Airbnb has acquired accessible-travel startup Accomable as part of plans to improve its offering for disabled travellers.
Accomable was launched just over two years ago by childhood friends Srin Madipalli and Martyn Sibley – who both have spinal muscular atrophy – to make it easier for people to find accessible places to stay around the world. It lists properties that can cater for a range of disabilities, highlighting details such as step-free access, hoists, roll-in showers and shower chairs.
The site, now run by a team of six, with more than500 listings in 60 countries, grew rapidly thanks to a grant from the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, part of Oxford University’s Saïd Business School, and a further £300,000 funding from “angel” investors.
Now, Accomable’s team and listings will be merged with Airbnb’s. In the coming months, the listings will be made available via the Airbnb site, and the team says it will now work towards improving the overall Airbnb experience for disabled travellers. Airbnb is also developing an “accessibility needs” checklist that allows hosts to be more descriptive about their home.
In an open letter posted on its site, Madipalli reassured customers that the merger with a larger platform won’t mean accessibility becomes an “afterthought”.
“Our decision to join Airbnb was one that we spent a long time considering,” he says. “Our work has allowed us to develop unrivalled expertise in the world of accessible travel, building a brand that disabled travellers can trust. We are convinced that joining Airbnb provides the best opportunity to take our dream and mission to a global level.”
For accessible tourism expert and travel writer Carrie-Ann Lightley, it is significant to see accessible travel being taken seriously by a mainstream travel business though itremains just one aspect of the solution.
“Airbnb’s investment in accessibility gives another option for disabled travellers, whose options are typically limited, and one I’m sure many will take up,” she says. “It shouldn’t overshadow the work of specialist operators though: many disabled travellers want and need a level of support that the mainstream industry still can’t cater for.”
For Lightley, when it comes to travel, reliable information about facilities is the “single biggest barrier” disabled people face.
“Armed with the right details, as a disabled traveller I can go anywhere, and make anything work,” she says. “Accommodation providers need to include good, detailed photographs of all rooms on their websites, as well as detailed accessibility guides.”