“Travel Agencies and Hotels Now Offering Sensory Guides for Neurodivergent Travelers and Families”

During a family trip to Walt Disney Co.’s Orlando theme parks, Nicole Thibault’s 2.5-year-old son began having meltdowns. His favorite characters and familiar foods suddenly triggered tantrums that could last for over 30 minutes. This was before Thibault’s son was diagnosed with autism. In an effort to continue traveling with her son without the meltdowns, Thibault sought advice from other parents of neurodivergent children. However, most responses were discouraging, with many parents stating that they simply didn’t travel because it was too difficult.

Fast forward a decade, and Thibault has built her New York-based travel agency, Magical Storybook Travels, into a successful business that specifically caters to neurodivergent families. She offers pre-travel counseling sessions for her clients, studying their daily routines and preferences before discussing potential destinations. She also provides detailed briefs for each suggested hotel, including video tours, floor plans, and potential sensory triggers to set expectations at a very granular level.

In the United States, approximately 20% of the population (66 million people) experience a form of neurodivergence. These conditions range from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorder to dyslexia and Tourette’s syndrome. Each diagnosis and each individual is unique, and so are their destabilizing triggers. This can make travel a series of potential land mines.

According to a 2022 survey, 78% of families or individuals with autism avoid traveling entirely. However, hotel brands are now recognizing the untapped economic opportunity of catering to this substantial segment and are learning how to extend a sensitive welcome.

The first step for these hotels is training. Certifications such as those offered by Ibcces help employees anticipate neurodivergent needs and handle guest interactions sensitively. Close to 200 travel and tourism companies have received Ibcces’ Certified Autism Center or Advanced CAC designations since the program’s inception in 2017.

Some hotels have also begun offering amenities such as cue cards and fidget tools to help travelers work through stressful moments. At Karisma’s all-inclusive resorts in Mexico and the Dominican Republic, guests can pre-fill an “autism passport” with details on sensitivity triggers, food preferences, or calming strategies for the reservations team to share with hotel staff.

In recent months, larger brands such as Hyatt Hotels Corp, Karisma Hotels & Resorts, Margaritaville Enterprises LLC resorts, and Virgin Hotels Group Ltd have shown interest in certification. In late 2023, Virgin Hotels announced a partnership with Autism Double-Checked, an education and awareness organization catering to the travel industry.

However, catering to neurodivergent travelers is not without challenges. Neurodivergence is a wide spectrum, and few amenities work across the board. Despite this, experts believe that hotels have many ways to rise to the occasion. This could include adding sensory activities to kids clubs or play spaces, creating walk-through videos detailing sounds, sights, tactile textures, and smells at every location, and even publishing sensory guides that guests can download before their stay.

Ultimately, the most important way to cater to neurodivergent travelers might be a simple show of empathy. As Thibault and other parents of neurodivergent children continue to navigate the world of travel, the hope is that more businesses will follow suit and make their services more accessible and inclusive.

Source: pressherald.com

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