How even the blind can see the sights on holiday
IT HAS taken 10 years of trips to over 60 countries, but Amar Latif has finally discovered the perfect holiday destination.
When the Leeds entrepreneur set up travel company Traveleyes a decade ago to enable blind and visually impaired people to enjoy independent travel, he had no idea where it would take him.
Mr Latif, who lost his sight to a genetic condition 20 years ago, set about creating interesting holidays by visiting every destination himself, with help from sighted assistants.
The key to exciting travel experiences is the running commentary provided by sighted travellers, he says.
Celebrating its 10th anniversary, the company now offers sailing in Greece, walking in Bulgaria’s Rila mountains, and skiing in France among many destinations.
He jokes that “taking along a set of eyes” in the form of sighted travellers is mutually beneficial as sighted clients get discounts.
“When we choose destinations, we don’t choose them for their accessible nature, we choose them for whether they are interesting for both blind and sighted people.
“Then we go out there to see how we can make it accessible.
“The destination has to be interesting for blind and sighted people as half of our customers are sighted.”
The ‘road-testing’ is mostly down to Amar and he also acts as ‘tour manager’ to ensure customers get the most out of the holidays.
He has lost count of countries visited, putting it at “between 60 and 100” and the actual number of trips at around 400.
Mr Latif has renewed his passport three times as the pages filled with visa papers and stamps.
One recent fact-finding trip took him to the Greek island of Lefkas for a sailing experience and next month 26 clients will discover what it has to offer.
He said: “The sailing was amazing. Going from island to island, with beautifully calm seas, we stopped at islands where only a handful of people live.
“I could feel where the wind was coming from and had the sun on my back, which is wonderful.”
Work has taken him to Zambia, Italy, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Australia, India, the United States and Mexico.
But, after much deliberating, he believes Cuba is the perfect holiday destination.
“The salsa music, the sunshine, travelling in the 1950s cars, the rum, the cigar factories – and the relaxing atmosphere.
“These are visual places but our sighted travellers fill in the pictures – it’s a partnership.”
Closer to home, trips to the Bronte Parsonage Museum in Haworth and the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway have proved popular with clients from Italy, Australia and Canada.After a decade of travelling, the 39-year-old is keen to visit more places and has added Cornwall and Bath to his wish list.
As a blind traveller, it’s not all plain sailing. During conversations, people occasionally ignore him and address his assistant but Mr Latif uses humour to defuse awkward situations.
He said: “I like to change people’s views on blindness. When people meet a disabled person for the first time, there can be uncertainty. I like to explain, rather than complain. And humour can be disarming.”