local reporter in Barcelona, Spain: Alan Broadbent, accessible travel icon
Meet Alan Broadbent, accessible travel icon
For those of you who do not know Alan Broadbent: he was the founder of one of the first major international accessible travel websites to date.
Gibraltar born, UK national, he traveled and lived in several countries, until he chose a sunny home in Barcelona, his mind and heart have been shaped by many destinations, accessible and not all that accessible.
When did you start working in accessible travel?
I was sat on the steps in front of Barcelona Cathedral after a morning researching the Roman and Gothic area with the idea of writing a book about the history of that area and a large cruise tour group passed me by. One bored tour guide, flag held aloft, followed by 50 or so equally bored people on the tour (this in days before microphone and inalambric headsets).
“One thing stood out very clearly, no wheelchair users, no mobility scooter users and no slow walkers with walking sticks or frames. This was in 2004 and with my marketing background I just had to find out why the disabled were so under represented in these tour groups.”Alan Broadbent
The answer was twofold, where there were services offered by the cruise lines the costs were stratospheric and in terms of inbound services to Barcelona and Spain in general for disabled visitors there were no services available.
With no background in tourism it was the start of a steep learning curve to commence offering, in the beginning, accessible tour services to users of wheelchair /mobility scooter & slow walkers.
Gradually these services extended into airport transfers, rental of adaptive equipment, etc., not just in Barcelona but Spain and other countries across the globe as well.
Can you share the biggest challenge in your work?
Three key issues spring to mind:
Firstly the challenge of getting the message across to the disabled community that there was an accessible travel solution available that met their needs and removed barriers to travel;
Secondly to educate main stream travel agencies that they should be more aware of the needs of the disabled and to acquaint themselves with the trusted providers of accessible services for all types of disability and
Thirdly the frustration of working with agencies who promote and class themselves as ‘certified accessible’ travel agents, a couple of hours of ‘training’ does not turn one into a specialist!!
What is your favorite destination?
So many great destinations and difficult to choose!
Although not the most wheelchair nor disabled friendly destination I have to say Kyiv in Ukraine which I visited in 2019 to check out the level of access.
Warm friendly people, great cuisine, an incredible history behind the growth of the country and the number of historic and religious sites to visit is breathtaking.
Can you explain why people with disabilities should stop using the main travel sites and focus on accessible travel sites in order to make a major shift in actual accessible travel on a massive scale?
The response to that question is straight forward and I have written many articles in travel trade magazines about this.
Despite free, and excellent, training courses being made available to travel agents there is a reluctance on their part to engage in understanding the needs of the disabled community.
As alluded to in another question, the Certificate denoting a travel agent is a ‘certified accessible’ agent is, in my experience, (especially when linked to the cruise industry) mostly a worthless piece of paper. Whilst there are some excellent agents with that certification they are very much in the minority.
Almost without exception every business that specialises in accessible travel is because the owners are themselves disabled, have a family member who is disabled, or have close friends who are disabled, in other words they appreciate the complex and varied needs of each and every client in ways that main stream agencies should but don’t and can provide the kind of insightful detailed information and services that disabled people need and want.
If you could go on a holiday next week, without any budget limit, where would you go, knowing about accessibility?
Dubai, it’s a place I have never visited but there has been, and is, a commitment to making every area fully accessible for all with an emphasis on ‘All’. I have been impressed at everything I have learned about the changes being made in Dubai and would like to experience them for myself.
Accommodation or getting around, what is in more need of sharing features online?
For me the key question that has always been foremost from clients has been about the accessibility of a destination, what can be seen, how to move around safely, where to eat, etc.
It is pretty much a given that accommodation can be found that is suitable for most needs but finding out about access information in order to fully enjoy a City et al is a much more daunting task.
Last question: what does it mean to you personally, to travel the world?
I have been fortunate enough to have lived in Asia, and various European countries from my childhood to now where I find myself an Expat in Spain.
To travel is to expand ones horizons & knowledge of cultures; to take preconceptions and push personal boundaries beyond those preconceptions; in effect to transfer the travel documentary seen on TV into a living reality.