As part of my new interview series come and join me for a chat with Beth Bailey, Chair and Marketing Executive at Premier Cottages! As you will know from previous posts, it can be mind-bogglingly difficult to narrow cottages down to ones which can meet all your access requirements. One website which is a great example of ways to make the search a bit smoother is www.premiercottages.co.uk which has an Accessible Cottages page and works in collaboration with the Visit England National Accessible Scheme (NAS) providing all the right info.
Beth kindly agreed to answer some questions and give some extra hints and tips to those of us on the search for the next great getaway! This is a great read, and you will be amazed at the facilities some of these luxury cottages can offer (such as help with medical supplies or specialist equipment).
Can you tell me a little bit about your company or organisation, and your current role within this setting?
Premier Cottages is not an agency, but is a “book-direct” marketing cooperative of 250 owners of independent luxury self-catering cottages around the UK, with nearly 1000 cottages between us (many members have multiple cottages at one site). All properties are graded 4* or 5* by their national tourist board (VisitEngland, VisitWales etc), and most are professional self-caterers (not second home owners). The Board are all cottage owners and members too.
I can see you work closely with the Visit England National Accessible Scheme (NAS)? What inspired you to become involved with the NAS?
As well as being Chair of Premier Cottages, I am also a member, with my own cottages in Cornwall. We wanted to build a fully wheelchair-accessible cottage at our own cottages in 2007. Rather than just guess what people might need, I did some research, and found that VisitEngland had a scheme which gives guidance on each level of accessibility. We used this as the basis for our conversion. I was also at the time Marketing Director of Premier Cottages, so we decided to adopt the NAS scheme at Premier Cottages. It can be stressful for anyone with access needs to go somewhere they don’t know, as they often cannot be certain that it will meet their needs, and self-description isn’t reliable. Properties can be all on the ground floor, but if the owner forgets to mention there is a step into the only bathroom, that can leave it unusable to a wheelchair user. The beauty of the NAS scheme is that it guarantees that the property will do what it says on the tin, so you won’t get any nasty surprises on arrival. They have three schemes, for mobility, visual and hearing impairments.
Do you visit or inspect properties individually?
All of our members have to be graded 4* or 5* by their national Tourist Board, and are inspected regularly. New members are always visited before they join by an existing member or a board member, so we know that the property exists, and will fit into our portfolio of luxury properties. We like to ensure that we have 5* owners, as well as top quality properties – owners who really care about the experience of their guests, and will embrace the Premier Cottages ethos.
Are your cottages inspected by the NAS if the owners have opted to become members?
Yes – you cannot get an NAS grading without being inspected by a specialised NAS grader. You have to be revisited periodically too. This means that visitors can guarantee that the property will meet all of the requirements laid down in the guidance for the level of access provision for each grading, which is great peace of mind for the traveller with access needs.
Are there any other organisations you feel have been able to offer constructive advice on identifying suitable properties and promoting these to individuals or families with accessibility needs / disabled travellers?
Do you have many families with children with a disability making enquiries?
We do, although at the Premier Cottages level, I wouldn’t always see the specifics of who was booking what. For my own cottages, I have a number of regular guests who have children with disabilities. A holiday is usually a really important time for the family to have a chance to relax together, so we try to make it easy. For example, I’ve just added a high powered liquidiser to the accessible cottage, as we have recently had several visiting children who are tube-fed – it’s a little thing, but it means it isn’t the end of the world if Mum forgets to pack theirs! Also I have provided access notes for every single visitor attraction, pub, restaurant, etc – it makes planning days out so much easier for guests if they don’t have to do the research and legwork themselves, and they can easily find out whether the places they are thinking of visiting have accessible facilities
Can prospective customers contact owners directly with any questions they may have?
Absolutely. I think it is really important. It won’t be a relaxing holiday if the property doesn’t work for you, so make sure that you are comfortable that it will meet your requirements. A lot of our members also have 3D tours on their web pages or websites. These are a fantastic tool, as you can do a virtual “walk-through” of every inch of the cottage, to see if it will work. Photos can sometimes be a bit misleading, and make rooms look bigger than they are, so I find that my wheelchair-using guests find this a really useful tool. For an example, see www.kernockcottages.com/cottages-in-cornwall/heather-barn/#3Dtour.
The owner will be the only person who can answer any other questions you might have, and saves you time hunting for things on their website or booking form (for example, I provide lots of optional extras, that aren’t on the booking form, such as elephant’s feet for raising the bed/chair heights, footstools, shower chairs, bed grab rails and soft bed rails). This can save you lots of room in the car!
Do you think it’s possible to define ‘accessible’ in 1 sentence?!
Hahaha… that’s a tough one. It certainly is NOT all about wheelchairs, as everyone’s access needs are different, and there are many invisible disabilities that have their own challenges. There is no one-size-fits-all in accessibility, but broadly it would be thinking about how to make a space easy to use for people with the broadest possible spectrum of requirements.
Which features do you think are searched for the most (i.e. ground floor facilities/wetrooms/widened doorways)?
Ground floor facilities is a really popular search. The population is ageing, as we all live longer these days, and that means that there are a lot more people with mobility issues. Many of them wouldn’t remotely consider themselves to be disabled, but older joints don’t always cope well with stairs. We also recommend to our members with ground floor facilities that they try to offer temporary aids that can be used if needed, such as shower chairs for wetrooms, and suction grab rails for showers… very little investment is required, but for an elderly guest it can mean the difference between being able to use the shower safely and not.
The NAS Accessible Logos provide a high standard of detail for visitors with a much wider range of disabilities. Do you find that some owners limit their accessibility statements to physical disabilities only?
I think it is true that most people automatically think “wheelchair” when they think about disability, whereas in fact wheelchair users are only a very small part of the population with access needs – VisitEngland estimates only 6% of visitors with disabilities are wheelchair users. There is a much larger population with other needs – 47% have long term illness, which would include things like people who take oxygen to help them breathe, for example, or have a stoma. 25% have a mobility impairment that does not require a wheelchair (but they may use a stick or frame). 24% suffer from a hearing impairment or hearing loss, 9% from learning difficulties (for example autism), and 8% from a visual impairment. The NAS has schemes for visual and hearing impairments, as well as one for mobility. Some of our members under the Visual scheme have gadgets like talking microwaves and talking kitchen scales in their cottages!
Can you offer any hints or tips for customers searching for accessible properties?
Where possible, use a property which is graded under the National Accessible Scheme, as you know that it will do what it says on the tin! All properties should have an Access Statement on their website for every cottage, so have a look and make sure the property will suit your needs. Speak to the owner, as they can often offer reassurance and help (for example they may be able to arrange oxygen deliveries, or mobility equipment hire), and will have local information which will make your holiday more relaxing and enjoyable.
Thank you Beth for providing such an interesting read and opening my eyes to just how detailed information on accessible properties can be! Let’s hope this filters out to other cottage companies who can also become involved with the Visit England National Accessible Scheme to provide the information and detail that is essential for holidaymakers searching for accessible cottages. It would also be great to see this filter out to other areas in the UK!
Visit www.premiercottages.co.uk/accessibility to view the accessible cottages page and choose from the fantastic range of luxury properties.