Have you been dreaming of taking a trip to an exotic land but are worried about the accessibility in an unfamiliar country. Arranging holidays that are accessible to your needs can be a daunting process filled with worry, stress and uncertainty. So why not let someone else do all the work for you?
Ali Parker is part of a bespoke travel service known as Travel Counsellors. She has a wealth of experience in the accessible travel industry and is now working as a Travel Counsellor to ensure disabled people can experience amazing, tailor-made holidays. Here Ali tells us what support she can offer to make your dream holiday happen.
Can you give us a brief outline of your experience in the travel industry?
With more than 20 years’ experience in making holidays and travel accessible and inclusive to all, my passion for travel started when I embarked on a round the world trip through more than 50 countries. I knew quickly this was the career for me, so drawing on my experience I worked for an Australasia specialist in London, tailor-making and designing inspiring holidays, then moved into the cruise industry, becoming a cruise specialist being very fortunate to test and sample many cruises. Then in 2002 I took my cruise knowledge and joined Accessible Travel, one of the UK’s leading accessible tour operators and launched accessible cruising and went on to become General Manager overseeing all areas of the travel business for the next 13 years.
How did you get involved with Travel Counsellors?
I was actually invited to join. Due to Accessible Travel winding down after 21 successful years, I wanted to carry on using my unique insight and knowledge of creating barrier-free holidays and most importantly still service my valued clients, many who have become friends.
Richard Thompson an entrepreneur in accessible tourism joined Travel Counsellors in 2007 and with his vision and ground-breaking initiatives he has transformed the travel opportunities for disabled people across their seven international operations – in the UK, Australia, South Africa, Dubai, Ireland, Belgium and the Netherlands. So, when I received the invitation from Richard to join him on this exciting journey, I of course said yes!
What sort of service can you offer through Travel Counsellors?
A personal, bespoke and secure service built on years of experience that offers 100% financial protection and round the clock care and support from a multi-award winning international travel company.
Can you organise holidays anywhere in the world and locally in the UK?
Absolutely. In contrast to the limited offerings available from specialist tour operators, as a Travel Counsellor I have access to literally hundreds of thousands of flights, accessible accommodations, adapted transport and mobility equipment options at my fingertips. This means I am able to provide my clients with the expertise, confidence and support to realise their true travel dreams, however complex their requirements and wherever in the world they might wish to go. The world really is now everyone’s oyster!
What’s the most common challenge your customers are concerned about?
Mainly flying. I fully understand their concerns, especially when travelling for the first time with a newly acquired physical, sensory or cognitive requirement. It can be scary. But with nearly two decades of experience in facilitating accessible travel by land, sea and air I am uniquely placed to reassure clients and ensure that they are fully informed and all assistance required is properly in place. Planning and preparation are everything. It’s what I do every day.
Can you tell us about Travel Counsellors’ accessible brand ambassador and the work she does?
Nadia Clarke has an acquired brain injury through birth and is also deaf. As one of six children in an amazing family, Nadia was educated in mainstream schooling and now passionately advocates for the right of all disabled people across the globe to receive an education. Extensively travelled, Nadia’s most recent journeys (organised by Richard Thompson) have included trips to Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, Europe by rail and India. Her next experience as Travel Counsellors Brand Ambassador – ‘Nadia’s Amazing Arabian Adventure’ will take place in March 2019. A key objective from each trip is for Nadia to meet, motivate and inspire disabled children and their families to fight for the right to be educated and to showcase the value of travel and visiting places anew. And that however challenging that might be, it is always worth the effort. She is a powerful communicator.
Why should people book an accessible holiday with you?
Being a Travel Counsellor allows me to draw on my 20 years of experience. Being completely independent and not being tied to any operator or supplier allows me to take the time to get to know my customers and tailor a holiday that is right for them. I’m in a unique network of more than 1,800 caring travel professionals who take enormous pride in what they do. Every booking is 100% financially secure with 24-hour around the clock care. My service is personal, and I love talking about holidays and empowering people with the facts, so they have the confidence to travel.
What holidays have you booked that really stand out?
My most recent booking was to Dubai, for a special lady who uses an electric wheelchair and needed to hire an electric bed, hoist and shower chair. She had not been away for seven years and was very nervous. She was travelling with her family and three carers and she needed rooms next door to each other, the equipment waiting in her room upon arrival, adapted transfers and assistance on the flight. I worked with a beautiful resort, on the Palm Dubai and with meticulous planning and using the relationship Travel Counsellors has with the resort, they built a ramp into one of their restaurants and into the pool. She had the most fantastic time and I am now planning her next trip away! Another stand out holiday was when I worked with a charitable organisaiton and I coordinated a group of 120 wheelchair users, their family and friends on a week’s holiday to Spain. They all wanted different things from their holiday and I enjoyed the task of bringing everything together. Their gratitude and praise upon their return meant so much and this is why I love my job. It certainly keeps me on my toes, but above all I find it so rewarding.
This article originally appeared in PosAbility Feb/mar 2019.