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