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Tuesday, 01 August, 2017, 17 : 10 PM [IST]

PlanetAbled: A Travel Company with a Difference

When Neha Arora decided to leave her lucrative career in MNCs and start a Travel Company exclusively to serve a niche segment of the society who are deprived of travel experiences because they are disabled, she never thought of the business prospects, but was largely driven by her own life experiences having born and bred in a family where both parents were disabled. PlanetAbled, which she set up in January 2016 has by now noticed and won appreciation from all quarters. P Krishna Kumar spoke to Neha at length to understand her resolve and commitment to see a smile on those faces which are leisure deprived…



‘As a child my travel outside my home was either for school picnics or travel to grand parents’ place during annual vacations’, Neha started explaining the reason for selecting a career in travel industry which hardly anyone tried to specialise, or for that matter even to touch upon. Ignorant about her family background, my interest was to understand the reason for setting up a travel company specialised for disabled travel. Neha was born and brought up in a family where both parents were disabled. “My parents had a cross-disability marriage,” she said.

When she grew up, she wanted to take her parents to places. Then she realised that it is not easy taking people with disabilities to places as most of the tourist places were either inaccessible or people out there were totally insensitive towards the need of people with disabilities. ‘My parents were conditioned enough to those situations, but I used to get irritated and get into tiffs with people quite often. They finally decided not to travel at all. This hit me hard,’ she said.

Incubation

Young Neha didn’t give up. She looked for solutions by talking to people with similar limitations. People with disabilities are generally discouraged even by their own family members from venturing out. They are forced to live within the confines of their home because of social barriers and stigma attached with disabilities, she informs.

She researched about it and worked out solutions for each disability. “Having members with two different disabilities at home really helped,” she said. She initially thought of doing something side-by-side with her job. But finally decided to leave her job with Adobe and start something which would transform and bring smile to the faces of many who were living a life confined to their rooms, or wheel-chairs despite having affordability. “The whole world changes for a disabled person when he/she steps out of his/her house. Travel is just a medium to bring about a social change,” she observed.

She set up PlanetAbled, a dedicated travel company to service travel aspirations of the people with disabilities on January 1, 2016. The initial days were challenging for Neha and her team, as families of disabled people was not sure about the company’s capabilities. It took almost a month for the first group to happen, but then she didn’t look back. “It started with day tours initially. People started liking it as they were getting opportunities to travel without travel buddies and interact with people different type of disabilities,” she informed.



Unique Tours

In the last more than a year, Neha and her team at PlanetAbled have been able to execute so many unique tours, including extreme adventure tours, for people with diverse disabilities as severe as spinal injuries. “Last year, we organised first ever rafting tour for a group of disabled people to Rishikesh. The group included people with spinal injuries. They did the same track and rapids the normal people do. We also facilitated a zip-line tour across the Ganges for a blind person not in tandem but all alone last year. When Australian blind cricket team toured India we handled their tour. A para-Olympian from Canada travelled with us recently,” Neha gave account of few extra-ordinary tours they organised. They have also conducted tours wherein a person can travel solo, go on a romantic getaway or travel with family. "They can also join our scheduled group departure tours in which we are only one to do that," added Neha.

Neha and her team currently operates tours to most of North India – Varanasi, Sarnath, Bodhgaya, Nalanda, Khajuraho, Srinagar, Gulmarg, Himachal, Punjab, Delhi, Rajasthan, etc., along with Pondicherry and Auroville regions as well. Catering to the demand, PlanetAbled has also started organising tours to the South, especially Ooty and Kerala. People today repose so much confidence in PlanetAbled and demand from them for adding newer destinations are increasing, Neha says. “The request for rafting expedition actually came from a 70-year-old lady who is a wheel chair user. She travelled with us for few tours in the past and wanted us to do the rafting expedition as well. It took six months for us to execute it,” she says.

“The end-to-end planning, execution of the tours are done by us. We customise tours taking into account the disability of each member of the group. This makes us unique,” she informed.



Opportunity

Passion and commitment apart, there is a huge untapped market which lies untapped today because of lack of infrastructure and support system. As per 2011 census, 2.2% of the total population in India is disabled. WHO puts this figure much higher, 10 to 15%, as many disabilities are still not recognised by the government. A good number of the disabled population are employed with government and corporate entities and have spare income for leisure. Besides that, there is a huge international market which wants to visit India, but do not have the avenues.



While opportunities are limitless, it is a segment, unlike others, require whole lot of planning, execution and perfection from the beginning till the end. “We cannot afford any hiccup or bad experience in the whole planning and execution. Any such thing would change the whole onward life of a person with disability.”

Today, PlanetAbled boasts to be the only travel company in the world which can cater to all types of disabilities. “By end of this year, we have plans to take groups to destinations in SE Asia,” said Neha with confidence.

krishna.kumar@saffronsynergies.in
 
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