The tourism sector is undoubtedly one of the most hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. With international flights on hold and lockdowns that deny people to travel, travel agencies and related businesses are struggling to be resilient.
Our entrepreneur for this week is very acquainted with mobility obstacles and travel restrictions, even before this pandemic time. Ji Xun, a young Chinese woman with a rare disease called CMT (Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease — a neurological condition that can cause muscular degeneration), always liked to travel. She is an excellent example of resilience, tenacity, and positive feedback to tough times. Founder and CEO of Rare & Roll, a social enterprise startup focused on disability and accessibility in the tourism industry, Ji Xun gives us her insights into a travel startup.
- How did your business idea of accessible tourism start in the first place?
I was born and raised in Nanjing, China; I have always been keen to explore the world. Despite the stigma of disability, I applied for scholarships to study abroad and gained the first opportunities to travel on educational programs in the US and France. I stayed in Europe for five years, during which I gained comprehensive learning of the culture and society there. This experience led to my entrepreneurial project idea in my home country. In 2018, once back in China, I started my current project that bridges the information and knowledge gap for potential travelers. Rare & Roll, wholly financed by a grant from the Booking Cares Fund, is realized in cooperation with the European Network for Accessible Tourism (ENAT), of which I am the Contact Point for China.
We understand the habits of Chinese and overseas users and, therefore, adopt appropriate strategies to include disabled travelers in their journeys.
My aim is not only to help tourist and public infrastructures to import barrier-free facilities but also to instill a philosophy of inclusion. I want everyone to experience the same sense of independence and mobility I had when I got my electric wheelchair.
- Being a connecting bridge yourself, which challenging and favorable aspects have you encountered?
Although I am Chinese and have lived in the USA and Europe for over six years, I must say that there are still various challenges in my work involving international cooperation. Before COVID-19, we had several projects undergoing with European companies and organizations. Sometimes it is hard to explain that the Chinese market has a unique background and bureaucratic system that requires accommodation. Thus, we always need an extra communication effort before taking action. Trust needs more time to be built in a multicultural environment. However, the result can be even more rewarding.
By all means, there are also additional advantages to an international project: we have broader resources, support, and connections. The exchange of information that we can gain is a vital instrument to success and development, especially in the tourism industry.
- Which instruments would you enhance for international projects?
The first is to have more European experts who can speak Chinese and understand Chinese culture to facilitate the pathway toward building trust. Another central instrument is sharing: more local networking or social events could be a steady starting point that leads to mutual deeper understanding and thus better cooperation.
The new caring economy promotes sustainable and inclusive development, a growing field in numbers and market opportunities globally.
In China, the importance of improving all aspects of life for people with disabilities is expanding.
Not only from a human and experiential point of view but also business-wise: it creates new opportunities as well as new groups of consumers.
Ji Xun is not only a promoter of barrier-free tourism in China. She is also a great communicator.
She is an example of how these opportunities can become a reality.
Stay tuned for the next interview!
If you are in the field of barrier-free or want to know more about the business opportunities in this field, if you liked our story, share it with your circle, and if you have any questions, leave a comment below.
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