Inclusive Tourism: Alton Towers Resort case study

The Great escape at Alton Towers – for guests of all abilities

Just as Alton Towers Resort has moved beyond its original reputation for roller coaster rides to become a multi-attraction resort destination for all the family, it is also taking great strides in becoming as inclusive as possible for guests of all abilities.

The world-famous rides are still a hugely important part of the fun at the Staffordshire theme park – last year's newly launched Wicker Man joined existing rides like The Smiler, Nemesis, Oblivion and Galactica.

However, there's a whole lot more to Alton Towers now, including hotels, conference facilities, a waterpark, the Enchanted Village with woodland lodges, pods and treehouses, and CBeebies Land, which is aimed at families with children under six. There is also a range of shows, play areas, a high ropes course, crazy golf, and hundreds of acres of landscaped gardens and lakes.

Passionate about creating memorable experiences for everyone

Wayne Burton, Head of Product Excellence, who is the man responsible for the guest experience at Alton Towers, says: "We’re now more than a theme park, we’re a resort destination where people can stay for 2-3 days if they want.

"But what we're all about is Britain’s great escape – our mission is to give people complete escapism from everyday life and step into a fantastical world that’s truly unique. Everyone here is passionate about creating memorable experiences for our guests, and ensuring that applies to guests of all ages and abilities. Our aim is to be as inclusive as we can."

In the past few years, Alton Towers – part of the Merlin Entertainments Group that owns 120 attractions around the world – has "taken some key steps towards improving our access", says Wayne.

This has included the installation of two so-called Changing Places toilets – facilities that do more than standard accessible toilets to meet the needs of people with a disability. Wayne explains: "They're much bigger and better than a normal disabled toilet. They include a height-adjustable bench, height-adjustable sink and hoist on the ceiling. We've had tremendous feedback about them – they make a real difference because people who wouldn’t come before can now join in the fun at Alton Towers.”

Other inclusivity initiatives include a quiet room, introduced in 2018, which is used primarily for guests with autism. "All the sounds, colours and music can be a bit of a sensory overload at times, so this is a tranquil alternative, if it’s needed," says Wayne. Autistic guests can also hire ear defenders from the box office.

A complimentary carer entry scheme means carers and helpers get into the park for free, while visitors can also hire wheelchairs or electric mobility scooters – important given the scale of the site. Hearing loops are located around the resort for the deaf and some of the shows are subtitled. Plenty of the attractions are fully accessible for guests who are blind or deaf.

Disability and accessibility training forms part of the induction for all of the park's employees, while there is further bespoke training, including autism awareness. "We understand that while we can make physical changes, it’s our team that deliver on a personal basis to our guests."

Making rides accessible within health and safety parameters

The park's online accessibility policy includes a really useful section with a table of all the rides and ride restrictions. "There are unfortunately cases where rides aren’t accessible for everyone and, of course, the health and safety of our guests is our number one priority. But our aim is to continue to modify and innovate so our attractions are as accessible as possible," says Wayne.

He adds: "Guests with disabilities or accessibility needs love riding roller coasters as much as anyone else and they’re able to go on many of the rides. We do work within certain parameters – a carer or helper must ride with them for example. And for reasons around evacuation procedures, only one person with mobility access challenges is allowed on a ride at a time."

The Ride Access Pass scheme – for those people unable to wait in a queue for a ride – continues to be very successful. "Once you get your pass, you go straight on a ride and then you're given a time, one hour later, to go on your next ride. So, it's a sort of virtual queue, during which time you can be doing something else – watching a show, shopping or eating."

Customer feedback can open your eyes to possible improvements

Wayne says representatives from across Merlin regularly share best practice on accessibility issues, while the Business Disability Forum also advises the company. He adds: "I’ve also been on various courses and to conferences, which have been invaluable, but changes are also driven by our customers. "A good example is the Changing Places toilets – I'd never heard of them until a guest told me. A guest's input can really open your eyes to a host of improvements."

He believes other attractions in the UK look to Alton Towers for inspiration and guidance, but the park is always trying to do better. "We have an accessibility plan but we often revisit it following one of our accessibility audits. We can’t do everything overnight but we're always looking to improve.

I'd advise other attractions to try to see their facilities through the eyes of a guest with different accessibility needs. You see things very differently. And learn as much as you can from what the industry is already doing. Don’t let anything stop you – go for it."

Alton Towers logo

Wayne Burton
Head of Product Excellence, Alton Towers Resort

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