By Angela Jameson
Local authorities should be more eager to grant planning permission to hoteliers who want to make their buildings accessible to disabled people, a top hotelier claimed last week.
Robert Peel, chief executive of Thistle Hotels, told delegates at a conference on the impact of the Disability Discrimination Act on the hotel industry that they must lobby local authorities to adopt a more flexible attitude.
Mr Peel described the difficulties he was experiencing in making his hotels, many Grade I and Grade II-listed, accessible to all guests.
But he added: "From a financial perspective, improving access is very rewarding. While the rest of the industry went leisure bananas, we chose to invest in accessibility. We're convinced we're going to make a tremendous return."
One of Mr Peel's hotels, the Mount Royal at London's Marble Arch, which was also the conference venue, last year won a Holiday Care Service Award for its service to people who are disabled.
A number of other speakers also argued that people with disabilities offered a great opportunity to hotels in terms of revenue and competitive edge.
Jan Stevenson, senior consultant at Deloitte & Touche Consulting, produced figures showing that 14% of Europe's population is disabled, of whom 72% are able to travel. This could amount to an extra 300 million hotel nights for disabled guests, their families, friends and carers, she added.
Lord Inglewood, Minister for Tourism, reiterated this message. "The hospitality industry must be flexible. Those who cater for the widest range of people will survive the longest," he said.
The English Tourist Board (ETB), in partnership with charity Holiday Care Service, announced that it was extending its series of customer-care courses with the launch of a disability programme called Welcome All. The ETB is also to recommend that disability awareness modules be included in further and higher education hospitality courses.