Editor’s Note: Sebastien Archambeaud has always loved traveling, so when his son was diagnosed with a muscular disease, he decided he wouldn’t let it keep his family from their globetrotting ways. There was, however, a major obstacle: finding accommodations that suited his wheelchair-using son’s needs. Hence, drawing from over 20 years of professional business experience, he launched Handiscover, the first booking site designed to help those with disabilities find travel accommodations adapted to their individual needs. Open to the public for a little over a year, new accessible properties are constantly being added, and more and more people are enjoying a worry-free vacation.
Through my family’s travels, I came to realize how challenging it was for us to find places that suited both my son’s needs and ours.
I originally drafted the project as a non-profit but then realized that in order to go global, it would be quite costly, especially on the technical and marketing side. We decided to be a for-profit company in order to attract enough investors to finance the project. We have gone through a few rounds of investment already, and we recently got the IKEA founder’s family foundation on board. We’re excited about that, because they’re really into helping our community. If they feel like we’re doing a good job, they have the capacity to provide even more funding.
A Booking Experience That Puts You at Ease
My goal was to solve one of the key issues today for disabled travelers — the lack of information or the poor quality of information on accessibility available on traditional booking websites. The wheelchair icon is often used to indicate accessibility, yet there are no international standards or regulations on it. If you go to a standard booking website and see the wheelchair symbol, it means that the host or hotel has determined that their property is accessible, but they don’t necessarily have any qualifications to be able to accurately judge that. They make that decision based on their own common sense, which doesn’t always take into account what is most relevant for wheelchair users or people with disabilities.
The system is based on the host answering a list of precise questions about accessibility. Those answers are processed by our algorithm, which classifies the properties into one of the three different categories. The host doesn’t choose outright which icon their room, apartment, or house gets. We’ve had a lot of cases where people claim to have a fully accessible accommodation, but then when we look through their questionnaire, they end up being in the first category. Maybe they have a ramp, but they also have two steps up to the shower, and that’s a failing link. Handiscover’s aim is to ask 90% of the questions that we’ve defined as critical for a successful stay and then facilitate communication between hosts and guests with a messaging feature. When you look at a property on the site, you can contact the host directly from the page and ask the potential extra questions you might have.
In order to list a property, hosts are also required to upload photographs of the building entrance, inside the building, the toilet, shower, bathroom doorway, bedroom, and kitchen (if there is one). As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. No other booking websites require photographs; they recommend them, but it’s not mandatory.
Through pictures, we feel our users can get a good idea of whether an accommodation will fit their needs or not.
For another layer of quality assurance, users are also encouraged to leave a review of the places they’ve visited and share their experience with fellow travelers on the site.
Growing Toward Global
The site is open to everybody, but most of our listings are smaller independent professional establishments, like B&Bs and guest houses. We also have some hotels, professional vacation rentals, and private individuals.
We would love to be able to address a wider population, but that will depend on the funding we’re able to raise. Going global is costly, and we need to grow at a controlled speed to ensure our users have a good experience. So, for now, we’re focusing on Europe, but our long term goal is to be global, because we want to serve the whole community!
Editor’s Note: Be sure to check out Handiscover’s website before booking your next vacation! You can also be the first to know about new destinations by following them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, or subscribing to their blog.
Betsy Bailey has a diverse background including experience in marketing research at American Express, business operations and client relations with 601am, travel and culinary writing with VegDining, and playing volleyball professionally overseas.
Betsy is excited to get back into writing, something she’s adored since childhood, and thoroughly enjoys the process of getting to know her interviewees. On top of her work with Wheel:Life, she also teaches students learning English as a second language, speaks French fluently, and travels any chance she gets!