Hovertravel is on a mission to ensure travel is accessible to all.
Hovertravel is the first cross-Solent ferry company to provide Recite Me accessibility and language tools online to enable all customers to book and travel with ease.
We caught up with Mark Carter, Head of IT at Hovertravel to find out a bit more about the importance of accessible travel and how COVID has accelerated the need to be inclusive.
Please tell us a bit about Hovertravel
Hovertravel started in 1965 and is the world’s only year-round passenger hovercraft service. The company operates a service between Southsea, Portsmouth to Ryde on the Isle of Wight, with as many as 70 flights per day.The two hovercraft in our fleet are 78-seater, fully accessible 12000 TDs which complete the journey in under ten minutes. Hovertravel is used by different people for different reasons: we carry passengers, patients and post. We are used by commuters, school children, teachers, and key workers who travel every day. We carry people who wish to enjoy a day trip or longer on either side of the Solent and patients with hospital appointments as well as medical professionals traveling between facilities.
During the pandemic we developed an award-winning rapid off-island stretcher patient transfer with the NHS and ambulance service. We also carry freight which is needed urgently such as replacement car windscreens and time-limited pharmaceutical products, alongside working with the Royal Mail since 1978.
What is your accessibility mission for this year and beyond, could you tell me a bit about the accessibility grant you received?
We launched our accessibility initiative in 2016, called HoverCare, and this is now an ongoing work stream which includes specialist training, community outreach, structural improvements and service enhancements. Hovertravel is one of just two companies in the country to be awarded Leader status in the government’s Inclusive Transport Leader Scheme. We were awarded part of a £1 million grant aimed specifically at lifeline ferries and seaports serving the Isle of Wight and Isles of Scilly. We applied for a broad variety of facility improvements, including a Changing Places toilet at Southsea, an enhanced exit to the pad at Southsea, assistive technology for our website and a lift for our terminal at Ryde. We are also upgrading our hearing loops, the handrails on our hovercraft craft and have a stock of mobility aids at each terminal.
How has COVID accelerated the need for accessibility tools in the travel industry?
COVID made us review how we can provide our HoverCare service through our digital platforms and we looked at how we can translate our award-winning in-person customer service onto our website. Whilst we moved some of the engagement online, such as holding open days with customer Q&As online, we recognised that we needed better tools.
Why was it important to Hovertravel to provide an inclusive online experience and how does Recite Me support this?
Hovertravel’s aim, through its accessibility initiative HoverCare, is to provide hovercraft travel for all and with our online bookings varying between 50% and 70% of all bookings, it is essential that our technology is fully inclusive.
Our research revealed that while there were several systems which provided the bare minimum of tools, it was Recite Me which demonstrated a full understanding of the challenges faced by some customers and who had developed a suite of customisable options to suit the widest variety of abilities.
The feedback we received when asking about accessibility tools identified that some providers used them as a ‘rubber stamp’ to claim accessibility in a tick-box exercise, whereas Hovertravel has accessibility as a vital consideration with all developments. The IT team and our external developers are always looking for ways to i,prove accessibility and are heavily involved with the promotion of existing enhancements as well as planning future developments to add to HoverCare.