Tours for ev­ery­one

Travel com­pany Plan­etAbled runs ad­ven­ture tours that cater for all, in­clud­ing those with dis­abil­i­ties.

Good - - TRAVEL - Words Dinsa Sachan plan­etabled.com

When Neha Arora’s fam­ily vis­ited a re­li­gious town in north­ern In­dia 10 years ago, her mother, who has po­lio, had to crawl up a steep stair­case lead­ing to a tem­ple. That day is still etched into Arora’s mind.

With a wheelchair-us­ing mother and a blind fa­ther, Arora’s fam­ily hol­i­days were al­ways chal­leng­ing. The fam­ily had to deal with not only awk­ward gawk­ing from by­standers, but also in­hos­pitable be­hav­iour from tourist au­thor­i­ties. Her par­ents grew in­cred­i­bly frus­trated over the years. “There came a point when my par­ents stopped trav­el­ling, be­cause they re­alised my sis­ter and I were not en­joy­ing the trips,” says Arora. “Wher­ever we went, we were busy fig­ur­ing out the lo­gis­tics such as how to go in­side.”

When her anger hit the roof, Arora took it upon her­self to shake things up in the coun­try’s travel in­dus­try. She spent two years talk­ing to peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties about their travel as­pi­ra­tions and re­alised there was scope for a com­pany cater­ing to their needs.

The 33-year-old left the cor­po­rate world to launch Plan­etAbled in 2016. The com­pany of­fers group and solo tour pack­ages for dis­abled peo­ple. “It’s like a pur­pose choos­ing you, in­stead of you choos­ing the pur­pose,” Arora says.

Right now, Arora is fund­ing the com­pany with her sav­ings, but she hopes to make the en­ter­prise prof­itable in the com­ing years. Plan­etAbled’s busi­ness model is sim­ple: Peo­ple pay for trips. It’s not non-profit, as many would ex­pect in her coun­try. “In In­dia, dis­abil­ity is syn­ony­mous with char­ity,” Arora says. “But peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties aren’t aliens. They are like ev­ery­one else. They have reg­u­lar jobs. They have their own busi­nesses. They go to col­lege. They do ev­ery­thing by them­selves.”

Plan­etAbled has an ini­tia­tive called Gift a Tour that ac­cepts do­na­tions to fund trips for in­di­vid­u­als who can’t af­ford them. While run­ning a travel com­pany is a lot of fun, it’s not with­out chal­lenges. Arora pro­vides ho­tels and part­ners (trans­port agen­cies and guides) sen­si­tiv­ity train­ing to en­sure her cus­tomers have a smooth ex­pe­ri­ence. “My fo­cus is the ex­pe­ri­ence of the trav­eller,” she says. “These peo­ple have taken the risk to break their in­hi­bi­tions. If one ex­pe­ri­ence goes bad, it might break their heart.” On the other hand, a good ex­pe­ri­ence may boost their con­fi­dence for­ever. Arora’s days are filled with life-chang­ing sto­ries of peo­ple who are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing wan­der­lust for the first time. Last year, a blind man from the east­ern In­dian town of Guwahati gifted him­self a solo trip on his birth­day. He had only trav­elled with his fam­ily be­fore. She also helped an el­derly wheelchair-bound woman ride the Ganges River waves on an in­flat­able raft in north­ern In­dia’s hills. It took six months to plan the tour as many raft­ing ex­perts re­fused to help her with lo­gis­tics.

Arora’s goal is to make travel not only more ac­ces­si­ble, but also more in­clu­sive. Plan­etAbled’s Travel Buddy pro­gramme hooks up trav­ellers with­out dis­abil­i­ties with their dis­abled coun­ter­parts.

Below: Neha Arora, left, with a blind tourist on one of her tours in In­dia. Left: Plan­etAbled’s buddy sys­tem con­nects trav­ellers.

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