British PM announces new tourism sector deal

UK to become the most accessible destination for disabled visitors

Promoting destinations as welcoming and accessible will be a key part of Britain’s brand proposition. The British Tourist Authority will commit to increasing the visibility of people with disabilities and accessible destinations in its imagery and content, with an aim to incorporate accessibility into major ongoing campaigns such as ‘I Travel For…’, in order to leave lasting impressions with potential visitors about the accessible experiences that can be found in Britain.
Making tourist experiences more accessible will have a wider impact – benefiting groups such as parents with prams and the elderly too. Visitors over 55 spent £2.3bn in the UK in 2017 and with an ageing global population it is a key market for businesses to target in the future.

The Prime Minister has announced the UK’s first ever tourism sector deal today, reaffirming the UK’s global role as a key player in the industry.

The new deal will revolutionise the way data is used by the sector, through the creation of new Tourism Data Hub. The hub will collate regularly updated data showing the latest trends and spends, allowing businesses to better target overseas visitors.

The deal will also support the creation of an additional 10,000 apprenticeships for people building their careers in the tourism and hospitality sectors.

Last year around 38 million people visited the UK, contributing £23 billion to the local economy. By 2025 experts predict that there will be an additional 9 million visitors to the UK. The new deal commits to building an additional 130,000 hotel rooms to respond to the increased demand for infrastructure.

The deal also outlines the government’s ambitions for the UK to become the most accessible destination for disabled visitors, through improvement of disabled facilities and access to destinations across the country.

Prime Minister Theresa May said:

As one of the most visited countries in the world, the UK is a world leader in international tourism and it is crucial that we remain globally competitive to meet growing demands.

That’s why today I am pleased to announce the UK’s first ever tourism sector deal, ensuring that we continue to innovate, boost connectivity and economic productivity, expand career pathways and break down barriers for visitors with disabilities.

This deal recognises the important role tourism plays, and will continue to play, in showcasing what our great country has to offer.

Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright said:

Today we have set out our vision for the future of UK tourism – a commitment to an industry that is vital for the prosperity of our communities, our businesses and our economy.

The UK is one of the world’s greatest destinations and this deal recognises the importance of maximising our natural assets. We are dedicated to supporting life-long careers for those that work in tourism, offering insightful data to help grow businesses and ultimately creating a better visitor experience throughout the UK.

Business Secretary Greg Clark said:

Tourism is one of our most valuable industries and it plays a vital role in our economy, with nearly two million people employed in the communities across the country and £23 billion pounds spent by visitors in the UK last year.

As part of today’s ground-breaking Deal, new Tourism Zones will deliver a direct boost to holiday destinations across the country, helping create new jobs as well as supporting improvements in transport connections.

This is one of the many ways in which the Deal will be key in building a world-class experience economy, helping us deliver on the ambition we set out in our modern Industrial Strategy; Government and industry working hand-in-hand to build on our exceptional strengths in this sector, boosting productivity and further increasing the UK’s attractiveness as a holiday destination.

Other commitments in the Tourism Sector Deal include:

more than 130,000 new hotel rooms are set to be built across the UK, with 75% being built outside of London. £250,000 to improve broadband connectivity in conferences centres across the UK for business visitors

pilot of up to five new Tourism Zones to drive visitor numbers across the country. Zones will receive Government support for growing their local visitor economy, through initiatives like targeted support for product and promotion development, mentoring support to businesses and digital skills training

10,000 employees in the sector to benefit from new mentorship schemes

a new government strategy to grow the number of Business Events and Conferences, helping to drive off-season visitors

developed in partnership with the British Tourist Authority and Industry, the sector deal forms part of the UK Government’s Modern Industrial Strategy supporting the continued growth of the tourism sector, ensuring the UK remains globally competitive as a top tourist destination

British Tourist Authority Chair Steve Ridgway CBE said:

This sector deal is a game-changer for tourism, one of the UK’s most valuable export industries, spelling a step-change in how we underpin the success of tourism for a generation, moving it to the top table as a leading industry for the UK Government’s future economic planning.

And it is a game-changer for the economy, growing the value of the industry and employment in tourism, fixing issues from skills and productivity to extending the season year-round, building stronger tourism destinations up and down the country and developing world-class experiences for domestic and international visitors.

Tourism is one of the most fiercely competitive global industries and this deal ensures we can continue to compete internationally as a top destination for visitors, driving major economic growth across the whole of the UK.

Wheelchair users with friends at airport

Change your Destination

The video “Change your destination” was issued by Fundación ONCE and UNWTO by the occasion of the 2019 International Fair of Tourism (FITUR).

Facilitating travel for people with disabilities is an exceptional business opportunity. Yet, a change in mind-set and in the model of tourism services provision is needed in order to meet this major market demand. Accessible environments and services contribute to improve the quality of the tourism product and can create more job opportunities for people with disabilities.

Accessibility, therefore, must be an intrinsic part of any responsible and sustainable tourism policy and strategy.

OmniServ and SigncodeUK partner to enhance assistance for deaf airline passengers

OmniServ, part of ABM Industries and the UK’s leading airline and airport assistance service provider, has partnered with SigncodeUK, an innovative online provider of video translation services for the D/deaf community (Deaf, Deafened and Hard of Hearing), as part of its continued efforts to improve the flying experience for all.

SigncodeUK takes information and interprets it into a British Sign Language (BSL) video with subtitles. It points out that BSL users effectively have English as a second language, so they can miss, misunderstand or be unable to access written or spoken English. By using Signcodes, Deaf BSL users understand the signed information and for Deafened and Hard of Hearing people there are subtitles.

The two companies have signed a Memorandum of Understanding, which allows OmniServ exclusive rights to use the technology in airports – both landside and airside – and with airlines. It will also be available to help D/deaf travellers in airport retail areas.

OmniServ currently provides assistance for People With Reduced Mobility (PRM) passengers at Heathrow, one of the world’s busiest international passenger airports, as well as at Manchester, Liverpool, Edinburgh, and Stansted. Every year, it helps nearly two million PRM passengers.

Samantha Saunders, Head of Innovation & Regulatory Compliance at OmniServ, says:

“This is a real game changer and a win-win for all sides. From the commercial point-of-view, it means airports, airlines and travel retailers can now communicate more easily and effectively with D/deaf passengers. We will be able to create safety briefings for D/deaf passengers to play on airlines, security advisories so they know what to expect in airports, marketing materials for airport retailers and food and beverage providers. For D/deaf passengers, it will reduce frustration, help them get around airports more easily, allow them full access to a range of retail opportunities, and make sure they are fully informed of all the important safety issues that go along with flying.”

“The partnership with SigncodeUK allows us to communicate with a section of the community which rarely uses our passenger support services but which can benefit enormously from them,” adds Saunders. “D/deaf passengers just use a different language. This technology means we can communicate with them in their own language.”

“SigncodeUK cares passionately about equality for the Deaf community and believe independent access to information, products and services should be available to all,” said Jeff Earl, Sales Director, SigncodeUK. “We are delighted to be working in partnership with OmniServ to deliver our dream and it is fantastic to work alongside a company that shares our values and ethos.”

According to Civil Aviation Authority statistics, UK air travel grew 19% between 2010 – 2017. During the same period of time, the numbers of passengers requiring assistance has grown an incredible 47%.

Many of these passengers have visible disabilities; however, OmniServ is aware that there are many people whose disabilities are not readily apparent who might appreciate help. It is actively working with a range of charities to extend its assistance to cover all sorts of ‘Hidden Disabilities’, including autism, impaired vision, hearing problems, and medical conditions such as Meniere’s Syndrome or colostomies.

“Our focus is on comfort and dignity as disabled passengers travel through the airports we serve,”

says Antony Marke, Group Managing Director at OmniServ.

“Our fundamental belief is that every customer, regardless of their assistance needs, has the same right to enjoy air travel as every other passenger. The partnership with SigncodeUK will help us deliver that promise to a section of the travelling public which has until now been very difficult to reach. I’m delighted that we will now be able to communicate with them in their own language and ensure they enjoy a smooth transit through the airport and a stress-free flight.”

About OmniServ

OmniServ Limited is the International Division of ABMAviation, the aviation division of ABM Industries(NYSE listed).

ABM Aviation provides a comprehensive range of innovative and dependable solutions to more than 100 airports globally, including the top 30 airports within the USA and 15 airports within the UK as OmniServ. This includes Persons with Reduced Mobility (PRM) operations at Heathrow, Stansted, Liverpool, Edinburgh and most recently Manchester Airport, along with Portering, Bussing and Coaching solutions, Security, Airline check-in and baggage handling, Aircraft Services, Cleaning and, through its travel retail division, Blackjack Promotions, Brand Ambassadors and Retail Hosts.

Established in 2004, OmniServ employs over 3,500 staff delivering ‘Legendary Service’ across a wide portfolio of aviation services.

About SigncodeUK

SigncodeUK CIC (community interest company) was established in 2016. Our directors have been involved with the D/deaf community for over 15 years and have an in-depth knowledge of the everyday barriers faced by Deaf people. Our highly experienced Deaf liaison team are community members with links throughout the UK. They regularly attend events and post video updates to ensure that our latest news and the companies providing accessibility through Signcodes reaches the Deaf community.

An exciting concept, delivering your message, product or service information. Promoting your company or organisation to the Deaf community as inclusive and forward thinking, by adopting the latest technology. Organisations that we have worked with include NHS England, Zero Suicide Alliance (Relias Learning, MindEd Trust, Positive practise mental health collaboration), Institute of British Sign Language (IBSL) NHS Merseycare, NHS Trust, interpreterNow.


Eurostar provides 360° guide to help travellers with autism

Eurostar, the high-speed passenger rail service linking the UK with mainland Europe, has launched a new 360° virtual guide to help travellers with autism have a smooth and stress-free journey, in a first for the travel industry.

Eurostar worked with charity Ambitious About Autism to carry out a review of its travel experience for autistic passengers. The charity advised that customers with autism are more comfortable travelling after seeing information in advance with sights and sounds in two-dimensions. The virtual guide has been created to reflect this by providing visual information ahead of a journey.

Eurostar offers a unique journey, with stations that combine elements from airports and domestic rail travel and the visual guide has been designed to offer tips and advice for every step, including ticket gates, security checks, boarding, on-board and arrivals.

Amber Kirby, Customer Experience Director, Eurostar, said:

“We are committed to providing an effortless travel experience for all our customers, and our new guide provides information for those that may be anxious about what to expect on the journey, specifically travellers with autism. We hope it helps more of our customers feel prepared so that they can relax and enjoy the experience from the moment they arrive at the station.”

Jolanta Lasota, Chief Executive of Ambitious About Autism, said:

“Many autistic people can find travelling an overwhelming experience so having information about what to expect before they set off is really important.

“We were very pleased that Eurostar asked us to consult with them on changes that will support their autistic customers’ needs. We hope this new visual guide will help autistic travellers feel more comfortable and confident ahead of embarking on international travel.”

The guide is now available and forms part of a number of initiatives from Eurostar to improve customer experience including improvements to making wheelchair bookings and a new process for non-accredited assistance dogs.

View the Guide

First of its kind public accessible buses now link Banff and Lake Louise

Banff and Lake Louise have long been great accessible destinations with many inclusive experiences such as the Sulphur Mountain Gondola, cruising Lake Minnewanka, rafting on the Bow River and exploring the shoreline of the majestic Lake Louise. Using Banff as a holiday base has just become easier.

Roam Public Transit has introduced four new innovative, accessible commuter coaches for travel between Lake Louise and Banff. The new buses will be used on the Lake Louise Express route (Route 8X) starting on May 17, 2019.

“The Bow Valley Regional Transit Services Commission (BVRTSC) is proud to introduce our most accessible buses yet. The new MCI Commuter Coaches will change what it means for residents and visitors to travel by transit between Lake Louise and Banff, especially for our passengers using a range of mobility devices,” says chair of the BVRTSC Davina Bernard.

“As a Commission, we strive to provide accessible transit because we believe everyone should have the opportunity to use Roam. And as such, we are confident these new buses will make a positive impact on all of our users.”

The new Motor Coach Industries D45 CRT LE Commuter Coach model features an ergonomically designed spiral entryway, curb-level ramp, and second door that opens into a first-of-its-kind, low-entry vestibule offering comfort and access for all passengers. These state of the art vehicles offer a quality of service worthy of the National Parks experience.

“In the design phase of the D45 CRT LE, MCI engaged several volunteers from people with disabilities advocacy groups. They overwhelmingly endorsed the low entry vestibule concept, citing the increased freedom, boarding ease and the stress-free riding environment,” says VP of Sales for Canada West Region Chad Sadowy. “It’s the kind of praise you like to hear when designing a next-generation coach and we anticipate the same kind of approval from passengers riding with Roam.”

The new buses continue to help with BVRTSC’s mission of moving people throughout the Bow Valley and Banff National Park too, which has continued support from the Commission’s municipal partners such as Town of Banff, Town of Canmore, and Improvement District 9 as well as Parks Canada and other organizations such as Banff & Lake Louise Tourism.

“Parks Canada is proud of its collaborative partnerships with the BVRTSC, the Town of Banff, and Banff & Lake Louise Tourism. Together, we are providing long-term, sustainable solutions for travel and transit in Banff National Park and supporting improved access to exceptional experiences for visitors,” says acting field unit superintendent of Banff National Park Greg Danchuk.

“We are thrilled there will be even easier access to transit for visitors and residents across Banff and Lake Louise. It’s a great way we can enjoy the national park while ensuring we’re helping to preserve it as we contribute to reduced single vehicles on the roadways,” says President & CEO, Banff & Lake Louise Tourism Leslie Bruce.

howmans gap

Howmans Gap Ymca Alpine Centre Falls Creek

The first of its kind above the snowline in Australia, the Howmans Gap Alpine Centre YMCA is a universal-design, accessible accommodation facility that enables access to the snow and our alpine region for all alpine enthusiasts.

Howmans Gap Alpine Centre YMCA is situated on the Bogong High Plains, about four kilometres below Falls Creek resort, surrounded by tall ash bushland.

Howmans Gap offers a diverse range of accessible accommodation including self contained cottages and bunk style rooms. Bunk room accommodation prices include full catering with their in house chef.

Howmans Gap offers a wide range of facilities and activities including cycle knowledgeable staff, bike storage, bike tools, pumps and workshop. They offer the opportunity for walking, wildflowers, mountain biking, camping, high ropes, archery, and much more to help you explore Australia’s Alpine National Park in summer and is a great place for schools and groups to discover the Alpine region in any season.

In Winter, Howmans Gap Alpine Centre is the only YMCA Camp to offer snow and ski programs. Falls Creek operates  Falls Creek Cross Country for all of your Cross Country, Skating, Classic, Telemark, Snow shoeing, or tobogganing needs.

Sydney Airport

Sydney Airport first Australian airport to offer navigation service for visually impaired travellers

  • Sydney Airport launches service to empower blind and low vision travellers to confidently navigate the airport
  • Aira is a free service for passengers departing or arriving at Sydney’s airport, available via smartphone app

In an Australian airport first, Sydney Airport today launched a partnership with Aira, a service that enables blind and low vision travellers to confidently navigate the airport through a smartphone connection.

The service will provide visually impaired visitors and passengers with instant access to the information they need to explore Sydney Airport’s terminals.

Sydney Airport CEO Geoff Culbert said that the launch is part of a broader commitment to continue to improve accessibility at the airport.

“We welcome 44.4 million passengers a year through the airport and we’re continually looking for innovative ways to make the journey better,” he said.

“This new service will significantly improve the airport experience for the visually impaired community. The trial we recently completed at T2 Domestic was a game changer for the participant and that’s something we’re really excited about.”

Vision Australia CEO Ron Hooton said that the technology makes the world instantly more accessible for the more than 380,000 people in Australia who are blind or have low vision.

“It’s always pleasing when organisations take steps to improve accessibility and Sydney Airport becoming an Aira Access location is great news,” Mr Hooton said.

“Airports can be difficult environments to navigate for people who are blind or have low vision. Becoming an Aira Access location means the community can visit Sydney Airport without worrying if there will be somebody there to help them make their way to check in, find their gate or access any other of the airport’s facilities.”

Jack Tyrrell, a regular Sydney-based traveller, used Aira for the first time recently while departing Sydney Airport.

“When I need to go to the airport, I normally just go straight from the train station to my boarding gate, as I’m not able to distinguish what’s around. Using Aira for the first time, I was able to learn where things were and realised the full offering of the airport,” said Mr Tyrrell.

The free service to passengers departing or arriving in Sydney, works via a smartphone app on any iOS or Android device, connecting the traveller to an Aira agent. The Aira trained professional provides on-demand, personalised access to visual information to enhance the everyday experience of the user.

“Participants normally sign up to a plan and pay for the service by the minute, but when they use the service at Sydney Airport, we’re happy to cover the cost to support the visually impaired community,” Mr Culbert said.

Suman Kanuganti Founder and CEO of Aira said the company is excited to welcome Sydney Airport as an Aira Access partner.

“Providing free access to Aira at Australia’s busiest airport enhances the independent travelling experience for those who are blind or have low vision,” said Mr Kanuganti.

Sydney Airport recently opened a Changing-Places accredited bathroom at T1 International Arrivals. The bathroom set includes full-sized changing tables and hoists to assist people with profound disabilities and an assistance animal toilet for companion pets. The facility is wheelchair accessible and contains an artificial turf area, a disposable bin and water bowl for companion animals.

The bathroom also incorporates a Parent Room that has achieved an Australian Breastfeeding Association five-star rating.

To find out more about Sydney Airport’s accessibility options and to download a Journey Planner for helpful tips and contact information for your next airport visit, go to

Scandic Hotels introduces standard for allergy-friendly rooms

Scandic is the world’s first hotel to introduce a standard for allergy-friendly rooms. This means that guests booking allergy-friendly rooms can expect considerations including wooden floors and fragrance-free, hypoallergenic toiletries approved by the Swedish Asthma and Allergy Association. The rooms are also prepared according to strict cleaning procedures and are not located on floors where pets can stay.

More than 150 million people in Europe* have some type of allergy. Most of them probably do not need specific allergy-friendly hotel rooms. But the fact is that more people are asking for more allergy-friendly options at hotels.

Scandic launched its accessibility standard in 2005. Since then, the standard have attracted attention and been used the world over. The standard has now been broadened from 135 to 159 points to include a new category with strict guidelines to meet the needs of travelers with allergies.

There’s a clear demand for the accessibility solutions we offer and we get many requests to make guests’ stays more allergy-friendly. We’ve also already seen how successful our allergy-friendly “breakfast for all” has been. Our goal now is for all Scandic hotels to offer at least two allergy-friendly rooms within a year, says Magnus Berglund, Director of Accessibility at Scandic.

During the spring, Scandic will also release an updated version of its award-winning online accessibility course. The online accessibility course was originally developed for Scandic’s 18,000 team members as an integral part of Scandic’s accessibility initiatives, since interacting with and serving guests is the most important consideration, regardless of their needs. The course is available on Scandic’s website so everyone can learn more about how to provide high-quality service to people with accessibility needs.

We’re always working to find solutions to make our hotels more accessible. While we’ve offered allergy-friendly rooms at Scandic for some time, we’re particularly proud that they’re now part of our accessibility standard. And the fact that our online course is widely used by others in the hospitality industry to improve service also gives us high marks.

Accessibility at Scandic

Since 2003, Scandic has been focusing on making its hotels accessible so they can welcome all guests regardless of their needs. Today, Scandic is the only hotel company in the world that provides information on how accessible each hotel is on their particular hotel sites at Scandic is also the only hotel company to have formulated an accessibility standard that currently covers 159 points, 105 of which are mandatory at all hotels. At newly built Scandic hotels, all 159 points apply.

Scandic also applies a “design for all” concept. Design for all means that an accessible room should be designed just as well as any other room, with smart solutions that are barely noticeable except to the people who need them.

About Scandic

Scandic is the largest hotel company in the Nordic countries with more than 280 hotels, in operation and under development, in more than 130 destinations. The company is the leader when it comes to integrating sustainability in all operations and its award-winning Design for All concept ensures that Scandic hotels are accessible to everyone. Well loved by guests and employees, the Scandic Friends loyalty program is the largest in the Nordic hotel industry and the company is one of the most attractive employers in the region. Scandic Hotels is listed on Nasdaq Stockholm.

Heathrow launches new app for visually impaired passengers

  • Aira app to benefit the 6,000 visually impaired passengers that travel through Heathrow each year
  • Passengers can access on demand assistance on their mobile phones
  • App follows a year of rapid changes in special assistance at Heathrow following a £23 million investment

From Monday December 3rd, visually impaired passengers at Heathrow will have access to on-demand, personalised assistance via the Aira app.  Access to this app and its established network allows passengers to enhance their independence throughout the journey at Heathrow and forms part of the airport’s multi-million pound investments to improve the journeys of all passengers regardless of their requirements.

The app, available free of charge, will connect passengers directly to a trained professional agent for advice on navigating through Heathrow and assist with  finding specific locations – including gates, special assistance facilities, retail outlets and restaurants.   It will also provide live information on  news  affecting their journeys. The app can be accessed by pre-loading it on mobile phones and an agent will be available to provide guided assistance on demand upon arrival at Heathrow. Alternatively, passengers can also pre-book special assistance through their airline and seek information on the app at the same time.

The number of passengers requesting special assistance at Heathrow is rising by approximately 8% each year, with over one million requests in 2017 alone – more than any other European airport.  Heathrow is taking proactive steps to transform the service it provides for these passengers, backed by an investment of £23 million in a revamped, upgraded contract with its special assistance partner, OmniServ.  Last year, the airport launched the use of the  ‘SignLive’ app which connects passengers to trained British Sign Language translators on demand, before and after their travel through Heathrow.

The suite of new initiatives follows feedback by passengers and guidance from the Heathrow Accessibility Advisory Group. Chaired by disability rights advocate Roberto Castiglioni, this advisory group helps Heathrow deliver its vision to become industry leading when it comes to accessibility and inclusion. The Civil Aviation Authority has acknowledged the steps Heathrow has made in improving its service for people with disabilities, and restored the airport’s ranking to a “good” following a “poor” rating last year.

The launch of the Aira app at Heathrow coincides with International Day of Persons with Disabilities. First launched by the United Nations in 1992, the day is now a globally recognised date that aims to celebrate and empower the 1 billion people in the world that have some form of hidden or visible disability.

Jonathan Coen, Director of Customer Relations and Service at Heathrow said:

“We are transforming the assistance service we provide to our passengers and empowering them to be as independent as possible when they are travelling through Heathrow.  We have already invested  £23 million in an upgraded contract with our special assistance partner, OmniServ, and introducing new equipment, training and technology to help improve our service. Aira takes us one step further – and will deliver a better travel experience for the 6,000 passengers each year that would otherwise feel less independent and less prepared when they begin their journey via Heathrow.”

Heathrow worked closely with the advocacy group Guide Dogs for the blind, whose Engagement Officer, Clive Wood said:

“Guide Dogs are delighted to see the introduction of the Aira app at Heathrow.  Initiatives such as this will be of great benefit to many blind and partially sighted people who wish to travel independently.  We certainly welcome the proactive approach being taken by Heathrow Airport to introduce a range of information and support to disabled passengers including those with sight loss.  We often hear from our clients that using all forms of transport can be a stressful experience.  This is why we are working with Heathrow to help take the stress out of air travel.”

VisitEngland and the National Autistic Society launch guide to help tourism businesses

Image courtesy of VisitEngland

VisitEngland and the National Autistic Society and England’s Inclusive Tourism Action Group have launched a web-based guide to help tourism businesses overcome barriers to welcoming autistic people.

The ‘Welcoming Autistic People’ guide will help tourism operators to increase business by better understanding autism and making appropriate improvements.

VisitEngland Director Andrew Stokes said:

“By following the tips in this new guide, businesses can offer autistic people and their families and friends the very best experiences when visiting our attractions, accommodation and tourism businesses, increasing the value this important sector brings to tourism and the economy across England.”

Daniel Cadey, Autism Access Development Manager at the National Autistic Society, said:

“We were delighted to have been able to work on this important guide for businesses that will benefit autistic people and their families.

“Over 700,000 people are on the autism spectrum in the UK and many would love to visit heritage sites and other tourist attractions but are prevented from doing so because unfamiliar and unpredictable places make them extremely anxious. Our recent research revealed that 79% of autistic people and 70% of family members feel socially isolated because they are unable to access places others take for granted. “

The Welcoming Autistic People guide provides tourism businesses with tips and practical advice including the provision of visual stories, quiet spaces, ear defenders and sensory backpacks to help autistic people and their families prepare for and enjoy a visit.

VisitEngland research in 2015 showed that £12 billion was spent on trips where a member of the party had an impairment.

Download the guide