TV presenter Amar Latif is the brains behind Traveleyes, a tour operator that organises group trips for blind or partially sighted travellers by pairing them up with a sighted traveller. He tells Abra Dunsby his story
How did your experiences as a blind person inspire the idea for Traveleyes?
After I travelled to Canada to finish my third year of university, I caught the travel bug. When I approached tour operators about travelling as a solo traveller, they told me I couldn’t go because I was blind or that I had to bring a carer. I didn’t need a carer! I thought there’d be loads of visually impaired travellers just like me, wanting to explore the world with no company to help them do it, so I started Traveleyes.
How many destinations does Traveleyes visit?
Around 65 – they change every year and range from closer-to-home trips like Newcastle and Durham to further afield such as Myanmar. Experiences include exploring the nightlife in Temple Bar, Dublin, to tandem cycling from Bangkok to Phuket. However, the main experience is sharing the adventure. Being encouraged – as a sighted traveller – to explore the world with more than just your eyes, and giving the gift of description to someone who is missing the last bit of a picture.
What are your most popular trips?
It used to be Sorrento and Cuba, but now we’re seeing a huge growth trend in activity holidays. Our current favourites are hiking in Bulgaria, walking the Camino De Santiago, zip-lining in Costa Rica and kayaking in Croatia.
How do you pair sighted and visually impaired travellers?
The pairings change daily and we rotate groups so that everyone gets the chance to spend time with different people. This means our groups gel and are inclusive of everyone. On international trips, we’d meet at the airport. A Traveleyes tour manager will do a briefing with some sighted guide training then hand out the first pairings.
What myths need to be busted about travelling as a blind person or booking travel for a blind person?
People always ask me: “Why do you travel as a blind person?” Sight is just one sense; I can’t tell you how many people I’ve encouraged to listen closer to something, or to feel something, when they normally wouldn’t have done so. I get more involved with people and places as that’s how I need to travel. When sighted travellers travel with a visually impaired traveller, they are encouraged to do the same. Visually impaired travellers book like any other traveller would, the only difference is they ask for airport or train assistance – someone who will meet them at the check-in area and guide them to their seat.
Where’s the best place you’ve travelled to as a blind person?
Cambodia – walking among the temples in Angkor, the busy markets, holding huge spiders… the general atmosphere of that place has to be one of my favourites. Also Cuba – salsa dancing, the music, the retro cars, the food and the sand.
What’s your message to travel agents?
We want to make sure they’re aware of our full range of holidays and activities, not only for visually impaired travellers but for sighted travellers as well. Most visually impaired travellers already know of our service, so it’s a matter of looking out for solo travellers who want to join a group holiday with a difference, have a unique, special experience and travel for a considerable reduction in price – they can save up to 50%. We have videos available to explain our concept and are rolling out online presentations for training staff. We hope to build a closer working relationship with travel agents so that more sighted and visually impaired travellers can share the adventure.