Tourism All-A-Bama trains hotels across the state to be more inclusive for everyone

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – For some people with autism spectrum disorders, traveling to a new place can be anxiety-provoking, especially for those with sensory sensitivities, being very aware of things like lights, crowds and noise or the unknown noises.

The nonprofit organization Tourism All-A-Bama is doing its best to reduce any travel anxiety by training hotels across the state to be more mindful of their neuro-diverse guests.

“That’s what they want to make everyone feel welcome, and I think sensory sensitivities, autism, those were blind spots in the hospitality industry,” the hotel said. organizer Leslie Walker.

Walker is the engagement manager for United Cerebral Palsy in Huntsville, which operates Tourism All-A-Bama.

The program was born during the pandemic, after recognizing a trend in their families.

“We found that our families with developmental disabilities were becoming even more isolated and not travelling. The hotels were clearly empty because no one was traveling, so it was like “how can we marry these two groups of people together,” Walker said.

The Doubletree in South Huntsville is just one of more than 100 hotels trained by the program. Yedla is their management company. General Manager Ashlee Crosby said some basics of training include establishing certain behaviors and potential triggers, and how to prevent or deal with them.

“Not just the reception staff but the breakfast room, your cleaners. The staff are ready for their journey,” Crosby said.

One way is to ensure that neurodiverse customers are booked into a quieter room if possible, away from an elevator or ice machine. Crosby said his staff were on board as many had personal connections.

“We have several different employees here who have different family members who are autistic or have sensory issues, so that’s very important to us,” Crosby said.

The reception is also equipped with a sensory kit from the program, to be offered to their Tourism All-A-Bama customers when they check-in. The kits contain tools such as headphones, a weighted blanket, and pop-its that the guest can use to stay calm, in case triggers start to surface.

After the training is complete, Walker contacts the families in the program and asks them to try one of the hotels for a “practice” stay or use it on their next trip to another city in Alabama.

“We encourage them by paying a free night at one of these qualifying hotels. All they need to provide is their name, a date, where they want to go and a copy of their diagnosis,” Walker said. .

This is made possible by a grant from the Alabama Council on Developmental Disabilities, but the City of Huntsville has contributed additional funds to get more hotels formed in Rocket City.

One family that has used the DoubleTree is Courtney Stephens. She visited her son Christian, who has autism.

They visited Huntsville to see the Galaxy of Lights and wanted to try a place that was ready for Christian, which Courtney said wasn’t always apparent on their travels.

They travel often, as Courtney is a blogger.

“The hospitality industry just recognizes that the behaviors he has can be accommodated and accommodated, it makes my mother’s heart overflow,” Stephens said. “It’s important that our children feel like they matter, our neuro-diverse population feels like it matters at every stage of life.”


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