Home-based travel agents who are looking for a different niche to help them find new clients might consider specializing in disability tourism. Not only can this be a lucrative—and largely untapped—market, it can also be socially significant, helping to get the 500 million disabled people around the world moving in ways they had never imagined possible. The key for agents is to find the right partners with whom to work on serving this underserved market.
Travelers with disabilities can now tour such destinations as Victoria Falls in South Africa
One example is Endeavour Safaris, which is making southern Africa accessible to everybody. Based in Cape Town, this family-owned company offers (according to its website) “accessible travel for disabled people, creating independence, enriched standard of living and travel opportunities for physically challenged people.” These challenges include, but are not limited to, mobility impairments, visual impairments, oxygen use, dialysis or developmental disabilities.
Endeavour is affiliated with agencies in the U.S., Europe, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and, of course, South Africa.
Up To The Challenge
Founded in November 2001 and fully operational since November 2002, Endeavour organizes and runs tours and safaris in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Victoria Falls and Mozambique. Among its more popular products are authentic wild African safaris in Botswana, beach holidays in Mozambique and Mauritius and city tours in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Pretoria. Endeavour also offers bungee jumping, rafting, paragliding, sailing and diving for those who would rather “do” than “see.”
“We love challenges,” says Michael Hill, owner and creator of Endeavour Safaris, “and we wanted to give everyone the possibility to visit and experience our beautiful country.” Hill knows what he’s talking about. After spending 12 years as a safari guide, he noticed how limited travel options were for people in wheelchairs. Together with his wife, Silvia, who has experience in the disability field, he created his own niche company. “It’s also a new-ish developing market, and we are the first one to create safaris in Africa accessible for people with disabilities,” he says.
Endeavour’s scheduled departure tours and safaris include accommodations; meals; an English-speaking, qualified tour and safari guide; a vehicle equipped with a hydraulic lift and locking system to securely tie a wheelchair to the van’s floor; and all internal flights and activities. “There is a lot of prior communication between us and our travelers, long before they actually arrive,” Hill says. In communicating with the travelers, Endeavour learns the details regarding each person’s specific needs. “With this information, we try our best to accommodate all potential travelers,” he adds.
Depending on the client’s wishes—and budget—Endeavour can organize private tours for families or a group of friends, including luxury tours or fly-in safaris, or anything in between. The tours can be customized to fit any traveler’s taste and interest, providing a truly unique experience for everyone involved.
While all kinds of travel presents potential challenges, travel for disabled people presents some unique obstacles. “One of the most challenging aspects of working with people with disabilities is finding accommodations that are accessible for them,” Hill says. “The farther north you travel, the bigger this challenge becomes.” For this reason, in countries north of South Africa, Endeavour uses its own specially adapted tents with en suite facilities. “This way, we can visit virtually any place, as we have our own mobile, rustic, tented hotel,” he says.
Listen To The Client
When marketing a trip to a client with a disability, Hill says home-based agents should “be sincere and listen attentively to their request. If you are unsure, buy a little time, and communicate with someone who has experience in this field.” Most importantly, he says, “never dismiss a request or dream of theirs because you do not think they are capable of doing it.”
However, there are several considerations to keep in mind. Try to avoid using the words “handicapped” or—even worse—“crippled.” And be careful of terminology. The word “accessible” is often used casually, but in this case, specifics matter. For example, Hill says, a concierge might claim that their hotel is wheelchair-accessible, but when pressed for details, might admit that there are “five very little” steps leading into the lobby.
Not content to merely cater to travelers with disabilities, Hill is initiating projects with local disability organizations that will be largely run by local people with disabilities. “Our aim,” he says, “is to have local disabled people working in mainstream positions, and achieving the ultimate goal for all persons with disabilities.” And that is? “Independence.”
Hill adds, “You might be amazed at what can be accomplished if the will is there. It makes me think of one of the main reasons we started our company…Why, if given the opportunity, would people interested in challenging Africa not do so?”