People with Disabilities: Communicating Effectively with Your Hotel Guests
By Ellen L. Shackelford President, Connections Access Consulting Services, LLC (CACS) | November 01, 2010
Communication is critical in determining how to better serve customers and it serves as a tool to retain customers. It determines what a customer needs in terms of service to enable them to receive the quality of service the hotel/motel can deliver while they are guests. It begins once reservations are made in the initial phone call and the scheduling of a room assignment. The person servicing the phone call has to be able to listen to the potential guest and determine what their unique needs may be. Once a person mentions they have a disability and requires specific accommodations, the reservationists' job is to communicate in such a way as to identify the individuals' unique needs.
Being effective in addressing the unique needs of people with disabilities who will make reservations; staff have to advocate for the potential guest in ways they would advocate for themselves. Putting oneself in another's' shoes may be a way to better serve and provide a quality service to all guests. Training staff on how to address issues of accessibility and accommodations is a must in order to better serve the unique needs of persons with disabilities. Advocating for guests with disabilities is a way to assure loyalty and integrity of any venue. It further tells the guests their requests are being considered, so they too may be able to enjoy their stay. Often there are hotel/motel properties which offer services only available to guests who are able to maneuver upright, as apposed to sitting; such as someone having to use a wheelchair or scooter for mobility. Areas of interest may be the swimming pool. At many properties there may not be a way for someone who uses adaptive equipment to access the swimming pool, for it may not have an electric lift to assist them to enter the swimming pool. In addition, other areas may propose problems in access, such as the weight room equipment. Most of the equipment in a weight room is not accessible for people who use adaptive equipment to transfer onto it unassisted. These are just two areas which contain concerns and hindrances to those who want to take advantage of the amenities when offered. This is a great start in advocating for people with disabilities. Remember, placing ones self in the situation of someone else can help you realize, "If I were in this position how would I feel if I wanted to use the swimming pool or weight equipment? What would I expect the hotel/motel staff to provide as accommodations at their property, so the amenities can be used by every guest who desires to take advantage of all services?"
According to the Department of Labor, people with disabilities have $1Trillion dollars of aggregate income, which includes more than $200 Billion dollars in discretionary income. Now that's a lot of money for any business to ignore in service to potential customers. With these stats in mind, this should be a motivating factor to make the amenities accessible and to accomodate those who may want to take advantage of the service.
In my travels I've found many properties that did not offer inclusive services to its guests with disabilities. I went to a five star hotel in New York City recently; at the service desk I was greeted well and then escorted to a room which was to be in ADA compliance, located on the 4th floor. Of course, when I got to the room there was issues. First of all, the room was so small my wheelchair was not able to access the room without several ramps, which caused difficulty in accessing the bathroom. I was offered another room on the 7th floor which was more accommodating and accessible. However, I was not able to use the amenities in the hotel, for they were neither accommodating nor accessible. Consequently, a staff person on duty this particular day, walked around the building with me and noted the inadequate places I tried to access. He took notes and stated he would bring the issues up to management in hopes of resolving some issues and to make the property more accommodating to persons who use adaptive equipment.
He stated, if he was a guest in this hotel and had to spend the amount of money required to stay there, he too would want to access all aspects of the hotel without barriers and challenges. He took an interest in my issue, because he has a family member who may have to use a wheelchair as a result of an illness. He became an advocate for a purpose near and dear to his heart, even though it was not him personally. This is just what is meant by communicating with your guests and showing interest in them by advocating for them. Any person coming through the doors of a hotel/motel expects to be heard and if there is a list of perks, they should not be limited to a few and not accessed by all. Here a few ways to advocate for guests with disabilities who may stay in your hotel/motel. Make their stay as enjoyable as any other guest.
Offer assistance when needed - a person with a disability will often tell you upon making reservations what accommodations they need before staying at a hotel/motel. The job of the reservationists is to listen and ask questions regarding the request and ask the potential customer to be specific in what they are asking for. Lack of communication is the beginning of a misunderstanding.