When we first heard about Pantou, we knew it was something UserWay had to be a part of right away (you can check out our Pantou listing here). They are compiling a comprehensive list of accessible service providers around the world. This project makes it easier for people around the globe to travel without worrying if there will be accessibility issues at their destination. Ivor Ambrose, Managing Director of ENAT – European Network for Accessible Tourism, was kind enough to answer questions about the Pantou project and why it’s so important for accessible travel.

What inspired you to develop Pantou?

We designed Pantou, initially, as a data collection tool for a study which looked at the provision of accessible tourism services in Europe. Our non-profit association, ENAT – European Network for Accessible Tourism was asked to identify tourism providers who promoted “accessible” services across the whole tourism chain, including accommodation, food and drink outlets, museums, heritage sites, activities of all kinds, suppliers of assistive equipment, specialised travel agencies and so on.

We identified existing “Accessibility Information Schemes” that are in the field, working in different countries and regions where they measure and describe the accessibility and suitability of buildings and facilities for people with disabilities, seniors and others who need good access.

Using the Pantou criteria we trawled almost 80,000 accessible tourism service providers in Europe. However, due to data protection restrictions, we cannot publish all of these without getting explicit permission from the businesses concerned. So we re-opened Pantou as an open online directory, serving as a marketing tool for accessible tourism providers.

We now populate the directory by inviting new service providers to register directly with the site. This takes a bit longer, but it means all the site content is curated, making it more reliable and trustworthy, which is especially important to travellers with access needs. Visitors to Pantou can now find the location, services offered and contact details of 800+ accessible service providers.

From its origins as a data collection tool, Pantou is now a “hub” for Business to Business (B2B) and Business to Customer (B2C) contact and networking, bringing together public and private accessible tourism suppliers and destinations and the many visitors who seek accessible places to visit and accessible things to do. It is free of charge to register with Pantou, as we want to reduce the barriers for suppliers or users by sharing information about accessibility.

In your opinion, what is the biggest barrier to accessible tourism right now?

The biggest barrier continues to be: getting access to reliable information about the actual state of accessibility of venues and services – since many tourism providers do not know the access needs of customers, and they do not have the tools to help them accurately explain the accessibility of their offer.

The tourism sector needs to apply the principles of Universal Design when designing venues and services so that they are accessible and inclusive for all users. Suppliers in the tourism sector, both public and private, should also recognise the importance of ensuring access to information via websites that are accessible to people with disabilities, as well as other services including transportation, accommodation, and all the tourism activities that are on offer.

We advocate the use of the W3C WCAG guidelines by tourism businesses when designing and building websites and, of course using other available means, such as the UserWay tools, that can improve web accessibility, so helping the tourism sector to move in the right direction.

How do you think digital accessibility can help to promote/boost travel accessibility?

In my opinion, ensuring that digital tools are accessible to all users is a must. It makes no sense to produce tourist information that many people cannot read or use.

More and more tourists are planning and booking their trips online but, still, some of the most basic online interactions, such as picking the date of a trip or an overnight stay are just not accessible when you are blind or partially sighted, or cannot use a mouse. Ultimately, we need websites, apps and digital tools to be built on accessibility standards from the get-go. 

Currently, we have a huge backlog of tourism and travel websites, apps and other digital communication tools that do not reach anywhere near the mark when it comes to “accessibility for all.” In many places, the providers of tourism marketing websites simply do not address accessibility, due either to their lack of awareness of its advantages or lack of knowledge about the requirements or due to lack of demand for accessibility from their clients.

The IT industry as a whole needs to understand how access requirements of users impact the user experience and user behaviour; otherwise, we will leave a large section of our customers behind. New legislation in the form of the European Accessibility Act will hopefully sharpen the focus on the area of digital accessibility in the European Union Member States, just as Section 508 does in the US.

What do you think hotels, restaurants, tourism companies, etc. can do to make their websites easier for disabled travelers? Are there any common complaints you get?

ENAT is now introducing a “World Tourism for All Quality Program” to help tourism providers raise the level of their game globally. The Quality Program includes not only access audits of buildings and facilities but also management and staff training in accessibility and disability awareness, as well as web accessibility and marketing.

As we were testing our Program, we came across hotel managers who want to reach out to customers with disabilities by making their websites accessible, but they were told by their Web services contractors: Oh, you don’t need to do that – it’s only for the public sector!

Or worse: Sure we can do that, but we’ll have to change the whole Content Management System, so it will cost you the double.  Clearly, some IT companies need to “smell the coffee” and get wise to the fact that accessibility gives a competitive edge and tourism businesses will go elsewhere if they cannot get an accessible website from their regular IT provider. 

We know, from a large national study in the UK, that tourism websites that publish their accessibility information online get 27% more “click through to book,” using an accessible booking engine. Tourism providers know only too well that their online presence can have a powerful influence on how – and where – customers spend their money.

Accessible web design and the use of tools to improve customer engagement should be understood more deeply by the IT community, so that hotel managers and others are not met with a brush-off answer when they ask: Can you make our website accessible? We all need to talk more and learn more about web accessibility, whether it is over a cup of coffee with colleagues or by attending a training course.

How can our readers apply to be listed on Pantou?

Signing up to the Pantou directory is easy. To qualify for inclusion in the directory and receive your Pantou Supplier Badge, you need to provide an accessible service that is used by tourists or travellers.

Register at https://pantou.org/register where you enter your contact details and short Service description. Upload your logo or a photo to go on your profile page. Check the boxes for Customer Types (that is, the access needs you can cater for) and the Service(s) you offer. Then, for your “Accessibility Information” reference, you may select one of the listed national or regional accessibility schemes, if you belong to one, or select “Pantou Access Statement – International.”

After submitting your form, may need to fill in the Pantou Access Statement, describing the accessibility features of your business/venue. Download the template (Word Document) at  https://pantou.org/access-statement  When you have completed the Access Statement, send it to the Pantou Team, and it will be uploaded as a PDF on your Pantou profile page. We look forward to seeing you on Pantou – promoting accessible tourism around the world!