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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