As part of the Booking Cares Volunteer programme, a group of Booking.com employees participated in a mapping walk of the main tourist hotspots in Berlin to check on the wheelchair accessibility of the city’s most important sites and the surrounding neighbourhoods.
If you are visiting Berlin, there are some must-see sights for every tourist, such as the iconic Brandenburg Gate or the former border checkpoint at Friedrichstraße. The people at Booking.com, where more than 1.5 million nights are booked every day, know quite well what the tourist hotspots are in Germany’s capital city.
Every year, as part of the company’s corporate social responsibility programme known as Booking Cares, Booking.com encourages its employees to spend a day volunteering on initiatives that they are passionate about, that make the travel industry more sustainable, and that have a positive impact on the local community. Through the Booking Cares Volunteer Programme, employees partner with local organisations on projects that help to improve hundreds of destinations worldwide.
In Berlin, a group of Booking Cares volunteers decided to take a good look at the most visited sights in Germany’s capital from the perspective of a wheelchair user. Their aim was to check if the these sights are wheelchair accessible, and just as importantly, if a wheelchair user can get there using the metro.They also verified whether or not there is a cozy and wheelchair accessible café in the vicinity and if the quaint shops in the area provide insurmountable barriers for tourists with a mobility impairment.
Ready, set, map – preparations for the use of Wheelmap
In Berlin, nine enthusiastic Booking.com employees, led by Karolina Makaruk, gathered at 9 am for instructions from Svenja Heinecke, Wheelmap.org’s community manager. Svenja introduced the volunteers to Wheelmap.org and gave them a detailed explanation of how the crowdsourced map works.
The simple rating system, based on the colours of a traffic light, quickly gives visitors to Berlin an idea if a place they would like to visit is completely or partially wheelchair accessible, or whether the place should better be avoided by wheelchair users.
Armed with their newly acquired knowledge, informational flyers and their smartphones, the Booking Cares volunteers swarmed out in teams of two to spend the next three hours visiting six tourist hot spots and their direct surroundings.
Eye-opening experience on barriers for wheelchair users
The day was a great success: not only did the Booking.com employees map and check the wheelchair accessibility of a grand total of 80 places, but the participants also gained valuable insights into the daily challenges faced by their customers who use wheelchairs.
One of the volunteers, Anja, commented at the end of the day: “For me, the experience was a real eye opener. The situation was already draining my energy after only 3 hours, because I was constantly looking for hidden or non-existent elevators and ways of how to get there. The same can be said about finding a restroom. I really hope that this situation improves soon. I will definitely promote the app to support a great cause. I have to admit that I hadn’t thought about these issues much before and it was a good learning experience.”
Promoting a simple solution: mobile ramps
In addition to checking and marking the wheelchair accessibility of places en route, the Booking.com volunteers also promoted a lightweight, mobile ramp to those businesses where only a step or two at the entrance present a problem for wheelchair users.
In leaving behind a business card with information about wheelramp.de and explaining how easily a business can become accessible for everyone, the volunteers introduced business owners to an easily implemented solution.
Because Booking.com has offices all over the world, operates in 43 languages and is always looking to improve the travel experiences of all its customers, getting-to-know-each-other through this Booking Cares volunteer project was hopefully just the first step to other ways that their employees can get more involved with Wheelmap.org in the future.
Photos: Booking Cares, 2018