Special needs

Working with travelers with disabilities is easier if you have in-depth knowledge of their special needs, according to Kathreen Honore, president of Unique Travel Plus in Philadelphia.

The 10-person leisure agency, which opened in 1993, draws clients who are hearing impaired as well as those with mobility problems, according to Honore, because two of her agents have special knowledge of those areas.

"One of the agents has a niece who is hearing impaired, so [that agent] knows sign language and tries to market [to that niche]," she said.

Cruise ships, such as Royal Caribbean's Vision of the Sea, offer accessible cabins for travelers with disabilities. Honore said a local church in her neighborhood offers classes in sign language, which she and all her agents have attended.

"If someone comes in and that one agent isn't there, someone else can usually help," she said.

Noting that hearing impaired travelers "go everywhere," Honore said her agency often makes group arrangements for hearing impaired clients traveling to seminars and conferences.

As to bookings, most are done in person or via the TTY telephone installed in her agent's home.

Another agent in the office walks with difficulty, Honore said, using two canes. Because of this, she has an expertise in mobility issues and takes pains to match clients with appropriate suppliers.

Most of her clients in this category gravitate to cruises, Honore said, and her agent works hard to get the right ship for each person.

"She does the research to find out what services the ships have, and she will offer the client at least two choices," Honore said.

For clients who are set on one company, perhaps because they like the itinerary, the agent will sometimes try to steer the client toward a different line if its facilities are better.

"In the case of a client who uses a wheelchair, the challenge is to find out what you have to do to make their trip more enjoyable," she said.

"We have had success with this market," Honore said. "It is really just like working with any other client with specific needs."

Help is here

Travel agents looking for information on traveling with disabilities can find a wealth of material at www.access-able.com.

Created in 1995 by Bill and Carol Randall of Wheat Ridge, Colo., the site offers information on everything from cruise lines and hotels to scuba diving, accessible safaris and which seashores have beach wheelchairs.

In addition to reviewing the site, travel agents can attend travel workshops around the country, Carol Randall said, which give specific, practical information on traveling with a wide range of disabilities.

www.access-able.com."We get two types of travel agents," she said. "The first [type is] the agents that specialize in this area and who advertise with us, and [the second kind is] those who don't know anything about the market but have a client they want to help."

The information on the Web site is divided into several categories: transportation, including van rentals; accommodations, including who to contact and what questions to ask before booking a room; equipment rentals; attractions, and adventure travel.

Information also is available regarding the accessibility of airports and cruise ships, including detailed cabin descriptions.

There also are sections on animals trained to assist travelers with disabilities; traveling with oxygen, and facilities for blind and low-vision travelers.

For more information, contact Access-Able Travel Source at (303) 232-2979, or fax to (303) 239-8486.

A shocking tale

You would think that after 17 years in this business, nothing would shock or surprise me.

Wrong. And that's a good thing because if I was beyond shock or surprise, it probably would mean I'm either dead or hate my job.

This latest fiasco is humorous in its absurdity. Names have been changed to protect the guilty.

ZZ Vacations offers fly/drive packages. Actually that's a misnomer. They aren't real fly/drive packages because a minimum of three hotel vouchers is required. A real fly/drive package is air (fly) and car (drive), get it?

Lucy Hirleman.The hotel vouchers became a requirement when ZZ realized agents were selling too much of the real fly/drives to business travelers. How they knew they were business travelers is beyond me.

In order to discourage agents from taking advantage of a less-restrictive advance purchase, no Saturday night stay and a much lower fare for its clients, ZZ made the hotel vouchers a requirement.

That was a brilliant move. The hotel vouchers were priced around $99 per night, including tax. This was a savings of anywhere from 30% to 70%. What a great way to discourage people ... offer them better savings.

Now things are really heating up. The change in the (not) fly/drive packages didn't discourage agents from taking advantage of the cost savings. So ZZ Vacations got annoyed its plan didn't work and decided that not only will it punish us for saving our clients money, but it will save money as well. It will now pay NO commission for phone bookings and only 5% on CRS bookings. Take that you dumb agents!

I told some clients that there would be no more spontaneous, cost-saving, city jaunts with ZZ Vacations.

They said, "No problem, we'll fly another airline." As we have plenty of other options, this really is no problem.

The ball is now in your court ZZ.

Lucy Hirleman, CTC, MCC, owns Berkshire Travel in Newfoundland, N.J. E-mail her at [email protected]; Fax: (973) 208-1204.

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