Travelport campaigns to support airline passengers with intellectual disabilities

Team Jordan arriving at the Special  Olympics MENA Games 2018.jpg

Travelport launches a global campaign to improve awareness and use of the DPNA Special Service Request (SSR) code, which can be used by travel agents, among others, to alert airlines when a passenger has intellectual or developmental disability and needs assistance.

The campaign was initiated after Travelport found evidence of exceptionally low use of the code on bookings made through its global distribution system (GDS). GDS are vast hi-tech reservation networks that allow travel agents, travel management companies and large corporations, to search and book airline seats, hotel rooms, rental cars, and other travel related items. Despite registering more than 250 million flight bookings through its GDS globally in 2018, and an estimated 200 million people worldwide having an intellectual disability2(2.6% of the global population), the code was used just 4,309 times (approximately 0.0015% of total flight bookings). A poll of 136 of travel agents, conducted by Travelport, revealed just 24% know the code exists.

The campaign launches at a time when the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is gearing up to host the Special Olympics World Summer Games 2019, which celebrates the abilities and accomplishments of people with intellectual disabilities and aims to foster a new global vision of acceptance. Over the last few years, the UAE government has introduced a number of new policies and regulations to support people with special needs, which it refers to as “the determined ones”. One example of this includes the introduction of the UAE national policy, launched by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, with the aim to foster ‘an inclusive, restriction-free society for those with disabilities — that empowers them and their families and guarantees their right to a dignified life’. The national policy focuses on six key goals, one of them being to enhance public life for People of Determination, such as ease of travel.

Travelport’s six-month long campaign will reach more than 100,000 travel agents in over 30 countries. It features electronic direct mails (EDMs) as well as ‘sign on alerts’ and graphical ‘prompts’ delivered through the company’s flagship Travelport Smartpoint tool, which is used by travel agents, among others, to search and book airline seats, hotel rooms and more. The EDMs and ‘sign on alerts’ are being shown to its travel agent partners globally, while the ‘prompts’ are activated when a consultant is at the booking stage of a flight to over 30 of the most popular destinations in the world such as London, New York, Sydney and Delhi.

The EDM ‘prompts’ are also being shown when any flight is about to be booked to or from the UAE, considering the country is hosting the Special Olympics World Summer Games 2019 this month. Travelport has also created a campaign webpage which provides guidance for travel agents on talking to travelers about intellectual disabilities and associated assistance.

The digital media used to reach travel agents during the campaign is typically sold by Travelport to travel providers, like airlines and hotels, as advertising space. The company has allocated over USD 100,000 worth of slots for the DPNA SSR code awareness campaign, which will run until 31 August 2019. Content from the campaign will be displayed to travel agents more than 3.5 million times, making it one of the biggest digital media campaigns the company has ever executed.

SSR codes are used in the airline industry to communicate traveler preferences or needs, such as requests for wheelchair assistance, to airlines. They are delivered through standardized four-letter codes defined by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). The DPNA code needs to be accompanied by additional descriptive free text, so the airline understands the support required. Once an IATA member airline has received the code, a response acknowledging the request is mandatory.

The Special Olympics World Summer Games 2019 starts on Thursday 14 March and runs until Thursday 21 March. The event is on par with the traditional Olympics in terms of nations represented, number of athletes competing, quality of competition venues, and scope of involvement by the host country and city. The 2019 Games will feature 7,000 athletes representing a record 170 countries. They will come to Abu Dhabi to demonstrate their skill and determination on the field of play in 24 sports, while more than 500,000 spectators cheer them on and millions more fans around the globe are connected to every race and event.

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