Tuesday, August 25, 2009

London may not have enough accessible hotel rooms for Paralympics 2012

From the London Evening Standard in the UK:

London faces a shortage of hotel rooms to accommodate disabled spectators at the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics.

Boris Johnson is under pressure to uphold London's pledge to stage the "most inclusive Paralympics ever", when athletes such as swimmer Ellie Simmonds are expected to lead Team GB's rush for medals.

The Mayor has ordered an audit of the capital's 100,000 rooms to check that enough are wheelchair accessible. Developers say they are happy to work with him but point out that fully accessible rooms are more expensive to build, and are calling for subsidies.

The London Development Agency is spending £20.6million this year improving facilities for tourists and is seeking to convince hotels that it makes good business sense to increase their accessibility.

The LDA, carrying out the audit for the Mayor, said there are 1,100 wheelchair-accessible rooms. But the London 2012 organising committee refuses to disclose how many wheelchair-users it expects.

A London 2012 spokeswoman said 7.7million tickets would be sold for the Olympics and 1.5million for the Paralympics. There are around 11million disabled people in the UK, with between 550,000 and 770,000 using wheelchairs.

Transport for London has pledged to make one quarter of all 275 Tube stations accessible by next year.

Abigail Lock, head of campaigns for disability rights charity Scope, said: "Often, when we have large events, big organisations block book hotel rooms. I had a look at the Visit London website and a lot of the accessible rooms they have listed are the chain hotels. People who require these additional facilities may not be able to access them."

Deputy Mayor Richard Barnes said: "We inherited the Olympic Games, which had the strapline 'The most accessible Olympic Games ever', and we have to deliver."

Under disability law, one in 20 hotel rooms has to be accessible. A review of the Mayor's London Plan is likely to increase this, though a new minimum has not been finalised.

Brian Seaman, of the Tourism For All charity, said: "There are a lot of big hotels being built in and around the 2012 facilities, with 300 rooms, 400 rooms. Each of these is going to have the five per cent. We are going to have a considerable number of extra rooms." The LDA said it and Visit London were "liaising closely" with the hotel industry to ensure demand was met.