Dubai hotels join website praising access for disabled tourists
By Melanie Swan:
DUBAI // Some of the emirate’s top hotels will feature in a website for disabled travellers to make travel more attractive for those with special needs.
Jumeirah’s Zabeel Saray, Jumeirah Beach Hotel and the world-famous Burj Al Arab opened their doors to James Price, founder of www.accessallrooms.com, on his trip to the UAE last month, as he compiled the website ready for its launch in January.
Mr Price said Zabeel Saray, on the Palm Jumeirah, with four disabled access rooms, impressed him most.
"The rooms are large and accessible and I liked the fact that even the standard rooms are accessible," he said.
"With open-floor showers the facilities are ideal for wheelchair users because you can simply put a plastic chair in there if you don’t have a shower wheelchair.
"All the restaurants are on the ground level with lots of space. The pool, the beach, the gym – it’s all very good as a disabled traveller."
The challenge for special-needs tourists is booking and securing accessible rooms online. Rooms can usually be requested but are not guaranteed.
The website aims to change this by linking to hotels to secure rooms for exact dates required, not leaving it to chance.
Majid Al Marri, director of licensing and classification at the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, said the body was upgrading hotel classification criteria for bedrooms and public areas.
"During the process to upgrade the current hotel classification criteria we conducted several benchmark exercises with major destinations, locally and internationally, to see the best practice in this area with plans to implement it for Dubai visitors," Mr Al Marri said.
"The new classification guidelines for five-star hotels stipulate that 1 per cent of total rooms should have disabled facilities."
There will also be guidelines on staff training and requirements for evacuation policies for wheelchair users.
"The provisions do not just exist in hotels. At Dubai airport there are dedicated personalised services for special needs passengers and an increasing number of public areas in the city are improving access and facilities," Mr Al Marri said.
However, as Mr Price found on his trip, as yet this is not necessarily being implemented in all hotels.
Only one of the Burj Al Arab’s 202 rooms has disabled access. The others are duplex suites with stairs to reach the top-level bedroom.
In the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, which has two accessible rooms, Mr Price found in the disabled bathroom, the gap between the bath and shower was too small to fit a wheelchair through, just 57cm wide.
For those with larger wheelchairs, this would mean using the bath, which is not always possible for many disabled travellers.
Nevertheless, he said: "Everything else in there was great, like the hand rails and the open-plan shower."
For a disabled traveller, he believes Dubai had improved as a destination over the last 10 years.
While in the emirate, he also visited the Habtoor Grand, which had no wheelchair accessible room among its 446 in the resort, although he said "the standard rooms are OK for some".
The Dusit Thani, on Sheikh Zayed Road, also only had one accessible room among 321 rooms and suites, but standard rooms might be usable for some.
In the UK, legislation stipulates that for every 20 rooms a hotel has, there must be a room with access for the disabled. In the US, regulation is even tighter. In California, for example, there is a zero-tolerance policy where every public-access space, not only hotels, must have access or risk closure.
Hotels in other emirates are also making efforts to improve access.
Nasser Al Reyami, director of tourism standards, licensing and classification for Abu Dhabi Tourism and Cultural Authority, said the emirate was also upgrading its policy.
"Our current classification manual states that each hotel establishment must have a minimum of two rooms equipped for the handicapped," Mr Al Reyami said.
"However, we are currently working on an upgrade to the classification manual, which will be issued in the new year, and the requirements for the handicapped will be raised."
Failure to comply will affect a hotel’s star rating.
Ajman’s tourism authority, which has been undergoing a major drive to attract tourists to the emirate, has very clear guidelines for its hotels.
"There is a minimum of two disabled accessible rooms for every hotel or hotel apartment building for three to five star hotels, and a minimum of one for every hotel or hotel apartment rated one to two stars," said Yamina Aoucher, director of licensing and standards management.
"At least 1 per cent of hotel rooms or apartments are designed to suit the needs of the disabled guests."
There are clear rules and stipulations such as door width, lowered light switches and compulsory hand rails. Public areas must also have easy access.