This February Seable took a group of blind and partially sighted travellers from VICTA to Thailand, for many it was the first time outside Europe. What was impressive was the resonance this trip had on the Thai press. Along with being greeted by the Tourism and Sports Minister Weerasak Kowsurat, we were also interviewed by several newspapers that highlighted the importance of our trip for the booming Thai tourism. Below the transcription of a beautiful article titled “Bringing sights to the blind” from the Bangkok Post, written by Suchat Sritama.
Bringing sights to the blind
Group picture in Phayao
A group of visually impaired and blind tourists from Britain have visited and explored attractions in Thailand for the first time, marking the host’s readiness for more niche markets from Europe.
Seable Holidays, a travel company based in London that specialises in tour arrangements for disable people, worked with Ayutthaya travel agency Nutty’s Adventures to bring the group of 12 to attractions in seven provinces during a Feb 11-21 trip.
The group visited Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phayao, Ayutthaya, Phuket, Trang and Phatthalung.
This was the first time the two companies have jointly hosted a special-needs group from Britain in Thailand. It was also the first time these visually impaired travellers ventured outside Europe.
Damiano La Rocca, founder of Seable Holidays, began working with Nutty’s Adventures two years ago after meeting at the World Travel Mart in London.
Nutty’s Adventures has participated in the annual tourism trade fair and placed Thailand on the global map with special offers for disabled tourists.
“We came to survey tourism products in Thailand before hosting an 11-day trip for our clients,” Mr La Rocca says.
His company had been looking for destinations outside European markets for blind and visually impaired customers after years of touring Britain and Europe.
“Generally we don’t want to bring our customers to packed or crowded cities, but we focus on taking them to explore traditional culture and local attractions,” Mr La Rocca says.
He says Thailand has high potential to serve niche markets not only from Britain, but also from other countries in Europe and the rest of the world because the country has a variety of unique tourism offerings.
“Seable Holidays is planning on catering to disabled tourists from other countries such as Germany, the Netherlands and Italy to come to Thailand in the near future,” Mr La Rocca says.
According to Mr La Rocca, 600,000 blind and visually impaired people live in Britain. He estimates the total number of blind and visually impaired in Europe at 3 million, and they are all potential travellers.
Damiano La Rocca and the Thai Minister of Tourism & Sports Weerasak Kowsurat
To cope with the expected influx of demand, Seable Holidays plans to introduce new routes in Southeast Asia, probably starting with Bali in Indonesia.
Expenses may fluctuate, however, due to the various services and additional facilities needed.
The average cost for the 11-day trip is 3,000 baht per person per day, or 33,000 per person per trip. This cost excludes the subsidy given by Britain’s Population and Community Development Association.
Nithi Subhongsang, chief executive of Nutty’s Adventures, says Thailand is ready to extend to niche markets, including for disabled and blind tourists.
“Having a group of 12 blind and visually impaired people might not generate huge income for the business, but this can uplift the country’s image as a friendly destination for all,” Mr Nithi says.
He says Thailand can promote many other local activities and attractions to these niche markets.
Mr La Rocca and Mr Nithi have urged the Thai government to invest in tourism facilities and accessibility to accommodate disabled tourists.
They also asked the government to educate officials and those involved in the tourism industry to better understand disable tourists and the concept of tourism for all.
Love for Thai culture
Matthew Clark, one of the visually impaired tourists on the trip to Thailand, says he’s impressed with Thai culture and the local food, as well as Thai hospitality. He suggests that suppliers such as attraction and travel operators consider tailoring special programmes for disabled people.
“If Thailand can offer [special-needs facilities], the country will be able to become a popular destination for all,” Mr Clark says.
The tour group explored the village of Baan Dok Bua in Phayao province, walking along the natural trails and meeting face-to-face with locals.
“We have tried and learned many things, such as how to make chicken coops while learning the history of cockfighting and how to farm rice organically,” Mr Clark says.
In the South, the group learned how to make phon, a local drum, and practised playing it, and got hands-on experience in wickerwork made from krajood, a local variety of sedge.
The group also visited a bamboo garden where there was a performance of Manohra, an ancient southern dance and musical performance, and later visited the community shadow-puppet centre, where they had the opportunity to try making shadow puppets themselves.
Prachyakorn Chaiyakot, vice-president of the Thai Responsible Tourism Association, says the TRTA was formed in 2017 by a group of travel agents interested in responsible tourism. The association has 15 members across the country.
“Our association is set to run business with true responsibility,” Mr Prachyakorn says. “Our aim is to bring tourists into local communities and generate income for local people, preserve the environment and drive community sustainability.”
The association says it will continue to work with tour operators in domestic and overseas markets to boost responsible tourism.
In the long term, the association hopes to promote tourist attractions in hundreds of districts across the country and aims to have at least one member per province.
Market research needed
Supawadee Photiyarach, director of the targeted research division at the Thailand Research Fund, says the fund will help provide market research, especially for product development in secondary provinces to serve niche markets, including blind and visually impaired people.
“In order to ensure that locals earn a greater share of the profit from tourism and tourists can experience rare products, market research is necessary,” Ms Supawadee says.
She says many local products and activities can be developed and promoted to be new attractions not only for disabled or blind people, but for everyone.
“Thailand is one of the most-visited countries in the world,” she says. “This is our opportunity to offer a wide range of products to serve different tourist groups.”
Tourism is a key engine for the Thai economy. The industry has expanded substantially over the past five years and makes up 13% of Thailand’s GDP in 2017, according to research published by the Stock Exchange of Thailand.
Thailand ranks third in revenue from tourism globally, and the country is in ninth place for foreign tourist arrivals, according to the SET.
Among SET-listed companies in the hospitality sector, it was found that Airports of Thailand Plc had the highest market capitalisation among globally listed companies operating airports, while Minor International Plc’s market capitalisation ranked 28th for companies operating hotel and restaurant businesses worldwide.
SET-listed companies classified in the tourism-linked sector had a market capitalisation of 16% of the bourse’s total market capitalisation at the end of 2017.
For this week’s blog, we have asked VICTA to tell us about their latest trip with SEABLE, when we explored the REAL Cyprus. Here’s the account of their experience:
For VICTA’s first international trip of 2017 we travelled to the beautiful island of Cyprus. This was a dual location trip, with the first half spent on the coast in Paphos and the second half in the Troodos mountain range.
After a very early morning and a long day travelling, our group were thrilled to spend a relaxing afternoon by the pool in the sun. This was a great chance for the group to carry on getting to know each other, and catch up with old friends. In the evening we went out for a traditional meze style dinner. We were able to sample all the classic Cypriot dishes, including halloumi, lamb stews and moussaka.
Trying our hands at traditional pottery making
For our first full day in Cyprus, we visited ‘The Place’, a traditional Cypriot art and craft workshop. Here, we are able to meet some local crafters and have a look at what they produce. One item of particular interest was a traditional weaving loom. Participants were able to feel the thread and the shape and size of the loom, to get an idea of how weaved items are created.
After exploring the workshop, we were able to have a go at making our own mosaic fridge magnets. This was a really fun activity and resulted in a very personal memento of the trip. Then it was time to meet the potter’s wheel! This was a first for most of the group, and resulted in a lot of laughter and some very nice looking pots. The afternoon provided more opportunities for leisurely Cypriot gastronomic delights, and soaking up the lovely Mediterranean sunshine.
For our last day in Paphos we visited the Paphos Archaeological Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We spent several hours exploring the site, learning about the Roman Mosaics and remains of Roman Villas. One member of the group even did a short performance for us in the ancient Odeon! After a delicious lunch (seafood of course), we enjoyed a wonder around the old harbour and had a chance to do some souvenir shopping.
Paphos Archaeological Park
On Saturday we set off for Troodos, calling in at a winery, where it would have been rude to turn down the complimentary Commandaria tasting. After lunch, we went for an energetic hike through the beautiful Troodos mountain range, experiencing new sights, smells and sounds.
Hiking high in the Troodos Mountains
The following morning we set off to Troodos Botanical Gardens to learn more about the geographical significance of the area. There were plenty more plants to feel and smell, and it made for an interesting comparison to botanic gardens in the UK. In the afternoon we visited a rose factory, and discovered more uses for rose oil than we could have ever imagined! This of course led on to another retail therapy opportunity.
All too soon the trip was over and it was time to go home. For half of the group this was their first VICTA international, and for one of those it was his first time ever on an aeroplane! It was great to explore this fabulous country together, and to witness old connections being strengthened, and new friendships being created. Not long until we get to do it all over again in Sicily!
By Felicity Poulton
Lead Activities Coordinator VICTA
For any other travel advice or guidance, feel free to contact us and to learn more about our active accessible holidays, click here.
Seable has been on an incredibly exciting mission for the last 3 weeks to our new destination; Thailand.
The team from Seable that went on this journey was myself Emma, Holiday Tailoress and CEO Damiano La Rocca. We set out on this trip with one mission…..TO COME BACK WITH AN EXCITING ACCESSIBLE HOLIDAY THAT WE CAN OFFER TO THE BLIND AND VISUALLY IMPAIRED. I, myself could not wait to get started and show all that we had to offer upon our return.
So here is the second part of our trip to Thailand:
We woke at 6am to go a see a celebration with the monks in the local temple. This was a very spiritual experience and something that I felt very lucky to be part of. We then went back to the home stay to have breakfast. After breakfast, we got picked up outside the house by a longtail boat and went on a boat cruise to the Island City of Ayutthaya. The boat was great to feel the breeze and splashes of water on such a hot day and to also get to see the different houses all along the riverside. After 30-minute boat trip we arrive at our day room, dropped our bags off and headed out on a cycling tour of the Historical Park. Trust me when I say I was slightly anxious about cycling in 35 degrees but I am so glad that I did it. It was such a great way to get to visit all the sights around the city.
After freshening up back in the day room and picked up our bags we headed to the train station-picking up food from the street stalls on the way-we waited for our overnight train to Chiang Mai. This is where Nun said her goodbyes and saw us off on the train for our 13-hour journey. She was a fantastic tour guide with great knowledge of the city and we thoroughly enjoyed having her as our tour guide.
I have never been on an overnight train before and was unsure as to what to expect but it over exceeded my expectations. It was new and very clean, with surprisingly comfy beds. I had a great night’s sleep.
Arriving in Chiang Mai at half 7 in the morning we were greeted by our next tour guide Jimi. He then drove us for 3 and half hours to Chiang Khum, stopping on the way to visit local sites. We went to Amphoe Wang Nuea waterfall and the local hot springs, Mae Kahjan Geyser. When we arrived at Chiang Khum, went to the local guesthouse where we would be staying that evening, dropped our bags off and headed out to go and visit the local temple and experience the ‘Tai Lue’ culture and way of life.
That evening we went to a local’s home and had a traditional ‘kantok’ dinner which is a traditional northern dinner at Baan Tha Sop Van.
We woke at 6am and walked into the local village to go and see how the villages work in the morning. We got to help a woman make her local rice crackers, which I thoroughly enjoyed-albeit I was not very good at it but she was so friendly and smiled through the whole experience. We then walked through the rest of the little village and visited a small local market where we tried sticky rice that had been cooked in bamboo and was Damiano’s favourite from then on.
Back at the local guesthouse we had a ‘American breakfast’ and then went back to the house where we had the meal the evening before. She had invited us back as she asked if she could dress us up in traditional clothing for the ‘Tai Lue’ culture. This will be something that I will never forget-we were dresses up in the beautiful clothing and I also got some fantastic jewellery place d on me, which was very exciting. Many locals were there and it then felt like a photo shoot, with us standing, sitting to then us sitting on the bed to being in the kitchen pretending to cook dinner. Not only was it something that was a once in a life time experience but it was funny. I felt incredibly lucky to be stood there and with the opportunity we were given.
Once we were changed we went downstairs of this wonderful home and they did weaving to make clothing and bags plus much more. So we got the chance to see how they made the clothes that we had the opportunity to try on.
Saying good bye to the wonderful people we got in the car and drove up into the mountains to go and visit the Buddha images carved into the cliffs at a cave temple. This was fantastic and would be brilliant for our clients as it was all touchable and very tactile.
We drove to our next home for the evening in Baan Dok Bua, which was a very modern homestay owned by a doctor and a nurse from the local hospital. They were wonderful friendly people who made us feel right at home. We quickly got freshened up and changed ready to go on a sunset Gondola cruise on Payao Lake.
We woke early for a walk around the local village and we saw a 500 year old tree, which is very special to the village. After our walk we had breakfast and then set off for a tractor tour of the community and it was a great way for us to see how the village has come to win national awards for the best self-sufficient village economy. It was clear to see why, from the farmer fields, a family that produced gas from the rice shells and basket weaving. With the tractor, they then took us up into the mountain and we went on a jungle walk. The noises from all the insects was incredibly loud. With hundreds of insects all around, it was a moment where you must take a minute to realise where you are and take it all in. It was so dense and green and I loved every second. It would also be such an amazing thing or our clients as the noises of the jungle were just incredible.
We had a picnic in the forest which was made by one of the locals for us and we instantly added it onto the list of things for our clients to do. Fantastic. We then slowly made our way back to the homestay where we cooked dinner together with the owners. She gave us a basket and some scissors and took her into her garden, where we picked some vegetables and used then in our dinner. It was so fresh and tasty and amazing to see how they are so self-sufficient. We had and early night as the next day we were to make our way back to Chiang Mai.
To be continued…..
For any other travel advice or guidance, feel free to contact us and to learn more about our active accessible holidays, click here.
Travelling with a disability is never an easy task. That’s why public transports should be on the forefront of helping out. Unfortunately it seems this is not always the case.
Southern Rail’s cuts
Southern Railway train
This week we got very concerned upon hearing how train companies in the UK are scrapping help for disable people; especially Southern Rail, that is quietly cancelling ‘guaranteed assistance’ from 33 stations.
Transport for All, which campaigns on behalf of disabled passengers, said the company have scrapped their ‘turn up and go’ access at dozens of stations.
Before the change was announced, train maps specified the stations where those needing assistance could turn up and travel.
Now, the maps on the trains say that if such passengers do not book help in advance, ‘there might be a significant delay to your journey’.
A spokesman for Transport For All said: ‘Whether it’s assistance failing to turn up, inaccessible platforms or a lack of accessible facilities on trains, what is clear is that our railways are failing disabled and older passengers.
‘Now, to make matters worse Southern Rail have announced that they are withdrawing turn up and go assistance from 33 stations across their network.
‘This is clearly a huge backwards step for accessibility.’
On the other hand, a Southern spokesman said: ‘Passengers do not have to book assistance before travelling with us.
‘We only recommend this to ensure we have staff prepared with ramps or that alternative travel is in place if a station is not accessible. Our priority is to have an on-board supervisor on services which previously had a conductor.’
‘In the exceptional circumstances when this is not possible, we have a clear, robust process to ensure passengers with accessibility requirements are assisted to complete their journeys.’
Travelling with a Guide Dog on Public Transport
After hearing about these cuts by major Railways companies we scanned the web where we found some other very interesting first person accounts about difficulties of travelling on public transport, in this case we report an informative account on the difficulties of travelling with a guide dog from Patrick Robert, from Lambeth, who is blind and uses his guide dog Rufus to travel around London.
Travelling in London can be a real challenge for people with a visual impairment. Back in 2009 I registered as severely visually impaired (Blind). Since then I have had to adapt myself to the transport network and change my habits. Every time I travel around I’ve got the support from Rufus my guide dog.
This change in my life was not always easy. As a result I joined Transport for All in order to get advice and support when using the different public transport modes. “Lack of communications is one of the biggest challenges I face.
I often struggle on buses: when you’re speaking to a bus driver they don’t always verbally respond, but probably do a sign which I can’t see. I have had also some bad experience with bus drivers not stopping at the bus stop but a few meters away. Obviously if a bus driver does not stop in front of me, it makes it impossible for me to discuss with them and check the bus number.
On the Tube I had a lot of issues following the closure of ticket offices, making it harder for me to find staff to assist me. I need staff in order to travel safely and I need to find them as soon as possible to avoid being targeted by the general public.
Lack of communications is also an issue with taxis. Once I booked a taxi and told the operator that I was travelling with my guide dog and the driver should ring my doorbell when they arrive. I received a telephone call from the operator telling me that my taxi had arrived and was waiting outside for me. I reminded the operator of my earlier instructions and asked how I was supposed to identify the taxi outside?
Five minutes later my doorbell rang as I opened the door the driver was already heading back to his taxi.
Locking my front door, Rufus and I walked up to my front gate, only to hear the driver say he cannot take the dog. He proceeded to rant and rave about dogs not being allowed in his taxi. I told him I had advised the operator that I was travelling with a guide dog and he needs to have a go at them and in the meantime I need to get to this council meeting. I could hear him talking on his phone saying he was not prepared to take me. At this point it had started raining and I said to him he was breaking the law by refusing to take us.
That seemed to subdue him for he assisted me and Rufus into his cab and during the journey he kept apologising saying his custom and culture does not accept dogs and his company knew this. I told him it is against the law to refuse access to guide dog owners and their guide dog.
On another occasion I booked a minicab and told the operator that I was blind and the driver needs to come to my front door and ring my doorbell. The phone rang; it was the driver saying that he could not find my property. I gave him specific directions to my home from the location he described to me. Five minutes later, he rang back and asked me to come outside so he could see where my property was and I could see where he was?
I walked outside and waited about ten minutes and then went back in to find four messages on my answer machine from the driver saying he could not see me; he could only see a guy with a white stick, am I anywhere near him? I called him back and told him I was the guy with the white stick.”
The interview with Patrick Robert has been taken from the inews.co.uk (https://inews.co.uk/essentials/news/travelling-disabled-person-taxi-drivers-try-refuse-take-guide-dog-i/)
For any other travel advice or guidance, feel free to contact us and to learn more about our active accessible holidays, click here.
Air travel on its own is quite a nuisance but it becomes even more difficult for those people who are traveling with a disability. Disabled people often complain about not being treated right and not being provided the right facilities to accommodate their needs. Despite the fact that the EU law clearly specifies the accessibility features that airports should offer, not all airports are properly following them. So it’s best that you make some advance planning along with notifying the airline and the airport of the accommodations they will need to make for you. (more…)
Air travel on its own is quite a nuisance, but it becomes even more difficult when you’re flying with a disability. Disabled people often report not being treated right and not being provided the facilities to accommodate their needs. EU law clearly specifies the accessibility features that airports should offer, however not all airports are properly following them.
The following tips will help you efficiently plan your journey and make flying with a disability easier.
MAKE NO ASSUMPTIONS IF YOU WANT TO AVOID DISAPPOINTMENT
Just telling your travel agent or airline that you have a particular disability will not be sufficient. You need to clearly explain to them the assistance you will need. It’s also important that you let them know if you are traveling with someone or if you will be on your own.
If you are traveling independently, you might want to request additional support, even if it’s just asking them to keep an eye on you in case something goes wrong. Also make sure you inform the airline at least 48 hours in advance of your flight.
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS
There are certain things that you have the right to when flying with a disability. If you have a sensory, physical or learning disability which affects your mobility, at European airports you have the right to:
facilities to summon assistance at designated arrival points
assistance to reach check-in
help with registration at check-in
assistance with moving through the airport, including to toilets if required
help with getting on and off the plane
free carriage of medical equipment and up to two items of mobility equipment
a briefing for you and any escort or companion on emergency procedures and the layout of the cabin
help with stowing and retrieving baggage on the plane
assistance with moving to the toilet on the plane (some planes will have an on-board wheelchair)
someone to meet you off the plane and help you reach connecting flights or the next part of your journey
You also have the right to travel with an assistance dog if you need one, however you will need to follow the rules for pet travel which can be found here.
GETTING YOUR MEDIF
It is important that you check with your airline to see if you will need to show medical clearance. If so, you will need to get a Medical Information Form (MEDIF) and have it signed by your doctor. For this form you will need to show your travel date and flight details. The airline will save your details in their records and automatically make arrangements for you the next time you travel with them.
You may also need a license to take some medicines abroad (e.g. morphine). You can get this from your doctor but it’s best to do it well in advance.
Travel insurance is also very important flying with a disability. You can find out more about the best way to get yourself covered on our Disability Travel Insurance blog post.
If you’re worried about navigating the airport, you can find the design and layout information on their websites (e.g. Heathrow). This way you can find out where important facilities such as check-in desks, accessible toilets and information desks are before you travel. This will reduce stress on the day and help you know what you’re looking for when asking for assistance.
It can also just be handy to know what the options for food and drink are. I mean you don’t want to get a McDonald’s at check in if your favourite is Subway and there’s one in the departure lounge!
AVOID CONNECTING FLIGHTS
Passengers that require a wheelchair to get off board are often made to wait until all the other passengers on board get off. This can be a really long wait, especially on international flights. If you want to avoid all the hassle and waiting, it’s best to book a straight flight to your destination.
On the other hand, some wheelchair passengers often find it really difficult to use aircraft lavatories. For that reason they prefer to use several short flights rather than one long flight. If that’s the case, then make sure that time between your connecting flight is at least 90 minutes so you can comfortably reach the next gate.
It’s a bit of a catch-22 (ah the joys of flying with a disability), so all you can do is pick your preference and plan accordingly.
GETTING THROUGH SECURITY
This can be troublesome, especially for people in a wheelchair. If your chair is bigger than the scanner you will have to have a pat down, but here’s a few things to remember:
You shouldn’t have to leave your chair
You can have this done in private
Your wheelchair will be patted down and scanned separately
Tell people of any problems before beginning – for example if you have certain areas that are sensitive or painful that you don’t want tapped too hard
If you come across a member of staff who doesn’t appear to know what they’re doing, don’t be afraid to tell them and ask for a trained member of staff to help you.
FLYING WITH A WHEELCHAIR
Your wheelchair will have to be checked in, but you’ll be provided with a chair to get around the airport and on to the chair. It’s also best to request an aisle seat on the plane and one as close to the entrance and exit as possible.
If you have an electric wheelchair you’ll need to check what battery type you have and the conditions the airline has on those batteries. The main issue will be if your chair or scooter has a wet acid battery. If this is the case baggage handlers will remove the battery and place it in a special container. It’s always best to check with the airline before you travel so you’re certain about what the rules are for your chair and how early you need to arrive to sort it all out.
We hope these tips will make flying with a disability more pleasant. If you have any other questions that might have been missed out in this blog, please let us know and we will do our best to answer them.
For further information on flying with a disability and any other travel advice or guidance, feel free to contact us. To learn more about our active accessible holidays and Seable, click here.
Fatal error: Call to undefined function wpboilerplate_paging_nav() in /home/seable/webapps/wordpress/wp-content/themes/seable/tag.php on line 46