New York City: Rolling Through the Travel Show
By Robert P. Bennett 2005

The New York Times’ Travel Show is a three-day-long event held annually at New York’s Jacob K. Javits Center. During the course of this event five hundred exhibitors and five thousand travel professionals from all over the world show their products and services to an estimated twenty-five thousand consumers. Seminars, conducted by travel writers and other experts, give valuable insights into every aspect of vacation planning. Performances by singers and dancers give attendees an introduction to the people and cultures they can expect to meet during their travels. I had wanted to visit the Travel Show for the past few years but something always happened to upset my plans. This year I was determined to go.

Being a wheelchair user, I am always wary of placing myself in large crowds of people. Crowds don’t always follow the rules of civility that individuals do. People in crowds don’t always pay attention to where they are walking or who they are bumping into. Perhaps this is one reason I rarely see many other wheelchair users at events such as this. But, being an avid traveler, I was intrigued by the many offerings that surrounded me at the show. And, I was not to be deterred by the throngs of people that visited each booth.

I had gone to the show with the intent of learning how well people with disabilities were served by the travel industry. I wanted to speak to as many people as I could about travel options. What I learned served to confirm what my own experiences had shown me. A kind of catch-22 exists between the travel industry and consumers with disabilities. The industry does not cater to the needs of the disabled community because people with disabilities are not advocating for more travel options and, as a group, people with disabilities don’t advocate for travel options because they don’t see the industry catering to their needs.

While rolling around the show and handing out business cards I asked one simple question of the vendors I spoke with, “what accessibility options do you have available for tourists with disabilities?” Most often the answer I received was, “well, you can easily get on the plane. After that things may be difficult.” The people I spoke with showed real concern for the traveler with disabilities, but for the most part they offered little practical advice. However, I was not deterred. I spoke with cruise line representatives who told me that many of the ships were in fact set up with disabled travelers in mind. I spoke with a Kenyan travel agent who said that many of the vans they use for tourist safaris were equipped with ramps for wheelchair users. And, when I spoke to representatives of the Egyptian Tourist Office I was informed that there were options available that would allow tourists with disabilities to get up close and personal with ancient edifices like the Pyramids and the Sphinx.

Finally I visited the tables where travel-related publishers were hawking their books. While none of them had specific books about disability travel options they did say that periodically they had disabled authors who wrote stories about their travels. These stories, they said, are incorporated into the mainstream books. I, of course, offered my services to write about my adventures. I said I’ve recently been to Paris, Amsterdam, Puerto Rico, among other places.

After spending the day at the New York Times’ Travel Show I can honestly say that the experience was well worth the effort. While it is true that the travel industry does not go out of its way to entice those in the disabled community they are open to possibilities. With new technologies on the horizon and more people with disabilities demonstrating their desire to explore the world in the same way as their able-bodied counterparts it can only be a matter of time before the travel industry and the disabled community meet on some distant shore.

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