Category: AIRDA website

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.

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.

Have you got a travelogue to share with us?

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Everybody has a story to tell, when it comes to travel

The “conversations” section on the AIRDA website is over five years old. We’ve had sessions with CEOs, business heads, independent consultants and other professionals who are connected with the timeshare industry in some way. We have also talked to customers from different age groups – our oldest is 87 years old and still looking forward to her next holiday. Our youngest was 13 when we spoke to him three years ago – at 16, he’s considering rapid-river-rafting on his next holiday.

This post is about inviting people like you for instance. Especially if you have an observation to make, a story to share, or constructive feedback to offer. We’re also looking forward to conversations with professionals and stakeholders in the industry.

Have you got a story to share with us?

Finding new ways to market and sell your product

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Chef Vijay Bakshi at his new cafe in Indiranagar

 

One of the people I met at my new café was a young bubbly chap marketing timeshare for his company. As we chatted about sales, marketing and converting prospects, something interesting fell into place. The kind of people in his target group were the kind of parents who would have their children’s parties at my café.

A kid’s birthday party creates an atmosphere where parents are relaxed and in the right frame of mind for interactions. It gives you the right place, the right time and the right opportunity to showcase what you have to offer.

Read more about an interesting way of tapping into a whole new prospect base >>

Which way are you heading on your next holiday?

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Club Mahindra Cherai Beach, near Cochin

 

The sparkling waters of the Cherai are a breathtaking confluence of lakes, lagoons and canals. Nestling between an idyllic beach and a lagoon, the resort is a magical destination for anyone looking for more than just a holiday on a calendar. That’s the place to go if you’re looking for nature’s green carpet as a setting and the calming therapeutics of Kerala’s backwaters. On the TripAdvisor website, 82% ranked this resort at #2 of 4 hotels in Cherai Beach.

For our Q&A of the month, we meet four young professionals who drove down to Cherai Beach and found the experience rejuvenating. We talk to hotelier Shashank Shetty from Kolhapur, chartered accountant Nischith Shetty from Dubai, Ulhaas Joseph who is a business analyst in Bangalore and Philip Joseph who works in the travel industry. These are old friends who got together after a long time and decided to catch up on their worlds at a setting that allowed them to do just that.

Read more about their experience at one of Mahindra’s
most popular resorts in the south.