New horizons for people in wheelchairs

Amphibian Wheelchair #CanDo from Enable Travel on Vimeo.

Q&A: Conversations with Debolin Sen – Head – Enable Travel
This interview done by me appeared on http://www.airda.org in June 2017

Debolin Sen is Head – Enable Travel – India’s first Accessible Holiday platform. He is a media marketing & advertising professional with rich cross-category experience of over 18 years, having been associated with exciting start-ups and well-known global companies – including a long stint with J Walter Thompson.  Debolin has worked with Worldwide Media where he led business growth for three key brands in travel, auto and food as the Publisher of Lonely Planet, BBC Top Gear and BBC Good Food magazines in India.

In this interview with AIRDA’s editorial team, Debolin talks about one of his most inspiring projects yet –Enable Travel. This is India’s first digital platform for accessible travel, addressing the needs of inbound and domestic disabled travelers.

Over to Debolin.

How did your team conceive and roll out the “Enable Travel” platform? (Considering that there has been a long-felt need to give disabled travelers a whole new horizon to look forward to…)

Enable Travel wants people with disabilities to live a life of “equal opportunities” – just like other normal people who are bitten by the travel bug. They have the same desire to travel and to breathe in new experiences – only to draw a blank when it comes to accessible travel information, accessible transport and hotels planned around the needs of disabled guests.  Add to this, people’s indifferent and sometimes pitying attitudes towards disabled travelers – which only make things worse.

With a national footprint across 15 cities, we aim to address travel-related concerns of people-with-disabilities and provide end-to-end solutions.We curate itineraries to destinations that are barrier-free and offer services that help make travel and vacationing easier.

What were the primary challenges? (Planning facility support? Finding people? Training people?)

The primary challenge from the idea stage was to find answers to the four key questions that disabled travelers have on their minds. What to See? Where to Stay? Where to Eat? And How to Get There? It was important that we first addressed these gaps in every city that came under our expansion plan. Disabled travellers are as passionate about travel as we are, but have been denied a planned and organized support system that connects the dots. An end-to-end platform that can help them enjoy a hassle-free travel experience, managed by people specially trained for the job.

Launching a travel line for the disabled isn’t an easy task to undertake. You need to look into planning, process, logistics, as well as an emotional investment that comes into play to make the exercise meaningful and far-reaching.

Our panel of experts has travelled pan India to understand the requirements of travelers with disabilities across sightseeing points, hotels, restaurants, and transport solutions. It’s been through their observations, insights, and recommendations that we’ve been able to plan itineraries, provide services and stay geared to manage expectations.

Do you have disabled people actually helping you with the planning and logistics? (Can you tell us a little more about your support teams?)

When we first started working on the project, we found it useful to create a panel of experts across the disability profiles we would cater to with planned packages and solutions. Regular support teams without training can find it difficult to identify the hurdles and challenges that need to be considered – only a disabled person can understand how frustrating things can turn out to be on a vacation.

To really identify with this space, we went through multiple rounds of market mapping and research – generating market intelligence, observations and insights. We also looked for seasoned professionals to partner with –thereby creating a resource of disabled experts who bring in their own magic and expertise. These people are my super heroes – committed professionals who can seamlessly blend in with our teams.

They continue to be part of Enable Travel’s extended team as we look to rapidly expand domestically to include more cities, and eventually extend the network globally – catering to a larger universe of disabled vacation seekers.

When does your interaction start with the traveler? (Is it from their homes, to destinations?)

The brand’s interaction is at various touch points and not limited only to transactional experiences. We are in the process of partnering with various disability associations and bodies pan India. Continuous engagement and interaction with each one of them will be important to promote inclusiveness in Indian society and we want to continue contributing to this cause. Enable Travel’s community platform – Firefly World – will be leading this initiative.

As far as an activity map is concerned, our interaction with the traveler commences at the point of brand discovery via the website, call centres, our branches, or our franchisees. Depending on the itinerary selected by the traveler we roll out additional requirements as part of the travel plan. Enable’s service portfolio is comprehensive – and can include experienced caregivers, escorts, guides, sign language interpreters, wheelchair accessible vehicles and other specially designed assist equipment.

Everything from first aid and ambulance services, to hospitals enroute has been taken care of. For travelers and their families back home, it’s reassuring to know that help is always one phone call away.

What according to you is the prime-moving force behind this initiative? (What is your catalyst force?)

Firstly, I think it is the uniqueness of the idea that gave our project purpose and direction. What helped us get off the blocks was the active support of Cox and Kings.

Cox and Kings brought to the table its business insights and domain experience – adding a huge dimension of credibility and reassurance. And this particularly goes a long way in attracting the attention of key business stakeholders in the value chain. The long felt need for such an operation and the visible potential to grow has given them an opportunity to support and participate in a worthy cause. We would like many more stakeholders to come on board to make accessibility a reality and an enjoyable experience.

At the end of the day, I think we’re making dreams come true.

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Gerhard and Beate Schreiber discover the incredible in India

This interview done by me, originally appeared on our timeshare website: http://www.airda.org

Gerhard and Beate Schreiber came on a long planned holiday to India – they were coming back after 35 years, which is a long, long time. This endearing German couple has fond memories of their first holiday in the country, and always looked forward to coming back to retrace their first vacation trail and revisit familiar tourist spots.

According to Gerhard, India seems like a country that has moved into a whole new era. I can see progress, I can see advancement and I can see a whole new pace in terms of lifestyles, architecture, entertainment, sport and travel.

For us, it was like an experience that can be described as back to the future.

Q: Most people from abroad have problems with the food. What was your experience?

Having worked here earlier, I’m familiar with the food and the aromas of desi cooking – but my stint in the country was a long time ago. I must add here that my wife is discovering new things every day.

For the international tourist, Indian food is different from many points of view – taste, the way it’s served, or traditionally eaten. What also we need getting used to is eating with our hands – without cutlery. There’s a learning process I guess, but the people here are so helpful, that you learn and adapt very quickly. We were clear that we would not insist on the kind of food that we were used to, back home – we wanted to be local and think local.

Q: How did you personally like your stay at a timeshare resort in India?

I must say that we had a really nice time – fortunately we had good friends in India who gifted us their weeks at a few timeshare resorts and helped organize a nice round-trip. This was a holiday that will be permanently etched in our minds. Overall, we found the standard of service to be good, and the food was excellent. We come from a predominantly wine growing area, and by our measure some of your Indian wines are pretty good.

Based on our experience in terms of staying at a timeshare resort, we found very little difference between a hotel in India and a timeshare resort – in terms of properties, quality of service, food and the little details that go into making it a pleasant, comfortable experience.

Q: How popular is the timeshare concept, back home?

If you look at the European belt, you will find that timeshare is growing in popularity – and Germany too, I’m sure will gain from this in the years to come. We have excellent locations for timeshare resort activity, and that is useful to build on

But I guess timeshare needs to be sold and marketed differently in my part of the world, because the whole of Germany, for that matter, the whole of Europe is like one gigantic holiday destination.

Q: Would you consider a timeshare plan when you go back to Germany?

Now that is something I must really explore when I get back home, but if I were a resident of India, I would definitely invest in a timeshare membership. Timeshare is a ticket to an exciting new world of holidays, and spending quality time with your family and friends.

I am also aware of the extended reach, worldwide through global exchange partners – and this I’m sure can widen your horizon by thousands of exotic resort locations dotted across the world. And that can be exciting.

Q: What are your takeaways in terms of memories and observations?

We were working within a very brief holiday calendar and wanted to pack in as much as we could. And I must say we were delighted with our stay at the timeshare resorts where we were lucky to obtain confirmed dates. I was particularly impressed with the efficiency in which these resorts were being managed, and the attention to detail being paid to each guest. At one resort, our host actually sat down with us to find out about our menu preferences, the kind of activities we were interested in, and other ways of making us comfortable during our stay.

Q: Any other thoughts that come to mind?

That’s a good question, and we will do our best to answer that. Now, while most resorts do a good job inside their premises, things may not be the same on the outside. My feedback to these resorts is to take some ownership of the spaces around you. Spend some CSR time and effort on local communities – teach their youngsters language skills. Teach them English, teach them work skills. You never know, eventually you might just be hiring them.

Some more feedback – please find ways to use alternate energy sources for your needs – re-use, replenish, recycle. Also consider joining hands with other players in the tourism industry to help improve infrastructure.

While “Namaste” says welcome, your visitors must experience that in more ways than one.

Cats on the couch, and on your armrest

Cat_Mug+600

Last week I met up with an old friend after 30 years – while that was supposed to be a happy reunion, the visit had me on tenterhooks. Viju Menon has four dogs and 18 cats – all living happily under one roof. So in between sips of tea, I had kittens (and cats) darting though my feet and jumping over my shoulder. One little devil even got into my rather roomy shoulder bag and settled in for a cat nap.

There were times when six of them would snowball together and shoot across the room. Quiet moments were punctuated by the clamor of pots and pans besieged by an army of kittens. And right in the middle of all this my friend was calm, collected and eager to catch up on the last 30 years – while his wife looked heavenward, each time a stack of plates went crashing to the floor.

Looking back at that episode, I begin to wonder about people, and pets.

What’s a good number of dogs, cats, birds, and other animals? (In terms of normal / not so normal.) How do people actually manage to look after and feed them? What happens when the wife is a pet lover, and the husband is not? How do you go on a holiday, if you can’t find someone to feed four dogs and 18 cats? How much would your vet charge on home visits?

And lastly, one math question – how many liters of milk do you need in a day to feed 18 cats? (I didn’t see a milk vending machine in his house.)

Sharath Bhat

Image (c) sharath bhat

Sharath Bhat also blogs at http://www.bigontalent.in & http://www.laffetaria.com

Big on Talent > Vihan Damaris

Another beautifully rendered video by Vihan Damaris. We asked her what inspired her to do this, and why she picked this song.

I heard this song by Hollyn (a new Christian artist), and something about the genre and vocal style struck a chord in me that few Christian songs out there do. Not to mention the lyrics which, combined with the music, exhibit a strangely appealing mix of fierce vulnerability.

I had to do it.

Though it was different from what I’ve done before, it felt true, like I was unearthing a part of me that was waiting its turn. The video again tries to capture that wild spirit realizing its own mortality and pleading to be embraced by its maker rather than being left alone. In fact, I had to lock myself into a room of a room to be able to film the desperation that could be if I really was deserted by God. It’s a desperation that throws to the wind any trace of self consciousness that might have otherwise been there.

In the video there are many takes put together which you could say are different parts of me all joining hands in that one request- that God would not leave me alone with myself.

We interviewed Vihan in January this year
on the Big on Talent blog – here’s the link to the interview:

Talking to Vihan Damaris

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Thinking inside the box – quality assurance for online shopping

Jack-in-the-box

How often have your received a shipment from your “favourite” online store, that you want to return in a hurry?

And how often does this happen to me? At least four times, out of ten.

And these are leading online portals that I’m talking about. I’ve been sent shoes with their tongues sticking out and hanging by a thread, brand new books that arrived dog-eared, and painting canvases that were wrapped in old newspaper.

Getting rid of products gathering dust at a brick & mortar store is a strong temptation for rogue shippers – and they will do this as often as they can get away with it. Bound to happen when a portal offers its shopping interface to other sellers, and is not directly part of the sourcing or shipping process.

So how can you weed out the worms and keep the system clean? I don’t have an insider’s perspective on this, but administrators of these portals could have stringent measures in place that filter deliveries that deviate from the norm. In a sense, you do have a rating system these days, with actually customer comments and feedback – but what about the ones not featured in the rogues’ gallery?

More on this story on my Linkedin page >
Surprise package from online seller