Africa Travel Week

Employing the differently-abled

At the heart of Responsible Tourism is the idea that tourism businesses look at the social, environmental and economic issues in the place or places that they do business and ask themselves whether they can address any of them, to make a better pace for people to live in or visit.

We have had several panels on travel for those with disabilities over the years of the Responsible Tourism programme at WTM, often focused on the value of this market and with the emphasis on wheelchair users. This is a significant market, and the point is well made that we have a responsibility to make travel, accommodation, tours and attractions wheelchair accessible; this also benefits parents with children in prams and pushchairs too.

Back in 2016, Lemon Tree Hotels won Gold in the World Responsible Tourism Awards at WTM London for their commitment to barrier-free employment – they were also overall winners that year.

In January, I needed to overnight close to Delhi airport and found that I had been booked into the Red Fox Hotel, one of Lemon Tree’s. I am always apprehensive encountering one of the Responsible Tourism Award winners for the first time, I need not have been.

I was met at the door by a young man who smiled, took my bag and ushered me to reception. It was only then that I realised that he was deaf. On the corridor, as I went to my room, I noticed the small shelves with paper and pencils every 20m along and understood the lengths that Lemon Tree had gone to, to create an environment in which he could work. 

Patu Keswani, Chairman & Managing Director of Lemon Tree Hotels challenged his managers to find ways to employ the differently-abled and disadvantaged Indians because  “the brand should stand for more than ‘just profit’.”

Lemon Tree is a large, successful and growing company encompassing several brands, 8,000 rooms  in  91 hotels across 49 destinations; and it is committed to barrier-free employment.

The commitment to employing ODIs, Opportunity Deprived Indians, is clearly stated on the website: “We believe that persons with disabilities (which can be physical, social or economic disabilities leading to an opportunity deprivation) must be provided the same opportunities as others to realize their full potential and live with dignity. By creating a supportive environment in the organization that allows them to deliver their best, we are able to play a part, however small, in social inclusiveness, opportunity/livelihood creation and therefore nation building.”

They have not compromised on service quality. They have demonstrated that by engaging managers and staff through the teams which deliver service, they can successfully employ: the speech and hearing impaired; the orthopedically handicapped; acid attack survivors; those with Down’s Syndrome and autism; those from below the poverty line; widows and abandoned or abused women; orphans and abandoned girls; and transgender people.

Their initiative started in 2007. By May 2018, approximately 21% of their employees were Indians who are opportunity deprived in some way.

I interviewed Aradhana Lal, Vice President – Brand, Communications & Sustainability Initiatives for Lemon Tree to help me understand the principles behind their approach. The interview with will be available on demand during the Virtual WTM 10 & 11 November. Register for WTM Virtual here.


  • There is a brief account of their work on barrier-free employment here click on the CSR tab.
  • You may also be interested in the depth and breadth of their efforts Rest-Assured programme to ensure a COVID-19 secure environment for staff and guests.

Harold Goodwin

Harold Goodwin is WTM’s Responsible Tourism Advisor, he puts together the flagship Responsible Tourism programme at WTM London which attracts 2000 participants each year and the programmes run at WTM Africa, WTM Latin America and Arabian Travel Market. Harold has worked on 4 continents with local communities, their governments and the inbound and outbound tourism industry. He is Managing Director of the Responsible Tourism Partnership and chairs the panels of judges for the World Responsible Tourism Awards and the other Awards in the family, Africa, India and Ireland. Harold works with industry, local communities, governments, and conservationists and undertakes consultancy and evaluations for companies, NGOs, governments, and international organisations. He is also a Director of the Institute of Place Management at Manchester Metropolitan University, where he is an Emeritus Professor, and Founder Director of the International Centre for Responsible Tourism promotes the principles of the Cape Town Declaration which he drafted.