improving your accessibility does not have to mean vast structural changes; often small changes can make the biggest difference. The beauty of the NAS scheme is that you will be assessed against national benchmarks and graded for how good you are now, as well as being given extensive recommendations to make your business more accessible. Our assessors are well versed in what adaptations can be made to your property to gain the maximum output for the least input.
Case Study: Three Abbey Green, Bath
Three Abbey Green is a four star, Grade II listed building, hidden away in a quiet cobbled square in the heart of central Bath. The establishment is family run by Sue and Derek Wright, along with their daughter Nici and son in law Alan. The main house has seven rooms (including two large suites ideal for families or groups). The associated Jane Austen Wing adjacent to the main house, has three rooms, each with their own character and unique charm.
A key ethos that runs as part of the business is to welcome guests of any age and try to accommodate any special needs. Two of the ground floor rooms have bathrooms which have been specifically designed to assist guests with mobility problems, but the owners are well aware that not every disability causes mobility issues. Sue Wright, owner says “The process of joining NAS made me think much more broadly about our business being accessible to all guests. We thought we were but soon realised that we weren’t. It’s not just about mobility issues either – I needed to think about guests with hearing and visual problems, those who may need a carer staying with them, accommodating families with small children (we were quite good at that bit!) and those with severe food allergies”
Sue continues “The team at Quality in Tourism were so encouraging and helpful. Annette Burgess, one of the lead assessors spoke so passionately at a meeting regarding the subject and explained how it was not difficult to make a difference to this sector of the market. This was further cemented by my own experience of working in a children’s hospital and then a hospice and I knew we had to make our family business more accessible”.
When asked what advice she would give to anyone else considering a National Accessible rating, Sue responded “Start simply. Get the leaflet ‘One Step Ahead’ available on the Quality in Tourism website, which is designed to help every business accommodate older and less mobile guests. The award should be attainable as it is just common sense. Once you are confident at this level, it then doesn’t seem such a big step to try for one of the higher awards. There are people out there, like Annette, who want to help you. Use them.”
Sue does face some challenges though; Three Abbey Green is a listed Georgian building in a World Heritage Site. They cannot get guests with mobility issues easily into the building as there are four steps up to the front of the house and they are unable to make any modifications. This is restricting them in trying for the M2 and M3 Awards. Equipment is another challenge Sue faced “We needed to buy one or two small pieces of equipment like a toilet seat raiser and a portable grab rail. I found making sure I bought the right thing quite challenging.”
Sue concludes “As a business we have always embraced our QiT inspections as a valuable and educational experience. We have always strived to be the very best we can be and offer best practice but any ‘looming’ visit from an inspector makes us look at our business with a fresh pair of eyes and stops us from being complacent. Inspectors seem only to have our business’s best interests at heart and we learn so much from their comments and suggestions.”
Case Study: Park House Hotel
Park House Hotel is a unique country house hotel located in the beautiful west Norfolk countryside with easy access to King’s Lynn. The venue is based on the Royal Sandringham Estate, the birthplace of Princess Diana.
The Leonard Cheshire Disability charity operates the hotel, with its eight single and eight twin-bedded rooms, making it fully accessible for people with mobility difficulties and other disabilities. Equipment such as clos-o-mat toilets, tracking hoists, commodes and shower chairs are all available on request, and guests can enjoy the hotel’s extensive grounds, including the sensory garden, which is wheelchair accessible with level paving and seating areas. The heated swimming pool, complete with a hoist facility, is open from May to September.
An in-house care team provides care and assistance if needed, or simply the peace of mind and reassurance that someone is nearby. The hotel organises optional outings and entertainment with its fleet of adapted minibuses. There are also many themed weeks throughout the year, spanning subjects from painting to stately homes - not forgetting the famous Sandringham Flower Show in July.
Tess Gilder, General Manager says “The assessment process gives our guests and any prospective guests the confidence that they are staying somewhere that reaches a specific standard, and is inspected annually by the Quality Assurance scheme. It also gives us the opportunity to discuss things that we could put in place to enhance our guests stay and pick up good practise from other NAS rated establishments, and vice versa.”
When asked what the best piece of advice they’ve been given by one of our assessors, Tess responded “This was the introduction of the Access statement. We were advised that there was a template on the website that we could use. This then gave anyone looking at our website the information they needed to be able to make an informed choice if our hotel was suitable for them in the first instance.”
Tess continues, “As the majority of our guests have a disability, our rooms are all adapted to be able to meet many different needs. We have ceiling hoists in a number of rooms and mobile hoists and various pieces of equipment available for our guests use.
Conversations with the inspector are always very informative and having an open dialogue has meant that we are able to deliver a very unique service to disabled people in a hotel.”
When asked what advice they would give to anyone considering adopting the National Accessible Standard, Tess says “I would encourage everyone to get a rating as it is nationally recognised and it is not only about people with a physical disability; there are the unseen disabilities as well and it is a starting point to grow business. The disabled market can bring in a lot of extra income and if guests find somewhere that is suitable for their needs they will return time after time and pass the message on.”