Disabled Tourists: Rich Source of Revenue?
Bob Mervine, Staff Writer Excerpts from the Orlando Business Journal
When Murray Krasnoff visits a business, he sometimes brings along a blindfold, earplugs and wheelchair, the better to show clients the problems facing travelers with disabilities. "You learn to hate carpet real quickly in a wheelchair," Krasnoff says. "It's like quicksand."
Krasnoff founded Orlando-based Suntastic Tours International in 1990 to cater to travelers who need special attention, including those with disabilities. "There are a lot of things that businesses can do in this area that don't cost money," he says. And the investment can bring huge returns.
Travelers with disabilities spent $13.6 billion in 2002 -- but say they would have spent $27 billion if hotels, airlines, theme parks and restaurants could better accommodate their needs. That startling statistic says a lot about a rapidly growing niche market for travel and how businesses can accommodate them.
Jay Cardinali, Walt Disney World's manager of services for guests with disabilities, confirms there's been an increase in the number of disabled guests in recent years, but declines to be more specific. "We don't track the numbers of our disabled guests," he says.
However, "Walt Disney World is the No. 1 company for travelers, disabled or not," says Cheryl Duke. Cheryl Duke and her husband, Bill, founded W. C. Duke Associates in 1988. "Disney sometimes gets criticized," she says, "but it's because they have raised the bar for disabled travel so much that people's expectations are so much higher."
In fact, Cardinali says some disabled guests make no advance plans when they visit. "They just show up," he says. "They say, 'Hey it's Disney. They'll handle things." To a significant degree, they do.
Among the amenities Walt Disney World offers are Braille guidebooks and a pre-recorded audio guide for people with visual disabilities. In theaters, guests use a mirror to read closed captioning projected on the rear wall of the room in a method similar to a teleprompter. There's a handheld PDA-type device that provides closed captioning of the park's show narration as well. Live American sign language translators provide narration in some live performances.
On some rides, guests who may have problems entering or leaving a ride vehicle can practice in a private room equipped with a stationary car so guests can feel comfortable once they get on the real thing.
Powered scooters are also available for $30 a day. There's even a special golf cart available. The Club Car OnePass allows guests to play the game from the cart, including driving it onto the resort's 99 individual putting greens.
Not every accommodation needs to be as sophisticated. In restaurants, Krasnoff says people with visual disabilities need to have the table layout explained by the staff, comparing the layout to a clock face: "The sugar is at 1 o'clock, and the salt and pepper is at 12. The salt is on the right," or explaining to a hotel guest which bottle has the shampoo and which has the conditioner.
The important thing, Krasnoff says, is assuring staff that it is OK to offer assistance to guests with disabilities. "The worst thing you can do is not ask at all," he says.
And some of the best things may be the most surprising. Duke says Disney now requires all disabled guests to wait in line, just like other customers. "But that's another result of the ADA," she says. "Now we get to wait in line like everybody else. That's equality"