For travel advisors, catering to the needs of plus-size travelers is a mix of finding the right accommodations in the right destinations and setting expectations for everything from their plane ride to transfers. That can be a challenge.
“Suppliers would do well to attract this underserved market,” said Tony Harrell, owner of Dallas-based Abundant Travel.
‘Suppliers would do well to attract this underserved market.’
As a former accountant for ASTA, Harrell saw that many successful travel agents focused on niches, and he had a number of friends who were larger people.
“Listening to their stories about their struggles or concerns about traveling, from flights to hotel experience or just a welcoming destination, I thought that’s something I could make a difference in,” Harrell said.
He launched his agency in 2010 and mainly focuses on helping people of size travel to Mexico and the Caribbean. He carefully inspects properties to ensure they have features or amenities that are comfortable for larger people.
It comes down to many details, some of which are not necessarily obvious, such as pool railings to ease getting in and out of the water. Harrell also helps clients fly comfortably, whether that means getting an extra seat in coach or upgrading to business or first class.
Destinations matter, too, he said. A favorite example is Miami versus Fort Lauderdale.
“South Beach is a place where people tend to be rather body conscious, and a larger person may not be welcome or made to feel welcome,” Harrell said. “But just up the road in Fort Lauderdale, there’s much less of that attitude, and a client can enjoy the sun and all the features that South Florida has to offer, without the attitude.”
Nora Blum, vice president of Travel Leaders in Maple Grove, Minn., is not a plus-size specialist, but she draws on personal experiences to advise such travelers.
The part that can get tricky, she said, is getting clients to ask for help. As is the case with other special needs, an advisor won’t know about an issue if the client isn’t forthcoming.
“It’s delicate,” Blum said. “You don’t want to offend anybody, ever.”
‘It’s delicate. You don’t want to offend anybody, ever.’
In the qualifying process, Blum’s agency asks if clients require special accommodations, but it’s a question that can be interpreted in a number of ways and doesn’t always lead travelers of size to identify themselves.
“The more information they give us, the more questions they ask, the better we can actually respond to them, the better we can provide what they really want,” Blum said.
Alexander also advocates for more communication. Too many people, she said, are embarrassed to ask people of size what they need.
“A hostess should simply ask for a preference around where they sit,” she said of restaurants. “Don’t take people to a booth and pretend they’re going to fit. Ask if they prefer a table.”
While vacationing at a resort in Mexico, an employee realized Alexander might need a stronger chair than the one she was about to sit in and got one for her.
“I was so grateful for him to not pretend this wasn’t an issue,” she said. “I think that’s what we’re trained to do in the U.S. in particular. We’ve decided the most polite thing to do is not to comment on other peoples’ bodies. While I understand that, it definitely leads to us ignoring very real limitations on the physical world that we’ve designed.”
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