Kristy Lacroix of Wheelchair Escapes, named one of Travel Agent's 25 Leading Travel Advisors, is guiding clients with disabilities in finding the right travel agent to plan their vacations. Whether you are an agent who has clients with special needs or, perhaps, you want to know more about this niche opportunity, Lacroix's suggestions may be useful to your operations.
Today, there are more travel agents than ever offering trips and excursions for persons with special needs. The best professionals, according to LaCroix, understand the client's physical limitations, know how to book accessible transportation and can ensure destinations are accessible. Such agents are likley certified in Accessibility Travel by the Travel Institute and are members of the Society for Accessible Travel and Hospitality (SATH).
Lacroix suggests clients look for an agency focused on their specific need— wheelchair use, slow walking, respiratory problem, visual limitation, hearing impairment or other— as specialists are more likely to deliver quality planning and expert handling tailored to their requirements. Some agencies partner with special needs organizations such as the National MS Society or the Diabetes Foundation, and also include educational components to their trips.
"Does the agent know how accessibility standards and rules vary by country?" LaCroix asks. On a cruise, for example, a service animal may not be permitted ashore on certain islands. Agents should be candid about identifying trips that are unsuitable for specific situations. This includes verifying (not assuming) that all details important to the client are in place. For example, are the sidewalks and terrain wheelchair-friendly at destinations? Will museums and other venues have ramps, elevators or hearing devices? What are the doorway widths? Are bathrooms accessible?
Numbers play a factor as well. While LaCroix plans vacations mostly for individuals, there are other options. Alana Mizowicki of Fun Cruises and Travel, for instance, specializes in large groups of 100 or more in partnership with special needs organizations. She been developing trips for slow walkers and wheelchair users since 2001. "The knowledge curve is endless," Mizowicki says. "I learn something new each trip that benefits my clients."
LaCroix also advises clients to ask why the agent was drawn to this niche. She started her career after a few problematic trips with her wheelchair-bound husband. "I wanted to create a better way," she says.
Meanwhile, Mizowicki was inspired by a friend with Multiple Sclerosis. Personal involvement means the agent has intimate knowledge of your challenges and understands the situation from your side.