TTG – Features – The Wheelie Good Travel Company on Being an Accessible Travel Disruptor
Agency owner Jon Fletcher hopes to change attitudes towards accessible travel through his new venture, the Wheelie Good Travel Company. He talks to Abra Dunsby on his vision of the brand
Jon Fletcher, who set up cruise agency Cruise Holidays UK 10 years ago, launched new venture The Wheelie Good Travel Company last year after he and some of his friends started discussing their travel booking experiences accessible online or through an agent.
He explains: “During the lockdown, I was chatting with my disabled friends, who said they were looking forward to traveling again. We were also discussing the vacation booking experience. It came out overwhelmingly from them that they are not really supported even by accessible travel companies.
Fletcher, who is in a wheelchair himself, says he and his partner, who is blind, also encountered difficulties when visiting agencies to book a trip together. “I [came] in an agency in a wheelchair with my spouse and a guide dog. I could see the horror on their faces. All the barriers have been put in our way. They forgot to ask the most important question first: “Where do you want to go on vacation?” Instead, we were asked, “Who are your caregivers?”
He says the approach made him realize “something had to change” in the travel industry and describes The Wheelie Good Travel Company as a disrupter in the accessible travel industry. “We want to take a different approach – to make accessible travel fun and give [potential customers] the confidence to travel.
Fletcher has used Facebook groups to connect with potential customers and ask them how they like to travel.
“I asked the members who they would like to take with them on the trip. None of them wanted us to provide them with a caregiver; they wanted more independence. It is important that a disabled person [client] travel with whoever they want,” he says.
Fletcher uses Facebook and The Wheelie Good Travel Company website, which includes a blog, to “inspire”, provide a personal travel experience and answer customer questions. “We reach out to customers and add products based on member needs,” he adds, with most customers opting for tailored trips.
He says the product is vast. “We offer all kinds of vacations, from the beach to more adventurous trips, like Rocky Mountaineer with an Alaskan cruise.” Cruises and coach trips are also popular, as are staycations and domestic experiences. Options closer to home include a guided tour of a Manchester street photography studio run by Fletcher.
The sense of fun that The Wheelie Good Travel Company embodies comes from Fletcher’s own approach and passion for travel. He explains. “I’m never happier than when I’m on a plane, a cruise or a coach. I love to travel,” he says, adding that he’s a big fan of familiarization trips.
“I won a familiarization trip to Iceland in the winter. I have memories of being lifted up by a fat, hunky Icelander in a wheelchair with huge tires,” he laughs.
He wants to inspire that same sense of adventure in others. “We ask customers, ‘What is your travel dream, and how can I make it accessible to you?’ We had a client who wanted to do Machu Picchu so we found a tour operator who could do it. We try our best to find a solution for the customer, and if we can’t, we’ll be honest,” he says.
All bookings for The Wheelie Good Travel Company are made through Cruise Holidays UK, which is protected by Abta and Atol. While The Wheelie Good Travel Company is currently B2C, Fletcher is keen to connect with vendors to bring more products to customers.
He encourages more operators to sell accessible travel and feels optimistic about the future. “It’s an exciting time for accessible travel. Businesses are starting to realize they’re missing out on 20% of the population [that has a disability in the UK] and can improve their business by selling accessible travel.
JON’S BEST TIPS
Jon Fletcher, who has visited over 100 countries, reveals some of his best travel experiences as a wheelchair user
A cruise is always a good option. Most modern cruise ships are very well designed for travelers with disabilities. On Norwegian Epic, there is a section of the bar at wheelchair level, for example.
Miami is amazing for travelers with disabilities. I tend to stay in Fort Lauderdale; downtown Miami is only 45 minutes away by public wheelchair accessible bus. On Sunny Isles Beach there is a beach wheelchair that you can roll into the sea.
New York is also fabulous, while Barcelona is the most wheelchair accessible city in Europe. In Amsterdam you can use the bike paths with an electric wheelchair.
The Brooklyn Hotel is an excellent accessible hotel in Manchester. It has plenty of accessible rooms, some of which have lifts, but nothing feels clinical; everything is very stylish. The Managing Director of Bespoke Hotels, [which Hotel Brooklyn is part of,] is himself in a wheelchair.