Becky Hamilton is the co-founder of Accessible Holiday Escapes which caters to the 13.9m disabled people in the UK
For most people, booking a holiday home for the family can be conducted with a few quick keyboard strokes and ticking some boxes to apply a few preferences.
But for Becky Hamilton, finding the right holiday accommodation is a more time-consuming task because she has to find suitable accommodation for her nine-year-old daughter, Emily, who suffers from a rare genetic disorder, CDG Type 2.
This constant struggle wasn’t in vain, however, as it inspired her to come up with her own business together with her husband, Phil, that would boast unique holiday filters that she and many millions of others were looking for.
That business, Accessible Holiday Escapes (AHE), caters to the 13.9million people living with disabilities in the UK and after setting it up on a shoestring, Becky has forged ahead and won industry awards.
Becky, who lives with her family in the Welsh town of Mold, in Flintshire, explains: ‘We’re a family of four. We have a son, Sam, who is 13 and Emily has a rare mobility condition. She can walk but struggles with balance and stairs.
‘We were looking for places that had level access, stair rails and that had facilities for Sam as well as he’s really active and sporty.
‘We also wanted a place that Phil and I could enjoy. It’s about the four of us and catering to us all. The places are out there, but it’s really hard to find the information. The big cottage companies just didn’t have the same search filters.’
Becky and her husband Phil both had an education background, so the world of travel was an unknown industry for them.
However, Becky started (AHE) as a blog initially, which reviewed places from the perspective of a family with particular needs.
Becky says: ‘I began to realise that lots of other families were having the same problem we were. And I just thought I wish there was somewhere that had filters – why did it have to be so complicated? And then I thought “why couldn’t I do that?”’
Becky and Phill started the business from scratch and sought out some help. She says: ‘This was not our speciality. We worked with Business Wales through the research plan.
‘We worked with a website design agency who helped on the branding and designed the functionality of the website. I had no industry background, but I know a lot about accessibility.’
Becky Hamilton co-founded Accessible Holiday Escapes with her husband Phil Hamilton. She has two children – a son, Sam, and a daughter Emily who suffers from a rare genetic disorder
This helped and meant Becky was able to start the business on a shoestring budget with her own savings.
The AHE website now features over 50 accessibility filters so users can tailor the holiday to their own needs – whether it be for visible or invisible disabilities – cost just £3,500 to build including branding and working with designers and specialists.
The business is a relatively simple one to manage with low day-to-day running costs, which account for less than 5 per cent of AHE’s turnover. This is mainly because it’s a completely digital concern and there are not yet any other staff to help run it.
We were looking for places that had level access, stair rails and that had facilities for Sam as well as he’s really active and sporty
Becky Hamilton, founder, Accessible Holiday Escapes
There’s no fee for holiday makers and AHE instead charges businesses that list their holiday homes on the website.
There’s no month-to-month membership – listing a property on AHE costs £125 for 12 months and it costs £175 for listing two holiday homes.
Additional property listings, beyond two listings, are an extra £35 per year.
Those who list on AHE also have the option to share late availability, cancellations and discounts through the company’s social media channels.
This, claims AHE, is usually a very successful endeavour, as it has loyal, active followers. Such social media alerts secure an average rate of 71 per cent re-booking within 24-48 hours. AHE charges a one-off fee of £20 for social media posts.
The business initially began with just 25 listings but now boasts over 120 homes. And it has meant that her family have turned an idea into a profitable success. Becky adds: ‘For the period between May 2020 and May 2021 once a salary has been drawn, we achieved a net profit of 39.1 per cent.’
Vesta View is a listing based in Northumberland. Prices range from £757 for a long weekend out of season/winter months to £2,250 for a full week during the summer
The Covid pandemic hit us one year in
But things haven’t always gone Becky’s way and Covid-19 had a negative impact on her business, just as it did with many other travel companies.
By the time the pandemic was in full swing, the business was about a year old and incurring extra costs, but Becky felt she couldn’t increase her prices and should instead support holiday home owners forced to shut.
She said: ‘Tourism has been battered by the pandemic, so we felt our timing wasn’t right to increase our listing fees. Instead, we gave all the owners of the holiday properties a two-month complimentary listing period.’
Her own business suffered too. Website traffic plummeted and new listings were infrequent.
Becky says: ‘It went quite quiet. When we came out, it surged and more properties came on in July/August but then we went into various lockdowns in Wales and England again.
However, the business lost few listings overall. Becky says: ‘We had almost an almost 100 per cent renewal rate and only lost a handful and that’s because someone was retiring and another relocating to Korea.’
The Linhay is a property with wheelchair access in Devon, owned by Debbie White from Newhouse Farm Cottages. Weekly price ranges from £950-£1,400.
Catering to people’s needs has been our USP
For now, AHE is unique in that it has special filters catering families with special needs.
Becky admits that Airbnb has improved its filters but feels that there’s no other website that is as comprehensive as hers.
Becky says: ‘Our listings are very unique in that they are very detailed. We cater for the 9per cent of people with a disability that are wheelchair users, but we also have properties adapted for sufferers of dementia and children with autism, so our properties cover a range of needs.’
She admits that others could soon play catch up, but seems unperturbed about the prospect.
Becky says: ‘Others could catch up but for now we have that unique angle and have a good high engaged social media audience and we’re working on the trust signals, and we provide info on the properties and are very transparent. We’ve lived the life, so we know how what families need and we’re building our relationships.
‘We go for companies and individuals that offer a range of homes for disabilities. There are caravans, lodges, railway carriages, glamping facilities, barns, etc. This range of accommodation also covers different budgets and various spectrums of disabilities.’
Disavillatee is a home based in Florida. Weekly rates range from £1,100-£1,400
The one drawback of the website is that its customers can search through property listings, but it doesn’t show the availability of those properties for specified dates.
Customers, instead, have to contact the individual establishments through the links provided, or fill out a contact form to find out more about availability.
It’s something that Becky is thinking about addressing, but she worries about the cost of it.
‘If you do have that you have to manage across other booking platforms and would bring in extra cost for owners and others. At the moment we’re just focusing on the listings.’
Accessible Holiday Escapes lists holiday homes as far away as South Africa. This is Noordhoek Beach Views owned by Simon and Debbie Scarboro. Nightly rates range from £125-475.
Becoming an award-winning business
Her current offering and efforts have not gone unnoticed. After the lockdown restrictions were lifted earlier this year, her website saw a spike in traffic and is now seeing a huge demand for UK-based summer breaks.
The business has also won the Amazon-backed Best Rural Start Up Award in the 2021 Rural Business Awards. Becky says winning the award was good for the business as it got her lots of media exposure.
‘There was no financial prize, but the exposure we’ve had has been fantastic. We’ve been featured in local press three times, as well as in a business magazine and Able magazine.
‘We were able to network with the other business winners and runners-up from the other categories and other networks.
‘It certainly encourages people to deal with your business as they know it’s a genuine, successful business. It’s certainly encouraged more [holiday home] owners to apply, and we’ve now got properties in the UK, Europe, the US and South Africa and we intend to expand.’