We Talk Travel

February 26, 2024 

Accessibility and the reason why we still must have this conversation. North America has come a long, but it is just the beginning.  Tourism and Hospitality is losing millions of dollars purely because either guests or visitors can’t access a property or find challenges within the property and either don’t visit or don’t return and make sure that associations of people who are seeking accessibility are aware of it so they can share with the members. Let us have this conversation.

One day you find you or one of your loved ones in a position of temporary or permanent confinement to a wheelchair. It happened and I was not prepared. I was frustrated as I tried to push my wife around in a wheelchair in the city of Toronto while taking our visitors from England on a tour of one of the greatest cities in the world. 

First, we had to make our way to the GO train (a regional travel system including trains and buses supporting transportation dissecting the city and providing access to communities surrounding the Greater Toronto Region). The stations provide one accessible platform). There is an elevator allowing access to the platform.

Arriving in the heart of the city up and out of the public transportation system to the streets and the challenges start to appear one after another. People for the most part are not helpful and always seem to get in the way. I just think that everyone is in such a hurry and really on care about themselves. It seems like we are invisible, me pushing my wife in the wheelchair. 

The streets and their potholes, curbs that are ramped for accessibility, and the crowds of people. We did find issues with access to some buildings in the city, but with accessibility legislation most buildings have made necessary changes to meet code. 

As we travelled increasingly around the city, the more I started to really make note of how accessible was the city of Toronto? This could be said for any City. There is so much work that is being done when it comes to accessibility in public and private buildings however there is more work that needs to be done. 

That was years ago, and I really have seen no change, a lot of discussion, however, there is no physical change that makes the city of Toronto or worst, my city of Mississauga. Much of the recommendations have not been implemented or in some cases another code will void out the accessibility code (Fire Code),

There are so many people that require accessibility when it comes to travel, and they are at their wits end where they try to find tourism that can meet their needs. There are so many diverse needs when it comes to accessible travel, the concept and this story may turn into a podcast series. It is a conversation that we need to have.

I put a call out to those in my community and asked several questions to get an idea what more needs to be done. 

One of the questions that I asked was “How can travel destinations improve accessibility with mobility challenges?”, Joan Eisenstodt of Eisenstodt Associates, LLC, based in Washington, DC, a meetings consultant responded:

“It begins with an inventory by someone who understands what makes any place accessible. It’s making the changes that will make a destination and the restaurants, museums, hotels, and as many places as possible accessible. If only by law, then do so. Then include the information on websites. Make it easy for people to access the information and plan ahead.”

Another question asked was “In what ways can the travel industry enhance communications to provide information on accessible accommodations and services?

“Have everything on an accessible-to-all website and for those who are to answer questions. Having direct experience in those destinations (like Lakshmee (Artie) Lachhman-Persad has done in NYC) matters to me as a traveler. Asking if any facility is accessible always gets a “of course” a then one discovers that it’s not,” Joan Eisenstadt

Another question that I asked was “How can transportation services, such as airlines and trains, better cater to the needs of passengers with disabilities?”

“Oh, we need new laws, and we need all transportation providers trained in what accessibility is and how to ensure it. We need knowledge people when we make reservations. After kvetching often to American Airlines, I was assigned someone to help me navigate travel – the airport arrivals and trying to get a wheelchair curbside when the policy was to “walk in” to the counter and then ask!; to ensure one isn’t left a the gate when there is a gate change and one is using an airport/airline wheelchair. It’s the people who make eye contact and check to see if you need a restroom or food when there’s a delay. It’s the service for a connecting flight. I haven’t flown since 3/12/2020. I had a long trip to Oregon from DC w/connections in Phoenix. The American Airlines person ensured I had someone to greet me in Phoenix, escort me to the club, get me settled, etc. I had an 8-hour layover out and a 9-hour layover on the way back. And this was after we knew a bit about COVID!

Amtrak does ok but not great, I use DC’s Union Station and have learned how to call ahead for a wheelchair and RedCap. Not everyone knows nor are there always people, chairs available. The North East Corridor Acela is great. The accessible seats in first class can accommodate a power chair or scooter. The restrooms are large and still difficult if one is travelling alone. I’ve learned- and this is a tip for those travelling-that if going to NYC it’s sometimes easier to take a train to Newark and pay for transport to the city than getting wheelchair assistance at Penn Station. (I’ve not tho’ tried the new Penn Station.) Ground transport is often both limited and with drivers who have no training in assistance to and from any mode of long-distance transport.

Too many friends have lost their specialty made power-chair when flying That Delta Airlines and United Airlines are now going to have power-chair accommodations on SOME flights is nice until one’s booked flight is cancelled or delayed and someone else has the seat assigned to your chair. 

I’m not adventurous and there are others-a friend who uses a powerchair travels the world and cruises and does well. I need the help as do others.”

Another question that I had put our there was from individual experiences after visiting many different properties in Mexico, Caribbeans, Central America, UK, The Netherlands, France and South Africa. “How can hotels and resorts create inclusive environments to accommodate guests with various accessibility requirements?

“It begins with commitment and understanding.

What initiatives are in place to promote accessible tourism and ensure equal opportunities for people with disabilities in the travel industry?

Many more companies and individuals now are ensuring there is information and even better rates for those with disabilities. Destinations International says they are doing more; the Event Service Professionals Association created this years ago and say they are updating it  Tourism Diversity Matters is focused on inclusion In addition to Lakshmee, Samantha Evans is a force. In Ireland, Jamie Shields works on issues for employment. All the posts on LinkedIn are useful-especially his graphics-for learning and doing more in tourism and travel

How do different countries compare in terms of their efforts to make tourist attractions accessible for individuals with diverse needs?

It varies. Someone directed me to a hotel company in Scandinavia that is supposed to be so accessible. Their website wasn’t! The person who told me saw that they had hardwood floors with more space and thought it accessible. A colleague mentioned earlier (who travels the world and uses a power chair) had a horrible time in Europe this year when his accessible room’s outlet shorted out from powering his chair. The hotel charged him for the repair and told him to find another place. I checked and it wasn’t a small company hotel. I’m sure there are others with far more experience to tell you more. 

What role can travel agencies play in advocating for and promoting accessible travel options for their clients?

LEARN more. Know what the needs of travelers with disabilities are. Create checklists and ensure knowledge of terminology to ask the right questions of the traveler and of the vendor. Gather experience in person versus being told something or some places are accessible. Have an advisory board of travelers with different disabilities from whom to solicit feedback.


I appreciate Joan Eisenstadt taking the time to speak with me on the topic. I have to ask the right questions when traveling as I have more and more accessibility requirements. For years I have travelled with a CPAP machine, something that is more common than I thought, but I see them more in more at airports and at hotels. 

Traveling through an Airport you have to open it up as you go through security, and more and more are familiar with them so there is less time that I have to explain what it is and how it is used. My biggest concern is outlet placement in hotels. In some cases, they are behind a headboard that is mounted to the wall and would require maintenance to take off the headboard for access. The room may have many outlets but strategically they are not placed in a place that my cord can reach without becoming a trip hazard.

On a recent tour through a tour company, I travelled to South Africa, and no one told me in advance about “load shedding” where the government shuts down the power for two hours at a time several times during a 24-hour cycle. We were not advised of this before traveling so every morning at 3am I would wake up as the power would go off from 3am to 5am and I can’t sleep without my CPAP. I made sure that I had the right power converter but never in my wildest dream would I ever think that power we be shut off by the government.

When it comes to making travel and tourism accessible for all we have come a long way, however, the journey is not over. I believe the driving factor is the cost and most companies will meet code and won’t take it any further. There are places and companies that have gone above and beyond to make all welcome to make accessibility part of their everyday culture. An in-depth study /list should be put together so that millions of people who want to travel who want to spend their money for travel for business or pleasure can do so knowing that they will face no barriers. 


Toronto- Travel Marketplace East June 22-23, 2024

Toronto Marketplace East – An industry event that attracted a record 400+ Travel Advisors from all over Eastern Canada. Travel Market Report, hosts of the conference celebrated the 9th anniversary of this event with Emcee Geraldine Ree.

Geraldine started the conference with a live pool (by raising your hand) to see the length of service of advisors present. “How many of you, started your business in the last three years” and a handful of Advisors put up their hands. She continued asking people who had been in the industry more than five years, 10 years, 20 years, 30 years, and 40 years.

The Advisors who had 40 years or more of experience in the business have seen many storms come and go and yet they are still standing. We circle back to those who had started their journey during “The Big Pause” and then we must ask the question, what did they see, why risk when the industry was suffering due to travel restrictions and how the world was forced to pause. It would have been nice to hear from them, maybe a panel discussion at next year's event.

Travel Market Report states that the industry looks incredible with research showing that survey shows that 50% of travelers will use a Travel Advisor when booking their travel and that 43% of those will go all out when booking their travel. They have saved up over the past few years when travel restrictions forced us to stay home. Today travelers are looking at sustainability as a key issue when looking at travel and how sustainability looks to one traveler may be something totally different to another.

A touch panel discussion had Daniel McCarthy, Vice President & Editor-in-chief of Travel Market Report, sit down with Cathy Scott, Owner, Departures Travel, Max Shkurupii, Advisor-Departures Travel, Victoriia Shkurupii, Advisor,

Departures Travel, and the story of how Max, Vicktoriia and their children had to flee Ukraine due to the invasion of Russian forces. How Vicktoriia with her two children left first and found themselves in Portugal before Max could join them. Both Max and Vicktoriia were Travel Advisors back in Kiev before the invasion. Looking for a place to plant roots they researched on where they wanted to go to and Canada came up as an option. A Google search of where is the warmest place in Canada and the result was Victoria.

Needing a work and relying on the skills they had as Travel Advisors they did a google search of Agencies and advisors in the Victoria area and they came across Cathy Scott’s name and fired off an email. Not an email I would normally respond to said Cathy, however, there was something about this one. After a meeting over Zoom and conversations back and forth, Max and Vicktoriia joined Departures Travel and the rest they say is history.

It just goes to show that skills in the Travel Industry are transferrable country to country. It is about e, system knowledge, passion for travel and passion towards clients.

The next panel discussion focused on the retail industry, travel agencies and travel advisors. The panel consisted of industry leaders: Daniel McCarthy, VP TMP; Una O’Leary, General Manager, Canada for Virtuoso Travel; Anthony Mormina, Senior Director, Sales and Operations, Transat Distribution Inc.; Lee Zanello, Director Member Relations, Ensemble Travel; Jane Clementino, Senior Vice President, and General Manager Canada, TRAVELSAVERS; Mike Foster, President, Nexion Travel Group Canada.

The panel discussed what do travelers want, and the repeating message was that travelers want to see more, do more. They want to experience the culture, the people, the destination. Travelers want an authentic experience, and they are willing topay for it. There is a demand for exotic, more personalized and the ability to customize, not the typical off-the-shelf prepackaged tour but something unique and out of the box. Travelers are looking to travel to lessor known countries to obtain a travel experience like no other.

The panel talked about how advisors need to create their own niche as you can’t know everything and thinking you do is a disservice to your clients. The panel also went on to say that is okay for Advisors to say “No” to a new client that may be looking for something that the Advisor has little or no knowledge of. Serve the clients who are looking for what you specialize in.

A question from the floor to the panel was “how is AI going to affect the industry?” The consensus from the panel was to learn it and use it to your advantage. AI is advancing rapidly, and its uses are being seen in every aspect of everyday life. Remember why people use Travel Advisors, it is all about the relationship and trust.

One of the panelists stated that they had read an article in the New York Times (1), where a test was done to have a create a destination itinerary and then have and Advisor create the itinerary and as the Advisor included the lessor known things in destination that still created a unique authentic experience. Remember that the AI pulled from sources and not from experiences.

The next fireside chat was with Brian Israel, SVP. Travel Market Report and Christian Leibl-Cote, Senior Vice President of Global Business, Collette, and they both agreed that the Canadian Travel Industry is back, and they echoed the earlier speakers who stated that travelers are looking for unique experiences, wanting to create lasting memories and stated that family and friend group tours are the fastest growing tour sector.

Christian went on to say that there are some misconceptions of tours where people seem to think that you board the bus at 6am and you don’t get off the bus until 10pm, however, that is further from the truth. Christian stated that on tours there is more free time so travelers can experience the Metro in Paris or the Underground in London, explore places and travel with the locals that provide a more unique experience. The use of water taxis, and ferries to explore more and to do more.

Travel Advisors were invited to attend a trade show and were given two hours to meet with over 80 suppliers. It was an opportunity to re-connect with suppliers, learn more about the properties or destinations, collect source material and exchange business cards for future contact. This write took a moment to ask representatives from Fort Myers to find out how Sanibel and Captiva are recovering after being destroyed by Hurricane Ian in 2022. I am pleased to report that these Islands off the coast near Fort Myers are open for business. Two of the larger resort properties will not open until sometime in 2024, however, the smaller boutique properties are open. The island looks different with much of the previous vegetation destroyed but life is getting back to normal. As former travel advisor, it was nice to see some familiar faces and have some quick conversations to allow them time to talk to the advisors.

A wonderful lunch was sponsored by Norwegian Cruise Line, Regent Seven Seas Cruises & Oceania Cruises. During the lunch, the sponsors talked about the demand for cruising is up and new ships have launched or are launching soon.

A presentation was given by Lauren Tilton, Community Engagement Manager, Tourism Cares (2) about the work they do and how they work with the tourism industry and destinations by creating a positive social, environmental, and economic impact for the people and places of travel.

Patty Noonan, Director of Sales, The Travel Institute, spoke about the importance of education and the value of certification. Being certified first as a CTA – Certified Travel Associate, then to CTC- Certified Travel Counsellor and the CTIE- Certified Travel Industry Executive

The next Panel Group discussion was on the topic of “The Future of Experiential and Immersive Travel in 2023 and Beyond, with Brian Israel, SVP & Publisher, Travel Market Report; Brett Walker, Chairman CATO and GM International Business Operations for Collette Canada; Carla Brake, Senior Director Business Development, Globus family of brands; Tony Saunders, CFO, Travelbrands; Anthony Saba, Vice President, South Pacific Goway.

Touring is booming and Advisors need to qualify their clients, as clients want more and are willing to spend more, why not offer pre and post land options on cruises or add on a cruise option for those only initially looking for land offers. Advisors must ask and listen, qualify your client, and don’t assume what the client wants. Remember to ask the right questions.

Peak season, well everyday is peak season. Travel is changing and there are more and more options available to address those who want to travel at any time of the year. There is something for everyone. The panel discussed what destinations are trending now, places like Caribbean, Portugal, Israel, Egyptrending now, places like Caribbean, Portugal, Israel, Egypt, Asia (Japan), Turkey and Africa to name the most discussed by the panel. 

Carla reminded the audience that Canada is still trending in the Canadian Market as more and more Canadians have discovered local travel and with Canada being so large there is so much to explore.

When asked the question to Anthony Saba about trends, he stated “there are no trends, no normal or is this new normal?

Brett stated that bookings to Europe are about 8-9 months out and are slowly returning to normal.

Tony stated he is seeing bookings 45-90 days where it was at 30 days due to cautious travelers.

Carla stated that bookings are closer to departures as travelers when deciding on travel state the time is now.

Anthony stated that some are doing further out booking expecting better pricing.

When speaking of Technology and some suppliers are dealing with itineraries for 100+ countries they need technology that can maintain the information, provide information in real time as suppliers are getting away from printed materials. Investment is now and thus enabling the industry to better position themselves in having advisors book their products. The industry is finding ways to reach advisors and enable them to use systems. More and more Advisors are remote workers and less in brick-and-mortar agencies.

There were five breakout sessions that covered the following topics,

Virgin Voyages- Now We Are Voyaging. How Setting Sail with Adult-Only Cruising Drives Profits (And Fun for your sailors)

Tips for Taking Photos with Your Smartphone

Luxury Travel: Why you should specialize.

Its all About Wine and River Cruise Groups (Sponsored by AmaWaterways)

Insider-Success in Selling the Luxury Market

A return to General Session after the breakouts featured a discussion -How to better Sell All Inclusive (Disclaimer:

Due to prior commitments this writer was unable to attend this session)

A Welcome Reception was held after this General Session.

Day Two -June 23, 2023

Discussion prior to the General Session was between several Advisors hosted by different Agencies over coffee and the theme was “we are not competing against each other as there is enough business for everyone, rather we are community!” and that really sums up the industry. We are one big family with passion for travel.

Geraldine Ree or Emcee started us off with some music and her dancing at the front of the room. High energy, positive personality, loves travel, loves the industry.

Wendy Paradis, President , ACTA (Association of Canadian Travel Agencies) The voice of the Canadian Travel Industry both Federally and Provincially.

New Strategic Priorities 2023 – ATTRACT – New Travel Advisors to the Industry and DEIA- Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility. 

The How is through the following groups – ACTA National Team, National Board of Directors, Regional Advisory Councils, TALA Advisory Group, CCTA Advisory Group, CTC/CTM Advisory Group, ITA Advisory Group, Special Ad-hoc Committees and Grass Roots Advocacy. 

There is so much more that ACTA is doing for the industry and to learn more you can check the ACTA website (3)

The first panel of the Day was Travel and Tourism Trends in the Caribbean for 2023 and beyond. The panel consisted of Kelly Fontenelle, Founder and CEO, Travel Advisors Selling the Caribbean; Micheal Rudloff, CTC, Jr.Account Executive-Travel Industry, Premium Brands, Caribbeans, Marriott International; Tameka Wharton, Director of Tourism Ag, Antigua Barbuda Tourism Authority; Angella Bennett, Regional Director, Canada, Jamaica Tourist Board and Nancy Drolet, Vice President, Travel Trade, Jesson + Company Communications Inc.

This panel was interesting as they all supported each other and the islands they represented and those they did not. The Caribbeans are differentiated by their culture, there is a sharp increase in travellers, more guests are looking for villas (more smaller intimate groups of family or friends) and clients are requesting more off-resort experiences, immersed in the culture and community of the people. Clients are spending more time on excursions.

The best way to sell a destination is to visit a destination and Tameka described a FAM trip that happened during the Independence Day celebration in Antigua and Barbuda that stuck with Advisors on that trip.

Travellers to the Caribbeans are requesting longer stays, trips to other islands, combination stays, visiting one island and visit other Islands. Travelers are asking to explore lesser-known islands. With high demand, new properties are being built considering climate change and new regulations in some destinations to be set back from the beach.

There is a big push for sustainability in the Caribbean and the simplest thing is to have a conversation with your maid in regard to linens, no need to change everything every day. Use less plastic and paper and the restoration of coral reefs. There are more protected areas and some part of UNESCO.

The Caribbeans and their carnivals are unique island to island and are a must see when visiting the island. Travelers will be in for a treat so ensure when Advisors are booking their clients that they know of these carnivals, festivals and celebrations to create a unique experience for their clients.

Breakout sessions, Day Two

Wellness Travel – The 411

Lead Time, How to generate more and better high-value leads

An Introduction to Public Relations for Travel Agents

The Case for Community Tourism. Putting it on the Meaningful Map. Sponsored by Tourist Office of Spain


Second Breakout Session of the day

Difficult Clients, We all have them…

Best Way to Land on your Niche----Niche to meet you!


Profit planning 101-Must-have Strategies to Boost your Bottom-Line

Taste of Bajan Summer, Sponsored by Barbados

The second session was disrupted with a fire alarm, good thing it was a false alarm.

Back to Lunch and General Session

Lunch was sponsored by Seabourn and Marriott. Shane Buksh, Director, National Accounts, Seabourn gave us insight to what is happening at Seaborn and the ideal client to match with some of the unique destinations. 

Michael Rudloff, Sr. Account Executive, Travel Industry-Leisure, Marriott, talked about the All Inclusive properties, new developments. Marriott offers travel advisors the ability to collect points based on booking that can be used towards stays at Marriott properties worldwide.

Lisa Pierce, VP Canada & USA Sales, Air Canada, admits that last summers surge of passengers was overwhelming the whole air industry and stated that last year there were 3.3 million passengers and that was triple over the previous years number. Stated that airlines are just now catching up and does not foresee any anticipated issues over this summer. Lisa went on to say that the air industry added $162 million dollars to the Canadian economy in 2022.

There was discussion about consumer confidence building and acknowledged that the industry as a whole is still recovering. Stated that business travel is slowly recovering, and Lisa also hit on the AI issue that had been brought up earlier stating that they are using it with their biomatrix.

The last Panel discussion of the event, was the Cruise Panel consisting of Dori Saltzman, Editor, Travel Market Report; Aimee Price, Head of Sales USA West & and Canada, Explora Journeys; John Diorio, VP North American Sales, Virgin Airlines, Shane Buksh, Director of National Accounts Seabourn and Derek Lloyd, VP Agency Sales, NCL. 

The theme of the conversation was that there are new ships coming out, new destinations and that passengers are booking last minute, which is a total shift in the cruise industry, ships don’t know occupancy until closer to departure. All those present welcomed Virgin to the family of cruise lines and their specific niche in the cruising market.

There are cruise ships that meet every demographic. The industry state that one of their biggest challenges is the cost of airfare. The panel did emphasize to fit the right client on the right cruise. Passengers are looking more to exploration cruises and are looking for ships that can get them to those hard-to-reach destinations. The industry sees potential and thus the cruise lines are introducing new ships.

After a long but informative two days the conference was ended by our incredible emcee Geraldine Ree and an announcement of the next Travel Marketplace East, June 27-28, 2024. I did speak with Daniel McCarthy during the event, and he did state there are looking into maybe having a central event in either Calgary or Edmonton. This writer has been invited to Travel Marketplace West in March 2024

1) https://www.nytimes.com/2023/06/13/travel/artificial-intelligence-travel-adviser-milan.html

2) Tourism Cares | Travel and Tourism Industry Nonprofit

3) ACTA - Association of Canadian Travel Agencies and Travel Advisors

Written by Randall McKeown

Mc Travel Media