Published on 12 March 2012

Olympic Games 2012: Is the UK Hospitality Industry Really Ready?

Is your business really ready for the Olympic Games 2012? Alick Miskin, director of diversity services at Grass Roots, considers how you can better prepare to welcome the diverse needs of visitors to the Olympic Games 2012.

The London Olympic Games 2012 presents  a huge opportunity for the UK leisure and hospitality industry, but it will also bring its challenges as we prepare for the influx of a diverse mix of tourists, sporting competitors and support staff visiting the Games.

And London 2012 will involve much more than London; with ten venues scattered from Glasgow and Newcastle to Cardiff and Coventry, visitors will be eating, travelling and sleeping around much of the country. Though many venues are in large cities, some like Weymouth and Brands Hatch are clearly not, and others like Hadleigh Farm and Lee Valley are well out in the sticks. This has some unexpected implications.

Olympic Games 2012: Welcoming Diverse Needs

London and most of our big cities are fairly diverse places. People from a huge range of nationalities, ethnicities and faiths live and work together; restaurants, pubs, hotels and places of worship cater for most needs; lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) people feel generally at ease and public transport and hotels are largely accessible to disabled travellers. But this doesn’t mean that those who live there will automatically be comfortable travelling to other, for them, unknown destinations. Some will be less comfortable doing this than well-travelled overseas visitors and occasionally their concerns will be justified.

Earlier this year, a Bristol couple in a civil partnership won a case against a Cornish B&B which wouldn’t let them share a room. You cannot exclude same sex partners from your hotel or pub or ask gay or trans staff not to work their usual shifts in case their presence offends specific guests. Sexual orientation can still be an awkward area for people of some religions and cultures and it is important to know that UK law offers the same protection to LGBT people as it does to anyone who shares a ‘protected characteristic’, be it their ethnicity, gender, religion or disability.

Only age is unprotected when it comes to providing a service as the Government is still considering how and when to introduce this but it is unlikely to happen before the Olympics. So it’s still notionally legal to refuse someone a room because they’re too old (or too young) so long as it’s shown to be an established policy and not a cover for some other form of discrimination. Pregnancy and maternity are also covered, although like disability, there may be health and safety factors that would make it reasonable to refuse admission say to an amusement park ride or scuba diving course.

Are You Prepared for Olympic Games 2012?

So what can hotel operators do, to ensure they are prepared? Catering for a diverse audience requires careful thought.

Pork products including bacon, ham and possibly gelatine are proscribed by both Jewish and Muslim faiths; last week I saw pork gelatine listed on the ingredients of a supermarket fruit fool. Even if not pork derived, some Jewish and Muslim guests would require the source of the gelatine to have been appropriately slaughtered (Kosher or Halal) as they would any other meat product. Many Hindus and most Sikhs are vegetarian and with cows being sacred to Hindus, fish, eggs and beef products could be on a ‘best avoided’ list. Alcohol too is contentious; some Muslims as well as not drinking themselves would not wish to be anywhere where alcohol is served. And Christians may still need a fish option for Fridays.

When determining where to stay, religion can have an unexpected impact. Muslims in particular will wish to have access to an appropriate mosque even if this is only to attend Friday prayers. Strict adherents of many faiths, particularly when this is apparent from their clothing, can feel uncomfortable when alone or in areas where few locals share their ethnic background. This sentiment is amplified for women say in healthcare settings or if alone, perhaps when a room is being cleaned or while travelling by taxi.

Accessible Accommodation for Disabled Guests

But it is around disability that accommodation and travel is most critical. Given the ever increasing popularity of the Paralympics and the huge demand for any Olympic ticket, there will be a lot of disabled spectators as well as support staff. Having enough accessible accommodation doesn’t just attract individual disabled people but whole parties, as large groups, perhaps with only one wheelchair user, will all want to stay together. And disability is as much about sensory as physical impairment; the key to ensuring a good guest experience is well trained staff. Having staff understand the kind of adjustments to offer and how best to communicate with deaf or blind guests is far more critical than having the right ‘kit’. Increasingly well travelled sensory impaired people have their own accessible applications for their smart phones and laptops.

Hopefully this article has shown that a good understanding of the law and of the key ‘dos and don’ts’ around diversity makes practical sense for everyone working in the leisure and hospitality industry. And while we all want to ‘put on a good show’ in 2012, most of the issues outlined here apply to the here and now. We should all be treating our guests as far as possible in ways they will find appropriate, but we must bear in mind that occasionally this will bring up issues that run counter to UK law and these need to be carefully handled to minimise offence to both guests and the very staff we rely on.

By Alick Miskin

Alick Miskin is Director of Diversity Services at Grass Roots, the leading diversity and disability distance learning provider in the UK, with hundreds of major organisations using its programmes. For more information, please visit www.grassroots.uk.com/learning
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