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26 Oct 2017

BY Abra Dunsby

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Good Business: Insiders' tips for autism friendly holidays

Booking an autism-friendly holiday requires careful planning but comes with huge personal rewards. Abra Dunsby gets tips from the experts to ensure agents get it right for their clients

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We speak to the experts for tips about booking an autism-friendly family holiday

Booking a holiday can be a stressful experience for families, but if one of the family members is autistic, the experience requires even more planning and precision.

 

Using a travel agent can be invaluable, helping to alleviate stress while offering the reassurance of expert advice.

 

More than 1 in 100 people in the UK are on the autistic spectrum, highlighting a significant and rewarding market for agents. Here we glean expert tips for selling an autism-friendly family break.

"Make the whole family feel involved"

GoCruise franchisee Christina Astill has plenty of experience booking autism-friendly holidays thanks to her work with Dream A-Way, a Devon-based charity that provides holiday grants for local families with disabilities or health problems.


“I book two or three holidays a month for autistic clients,” she tells me. “It’s a really rewarding part of the job.”


She describes booking autism friendly breaks as “a key slot for
the homeworker”.

 

“An office environment can be daunting and stressful,” she explains. “The family often won’t want to discuss details in a shop where others might overhear. My clients prefer to discuss things over the phone, or in person at home.”


Astill says it’s vital to include the client as much as possible in the planning process to eliminate anxiety.


“I have one family and the 12-year-old boy is autistic. He had a big part to play in choosing the hotel for their Lapland trip; he really wanted a pool.


He emails me asking questions and it’s great he feels included. It becomes a really pleasant experience that way – otherwise, the prospect of going away can be frightening.”

 

She says brochures work well as visual tools to showcase hotels and destinations in detail. “The tactile element works well with kids especially,” she adds.


Astill has booked autism-friendly holidays for clients travelling as far as Australia, and as close as the UK.


“Haven and Hoseasons are good options for families who are nervous about going abroad as they offer adapted caravans and holiday homes,” she says.

 

“For clients travelling abroad, Astill’s holiday checklist includes arranging airport assistance, securing a lounge at the airport and pre-booking seating for the plane so that the family can
be together.


For hotel stays, she recommends keeping transfer times to a minimum and picking smaller hotels with spacious, quiet rooms located on the ground floor for added ease.

"Provide aircraft pictures prior to travel"

Tui is making headway in catering for clients with hidden disabilities such as autism, the company’s UK airline director Jill Carter says.


“For customers who have additional requirements, we can allocate their seating onboard free of charge, in whatever part of the aircraft is most convenient for them. Customers with reduced mobility will also board the plane first,” Carter says.


Tui can also share aircraft pictures and information with customers before they fly to help them build familiarity with the destination before travelling.


Stephen Chalmers, managing director at Altogether Travel, an agency specialising in supported and accompanied holidays, recommends giving autistic clients “as much information as possible, keeping language straightforward and jargonfree”, adding that some airports offer excellent autism guides, explaining all the steps leading up to the flight as this aspect of travel can be daunting.

 

Consider an autism-friendly airport

Gatwick became the UK’s first nationally recognised autism-friendly airport last year and is championing ideas such as its hidden disability lanyard, a discreet sign for staff that additional support may be required.


Other initiatives include the introduction of autism champions, who are trained to roll out more staff training, and employing an autism ambassador. In April this year, the airport celebrated World Autism Awareness Day with an event designed to give autistic customers an overview of airport processes before travelling.

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