Article by Nick Varney, Chief Executive Officer at Merlin Entertainments
Being inclusive of customers with disabilities is the right thing for businesses to do.
People with disabilities make up 15% of the world’s population and they are fastest growing minority group. It is a group that wants to access the same products, facilities, and services as everyone else, and up to now, it is a group that is being underserved.
But it’s not just about fairness. Being more accessible also makes good business sense. In the UK alone, the spending power of people with disabilities and their families has been estimated at £249 billion. For the UK leisure and hospitality sector, the total inclusive tourism market is worth over £12 billion with families having a member with a disability proven to stay longer and spend more.
Under the Equality Act 2010, businesses and service providers have to take reasonable steps to provide equal access to people with disabilities. Despite this, many businesses inadvertently prevent customers with disabilities from using their service in the same way as others by not making reasonable adjustments.
At Merlin Entertainments, our aim is to provide magical days out for all families, including the many guests with disabilities that visit our attractions. We want to be the attraction operator of choice for visitors with disabilities and wherever possible, we strive to create environments that are welcoming for our guests and provide them with the information they need to plan their visits.
We are proud that by the end of this year, we will have Changing Places at all of our UK theme parks and have plans to roll out additional calming sensory rooms after the success of the first sensory room at LEGOLAND Windsor Resort. Attractions such as SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium have successfully trialled ‘Quiet Mornings’ prior to opening hours, allowing families to explore at their own pace in an adjusted, sensory-friendly space.
Last year we issued over 14,000 Merlin Annual Carer Passes, to accompany Merlin Annual Pass holders with disabilities to our attractions in the UK. At our newer attractions such as LEGOLAND New York, accessibility is integral to the park development, including plans for two quiet rooms, two adult changing facilities alongside guest wheelchair accessible rides and attractions.
Although we have made great progress over the past few years in improving accessibility at our attractions, we also understand that we can always do more. This is why we actively listen to feedback from our visitors and are dedicated to reviewing our facilities on an ongoing basis.
As part of this, we are an active member of the Business Disability Forum and I am delighted that we have recently sponsored the Welcoming Disabled Customers Guide, which offers useful information to businesses on how best to cater for guests with disabilities.
As an organisation, we want our teams to feel confident when welcoming all of our guests. Customer-facing in staff in particular play a key role in ensuring our attractions are as accessible as possible. We hope the clear information in the Welcoming Disabled Customers Guide will help Merlin employees and those of other consumer businesses understand a wide range of needs and conditions, and feel confident in their ability to engage with disabled customers and provide great customer service.
The difference this can make to our guests is what makes improving accessibility a priority area for us. It is highlighted by the impact of our partner charity Merlin’s Magic Wand, which has provided over 600,000 tickets to Merlin attractions across the world, providing magical days out for families with children facing serious illness, disability or adversity.
Being able to welcome everyone is what we do best. And that benefits both Merlin and the many people with disabilities who come to have a fun day out with us.