While disabilities plague one out of five families, according to a US Census Bureau 2005 study, they shouldn’t preclude an individual from attending a meeting or enjoying an incentive trip. So says the Special Needs Group/Special Needs at Sea. The company aims to help an increasingly aging population deal with the rigors of travel despite any impairment that might have developed, such as hearing loss, diminished vision, limited mobility or breathing problems.
Seeing this as a $13.6 billion market, a figure they attribute to a 2002 study by The Open Doors Organization in cooperation with the Travel Industry Association of America, the company said they are working closely with the travel community to deliver all the equipment necessary to service the accessible travel/special needs niche.
Special Needs Group / Special Needs at Sea operates out of 55 cities in 20 countries and bills itself as a "one-stop shop" for all the special needs equipment clients might want, renting out everything from wheelchairs and scooters to oxygen cylinders, hospital beds, baby cribs, equipment for hearing-impaired individuals, service animal relief materials, and more. They pay commissions on each piece of equipment rented, providing travel sellers with an additional profit center.
The Special Needs Group has primarily been working with individuals and leisure groups, with 85% of their business done on cruise ships. With the advent of the Norwegian Epic and Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas, they see the meetings and incentive market as an increasingly viable, and potentially profitable, target market.
“Most people know that the population is aging and most of us think of people enjoying retirement. However, because of our recent economic climate, many are staying in the workforce in order to make up for the recent losses in their portfolios. That translates to more special needs requests for meetings and conventions. We definitely want to cater to that market,” said Andrew J. Garnett, president and CEO.
Andrew J. Garnett
As an example of the services they can provide, Special Needs Group recently worked with Passages Deaf Travel, a travel agency that chartered Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas for an all-deaf cruise.
Said Tabitha and Mac Partlow, the agency’s co-owners: "The service that they provided to our deaf guests is hard to put a value on. They provided each guest with Room Kits that included vibrating alert devices and strobe lights which alerted our passengers while in their stateroom that someone was either knocking on the door, the phone was ringing, or also, in the event of emergency, flashed a different color light when the ships emergency horn is sounded. This let our customers feel comfortable and safe while in their room. That is a top priority for us. Not only do we want our guests to know their room service has arrived, but also in case of an emergency, they will be alerted they need to leave their stateroom. How do you put a value on providing for our guests safety?"
Garnett is looking to grow the inventory of services of which planners can avail themselves. “Currently Special Needs Group does not provide either sign language interpreters or private nurses. However, we have been approached by several organizations and individuals to start doing so. We want to ensure that we are experts at whatever we do. So, we are diligently looking into what providing these services would entail. It is a definite possibility that these services will soon be provided by our company,” he said.
Special Needs Group has delivery and pick-up capability within most of the world's travel destinations, especially cruise ports like Ft. Lauderdale, Barcelona, Vancouver, and Sydney, and can accommodate "one-way" travel.
For more information, call Special Needs Group toll-free (800) 513-4515, e-mail email@example.com or visit www.specialneedsgroup.com.