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From the Champion’s desk

Chris Veitch is the DWP’s Accessibility Champion for the Tourism sector, as well as being a Trustee of Tourism for All. 

Chris is a successful consultant, who works with many different organisations of all types and sizes, in many countries, helping them to recognise and to benefit from the opportunities presented by accessible tourism and travel. 

We’ve asked Chris to share with us his experiences and views, together with news and stories that he encounters as he works within this sector. 

In his first article, Chris tells us about how he got interested and involved in accessible tourism and travel and why he is so passionate about it, and shares his thoughts on how the UK compares to other countries in the service and facilities we offer to disabled tourists and travellers and how we can all contribute to improving the accessibility of tourism and travel to all.

Chris Veitch

I first got involved in accessible tourism and travel in 1999. 

I was studying for a degree in Tourism Management (I was in my early 40’s, so it was rather late in life, but I am so glad I did it). As part of my degree course I had to do a placement year and I was fortunate enough to get a job working in the office of the CEO of the English Tourism Council (ETC). I was asked to produce a report looking at the National Accessible Scheme. That was when my interest and involvement with accessible tourism and travel began, and it has for the most part been the focus of my work ever since. 

I don’t have a recognised impairment myself, but I am very conscious that as I get older things are getting more difficult.

I can’t see as well as I used to for a start, so glasses are essential for reading and distances.  The aches and pains of ageing are also there and I recognise that I can’t do quite as much as I used to. My Senior Railcard also reinforces that I have moved to another stage of life! This is not a stage, though, where I want to stop doing things. On the contrary, I want to do more, but I realise that I need to adapt and do things slightly differently, as what I could do 40 years ago (or even 10 years ago) is different to what I can do now.

What this does for me is to reinforce how accessible tourism is something that we should all be interested in, as it affects us all at some point in our lives, from birth or through later years, where research shows there is a correlation between ageing and increasing impairment.

I find the subject of accessible tourism and travel really exciting.

Firstly, I just love tourism, and I enjoy the challenges that tourism offers. It is not a single product like a car that we can see and touch, but it is a series of experiences that we have as we move from one business to another, that encompass tangible elements (like the built environment and the facilities) and non-tangible elements (like the welcome and the service).

Secondly, social equality is really important to me, which is why I believe we need to make tourism as inclusive as we can. We know the benefits that tourism and travel offer individuals, and the positive impact made on our lives when we have the chance to ‘get away from it all’, and I believe that we are all entitled to enjoy those benefits, irrespective of whether we have an impairment. Not only that, I strongly believe that tourism experiences can be enhanced for everyone if we focus on accessibility, because this approach places the customer and their experience right at the heart of the business, which is the essence of great customer service.

But the most exciting aspect of accessibility for me is the impact it can have on businesses’ bottom line. Accessibility is not solely about improving opportunities for disabled people to travel, it is an exciting tool that can help businesses and destinations to achieve many of their commercial aims, such as improving quality and competitiveness, addressing seasonality issues and responding to changing markets, such as the ageing population. And giving attention to accessibility doesn’t only benefit visitors to a destination, it can improve the quality of life for people with access requirements throughout the local community.

I have worked with organisations all over the world.

My time with the English Tourism Council started what I see as a journey of understanding about accessible tourism and travel. My thinking and approach has changed over time and continues to change as I learn from others and see the exciting things that many determined people and organisations are doing to try and make a difference.

In the UK, I have worked and continue to work with the National Tourist Boards, VisitEngland, VisitScotland and VisitWales. In the past I worked closely with a number of Regional Tourist Boards, most notably in London and in the North East, and recently I have been working with Tourism South East. They approached me to help review their national training course ‘Welcome All’, which they wanted to revamp. Through my roles as the DWP’s Accessibility Champion for the Tourism sector and as a Trustee of Tourism for All I am getting more involved with major commercial companies, helping them to recognise and to benefit from the opportunities presented by accessible tourism and travel.

Some of the work that I did for VisitBritain exposed me to projects that were being carried out in Europe, and I became one of the first members of ENAT (the European Network for Accessible Tourism in Europe).  I am still a member of ENAT and I continue to work with a range of different organisations across Europe, all with a focus to improve the accessibility of tourism, especially the European Commission, who have asked me to be a speaker at events on a number of occasions.

In Europe, I have worked in Austria, Belgium, Georgia, Germany, Italy, Greece and Spain, while further afield, I have worked in Australia, Malaysia and Turkey.

I have worked on a range of different projects, to develop policies and strategies for accessible tourism, to build partnerships between the public sector and private businesses and to make the public realm accessible. I have developed tools for supporting industry and improving information and facilities for visitors. I have developed accessible itineraries and produced destination management handbooks to improve accessibility.

Last but by no means least, I have delivered accessibility training for managers and staff in both the public sector and private businesses and have given guest lectures at universities in the UK and, more recently, Turkey. This is very important to me, as I strongly believe in education and that we need to ensure that future managers working in tourism understand this market.

Comparing the UK to other countries is not easy, because so much is down to perception.

I am sometimes asked how the UK compares to other countries in the service and facilities we offer to disabled tourists and travellers, but this is a difficult question, because to answer it you have to have a clear and unambiguous definition of accessibility, which is just not practical. What may be accessible for one person is not necessarily accessible for another, so who you think is doing well will depend on your needs and requirements and on your perception, which of course is as important as reality.

Certainly, the UK is recognised across the world for the work it has done and continues to do to support the development of accessible tourism, but there is still some way to go.

Equally, there are other countries that have a strong focus on accessibility, such as France, Germany, Italy and Spain, but again, none of these is perfect.

It is important to think about what can drive improvements in the accessibility of tourism, and a good example is Australia, where a report has just been published which reflects that the size and value of the accessible tourism and travel market is as large as the Chinese market for them. That is an incentive to change things.

The key thing we have to remember is that if we want to maintain a competitive edge we cannot afford to ignore supporting and developing further the accessibility of our tourism products and services. Failure to do so will mean other countries that see the potential of this market, especially given the impact of the ageing population, will potentially overtake us and gain the benefits. We need to strengthen our offer across the tourism value chain so that we can market and promote the UK with confidence as an accessible destination.

I am a Trustee of Tourism for All because I believe in the work we do. 

Tourism for All has a long history and is recognised across government and industry as a major voice for disabled people. I joined because I want to be part of a team that makes a difference.

I came on board at a very exciting time, when Tourism for All was taking a hard look at itself. We have emerged much stronger, I think, with new branding and a very attractive website to serve our Members and Partners and those interested in accessible tourism. We have also launched our campaign ‘Tourism is for Everybody’. We describe ourselves as a small but vibrant charity and I think what we offer now reflects that.

Tourism for All serves our individual Members by helping them to find that break or holiday which meets their access requirements.

With our business Partners, Tourism for All adopts a positive role, which I strongly support, of education through tailored training programmes, as well as encouraging and working with them by highlighting and sharing good practice. We are very proud of the fact that we have brands like Premier Inn and National Trust as Partners, as well as individual businesses.

We work with key policy makers and have close working relationships with the National Tourist Boards, which we value as it not only allows us a voice, but helps us to support them in their work in this area of tourism development.  It is also really encouraging to see Visit Isle of Wight join as one of our latest Partners, as we want to work more with Destination Management Organisations like this.

All of those we work with are important to us. Together we can achieve much more and reach those goals we have set ourselves and make a difference for everybody.

I see my role as the DWP’s Accessibility Champion as being about raising awareness.

I see the role as trying to raise awareness of the business and social opportunities that are opened up in the UK by making tourism more accessible. I am keen to highlight success and good practice, but I also think it is really important to look at the barriers and how we can remove them. I believe therefore that we need to look at how we reach small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and engage with them to give them an understanding of the market and give them confidence to move forward and develop their business to be more accessible.

I believe we all have a part to play.

How can everyone help? Well, I believe the best way we can achieve and demonstrate success is by understanding those who are supporting this movement. Our campaign ‘Tourism is for Everybody’ is a simple but very effective way of showing support and measuring success. We want businesses to sign up to the 9 commitments, at no cost, and proudly use the ‘Tourism is for Everybody’ logo in their marketing. We want individuals to support the campaign by wearing their ‘Tourism is for Everybody’ badges. We want policy makers to promote the values of the campaign and encourage businesses to sign up. By all coming together behind the simple message of ‘Tourism is for Everybody’, I believe we can all help raise awareness and grow the numbers supporting the movement. I would like to see the day where we reach a critical point and businesses realise that they need to join the movement because all those around them are united in their support to make sure that Tourism is for Everybody.

I’m off to Australia and New Zealand for 3 months, but it’s not just a holiday.

It’s partly a holiday, to catch up with family and friends, but it is also an opportunity to meet with representatives of many organisations, some of which I had the pleasure of dealing with last year and some of which are new to me.

Included in my plans are meetings with the management team of the Gold Coast, who have been making a push on accessibility in preparation for the Commonwealth Games, and with local government representatives from New South Wales, who have developed some great online resources to help engage with businesses. I will also be meeting the authors of a major report that has just been published, looking at the accessible tourism market in Australia and the opportunities this offers.

It won’t all be meetings, though. I have also been invited to take part in an accessibility workshop by Destination Melbourne and to deliver a lecture to students at a University in Sydney.

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