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Roughly one billion people currently live with some form of disability and 20% of the global population will be over 65 by 2050, making ‘accessible travel’ a priority for the travel industry. We talk to entrepreneur Sebastien Archambeaud, about why he founded Handiscover to inspire and make these travelers’ dreams come true.
In 2015, Sebastien Archambeaud founded Handiscover , an accommodation booking website for travelers with accessibility needs. But, this wasn’t a purely commercial business venture, this is a topic that lies close to his heart as his 13-year-old son is also in a wheelchair.
“When we traveled as a family, it was very challenging to find suitable destinations and accommodation that met our needs as there are no international regulations for certifying disabled-friendly properties. Accommodation is important because it is where you will spend most your time,” he explains.
Having worked for 25 years in sales and marketing, it’s hardly surprising that in less than three years Archambeaud has signed partnerships with big names such as Cristiano Ronaldo’s hotel chain. Two Pestana CR7 hotels have now been certified with the Handiscover accessibility logo and are marketed on the Handiscover website.
Handiscover has also secured funding from the Kamprad family Foundation – set up by IKEA owner Ingvar Kamprad – while the well-known Swedish adventurer Aron Andersson has come on board as a co-owner and acts as a brand ambassador.“It’s a vote of confidence that investors and the industry are so keen to improve accessibility,” says Archambeaud.
His mission is to inspire travelers with accessibility needs. “Many people from our community think that because, for example, they are in a wheelchair that a lot of things are not possible. We want to show them that, ok even though infrastructure is not always perfect, they can still travel.”
At the core of Handiscover lies a unique classification system, which offers customers a choice of accommodation based on their level of mobility instead of their disability (e.g. a wheelchair user). By asking customers questions such as ‘Can you use the stairs?’ a list of accommodation options is drawn up based on their individual needs.
“A lot of properties are not wheelchair-accessible but might be good enough for travelers with other disabilities. By specifying the properties and needs, we can give our customers more choice. Let’s face it, if you have a huge budget you will always find something, but people who want to travel for a long time and have a lower budget, need more choice,” Archambeaud explains. And there is a safety net for customers: “We pay the host 24 hours after check-in; if they don’t match our customers’ needs, they don’t get paid.”
So, what makes Handiscover unique? “There are many other "old-school" type agencies out there which have a website to showcase their accommodation options and then the customer has to call or email to book. With Handiscover, customers can complete their booking online,” Archambeaud replies.
Handiscover currently covers hundreds of destinations in 60 countries on its website – Barcelona, with its sunny climate and good infrastructure, remains the top favorite. But, according to Archambeaud, it’s not so straightforward to classify a destination as ‘accessible’ or ‘not-accessible’. Of course, the Nordic countries, modern cities or cities that have hosted the Olympics have excellent infrastructure but it’s not easy to push a wheelchair in heavy snow and ice. While, older cities are challenging. But, he says, don’t always base your decision on the infrastructure.
“On my travels I’ve seen that older cities like Rome, or countries like South Africa might be more challenging on the infrastructure-side, but, what they don’t have in in infrastructure, they compensate for by people being super-helpful and friendly.”
Archambeaud is optimistic that one day accessible travel will be as simple and normal as ‘ordinary’ travel.“I hope our travelers will not be afraid to travel and that we will hear less horror stories about, for example, a hotel that claims to be wheelchair-friendly and then you can’t get into the reception area because of the steps.”