You will notice the same kinds of tourists posing in front of Machu Picchu or paragliding in Santiago when you scroll through travel articles on Instagram. The people in these pictures are not often people with physical disabilities, but thanks to Wheel the World, this could quickly change.
Wheel the World is a Booking.com-backed travel start-up. Their primary intention is to provide people with physical disabilities with tours and experiences around the World, including affordable activities, hotels, and transportation.
In the company's words: "We're on a mission to assist millions of people to travel to thousands of locations around the world and alter their mindset when it comes to travel." Wheel the World was founded by two colleagues, Alvaro Silberstein, who has a physical disability, and Camilo Navarro.
When Navarro was defined to have Silberstein join him on an adventure in Patagonia, the two were encouraged to start the company and quickly found that no tour companies had affordable alternatives for wheelchair users to Patagonia.
Wheel the World was born.
Silberstein and Navarro informed TravelPulse they formed Wheel the World after "knowing that there were many people in the world who desired to travel like me and fought to discover the information to find and book affordable accommodation, suitable transportation and stuff to do at the destination."
1 in 4 people have a disability, according to the CDC, and 1 in 7 American adolescents are affected by a mobility disability. Physical disabilities are not restricted to those born with them or who have endured an accident, but also include older generations experiencing age-related impairments. Historically, these people have struggled to find inclusive travel alternatives, or because of their disability, they have encountered discriminatory policies and procedures by airlines, hotels, and tour companies.
Silberstein and Navarro specified that the industry is changing slowly to make accessibility a factor in their travel offers, but much more needs to be achieved. The benefits are valuable to their consumers for those who do this in their business and could result in financial gains.
"The market for travel accessibility is enormous: the US and Europe's $72 billion. Not only does it discriminate against people with disabilities without inclusive travel services, but travel companies are losing a big business chance," the founders said.
While the rest of the travel industry is catching up, Wheel the World fills a niche and opens the World to people who have been denied the chance to explore for a long time.
More than 30 travel destinations are presently available on their platform covering destinations such as Patagonia, Machu Picchu, Mexico, Hawaii, Costa Rica, Easter Island, New York, San Francisco, South Africa, and Tanzania. Each destination involves mobility-friendly activities such as scuba diving, kayaking, ziplining, biking, and hiking, as well as transport services and affordable accommodations.
All hotels, tours, events, and ground transportation are carefully checked with a comprehensive checklist and are evaluated in person or through a local travel partner with pictures and data from the company.
Wheel the World has discovered some success in a short time and got a lot of favorable customer feedback.
"I think we're building a strong community with people who don't want handicaps to prevent them from exploring the World. People truly think in Wheel the World's experiences and enjoy them," Silberstein said.
He added, "In reality, we have been requested by many of our clients to expand our offers to include not only adventure travel but also leisure, cultural and urban accessible experience. We took this to heart and began adding these extra possibilities for travel."
By the end of 2020, Wheel the World plans to offer 150 packages, providing more opportunities to explore the World for those with physical disabilities and their families and friends who want to accompany them. Wheel the World says they're planning to grow into future packages and experiences that include individuals with other disabilities.
As Silberstein and Navarro mentioned, "Our ultimate objective is to make disabilities a non-issue when it comes to travel." With the achievement they have had so far, there is no doubt that Wheel the World will alter the travel industry and make it more open and inclusive to a consumer base that has not been given these possibilities for too long.