Where the Experts Holiday: Mirjam Stibbe of Barcelona-Enabled

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Mirjam Stibbe

Mirjam Stibbe

Mirjam Stibbe started Barcelona-Enabled in 2010. In Spain like many countries, she says, there are initiatives that promote accessible travel. What she noticed was there was no bridge between travellers and the services Barcelona offered. Suppliers were the same, the needs of disabled visitors was overlooked.

What do you like to do on holiday?
If I go on holiday I would like a mixture of culture and beach. I want to explore the unknown paths of a country, but also to enjoy a nice cocktail on the beach. You could visit any place in the world but if it´s touristy, in the end, they´re all alike. Talking to the local people and participating in their culture, helps you to get to know the customs. It’s what makes travelling interesting. But of course holidays are also to disconnect from daily live and just read a book and sunbathe which I enjoy very much.

Where did you last travel?
Since I´m Dutch and live in Spain I travel quite often to Holland to visit family and friends. Usually I combine this with business, so you could hardly call it a holiday.
Spain offers many things and recently I went skiing in the Pyrenees. My weekends are also small holidays, I take the train and I can enjoy the beaches of the Costa Brava or walking in the hills of Catalunya. I´m very lucky to be able to live here.

Why did you set up Barcelona-Enabled?
I had been working for several years in the tourism industry when I realised I couldn’t offer a solution to my clients when they asked for adapted accommodation and services. This became even clearer when a family member in a wheelchair came to visit. The detailed information I looked for in order to book suitable accommodation was not at hand. What I did find were many venues that claimed to have adapted facilities, but on checking, it turned out this was exaggerated or even worse, not adapted at all. In 2010 I decided to start Barcelona-Enabled to make sure the information had been personally checked and approved for the adaptation that is required.
In Europe, it is reported there are 127 million people who are disabled. Yet 70% of them are physically able to travel and have the money to do so.

Besides accommodation I wanted to make sure that clients could travel without any worries and I expanded the services with (airport) transfers, activities, (medical) assistance and rental of orthopedic aids, like wheel chairs and hoists. With this, Barcelona-Enabled makes it possible to enjoy this wonderful city as much as anyone else.

Do you know where you’re going next?
I´m planning a short trip to Greece in the end of May. I have been there a couple of times and I hope to be able to see more of Athens this time.

Of all the places you’ve been to, what was your favourite and why?
My favourite destination was Thailand. After arriving in Bangkok and seeing Chinatown I travelled up north to Chiang Mai. That is an amazing place and I have never seen anything like it. From there I took a jungle trek for 3 days and was so surprised that I had such a wonderful time. Usually I like a bit of luxury, but in the jungle you go back to basics. You don´t care about privacy, spiders and clean clothes. After such an intense experience I traveled to Ko Chang, an island where I indulged myself with massages on the beach. That was my perfect holiday.

Which destination do you wish to travel to but haven’t been there yet?
I´m ashamed to say, but I never have been to New York. You see and hear so much about it, I can´t wait to go there and see it with my own eyes.

In your own area, what would you recommend tourists see that isn’t in the travel guides?
Go outside of the tourist zones in Barcelona like La Rambla, the Gothic Neigbourhood and the beaches. Go to the neighborhoods Gracia, Saria or Sants. These used to be little villages but now they are part of the city. These neighborhoods have narrow streets, authentic shops and many squares with terraces where you can enjoy the local traditions.
Many disabled people would like to make a trip but stay at home, afraid of the problems they will face arriving in a strange country that they don´t know. With the service Barcelona-Enabled offers, we hope to convince these people that they don´t need to worry. And we can take them to those places not in the guidebooks.

How do you plan a vacation
It´s a combination of everything. I have many friends from different places so they are a big source of information. I always scan the internet for the best hotel deals or, again, use one of my contacts. Guidebooks usually help me get around. Without a map I even get lost in my own city!

Where do you see tourism in Barcelona in 10 years time?
Barcelona has been a very popular destination and I think it will continue to be so. It offers the Mediterranean sea, culture, wonderful architecture, delicious food and nightlife. But what I would like is that people who have a physical challenge can enjoy everything that Barcelona has to offer in the same way.
Barcelona has made a lot of effort in making the city accessible. All buses have special ramps. There lifts in most metro stations, most of the sidewalks have been lowered, beaches are accessible and 90% of the museums are accessible. The city council does its part, but the commercial sector creates the problem. Hotels say they have adapted rooms, but they haven´t, restaurants are entered by a couple of steps and have bathrooms you have to reach by stairs. Even taxis drive on when they see you´re in a wheelchair.
Soon I’d like to see the city and its services completely disabled-friendly.

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