Hotels Learn What It Takes to Be Autism-Friendly

ORLANDO, FL—Is your hotel autism-friendly? Some Florida hotels—DoubleTree by Hilton Orlando at SeaWorld, SpringHill Suites by Marriott Orlando at SeaWorld and Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Orlando at SeaWorld—have each become designated as a Certified Autism Resort to ensure the guest experience is tailored to the needs of travelers with autism and sensory concerns.

To earn the designation, hotel teams must complete a certification program from the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES) to ensure all staff have the training, tools and skills necessary to work with guests with autism or other sensory needs.

“This partnership is important to the families that stay with us, but also embraces the Marriott culture of taking care of others. Also, this effort hits close to home for me as two of my family members have autism,” said Michael Wilke, dual general manager, SpringHill Suites and Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Orlando at SeaWorld.

At the DoubleTree Orlando at SeaWorld, the goal is to offer service to exceed each guest’s expectation, including those with unique needs.

“We know it can be challenging for travelers with autistic family members and/or employees with autism or other sensory needs, so we are honored to have partnered with the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards to be a Certified Autism Center,” said Marje Jones, director of sales & marketing, DoubleTree by Hilton Orlando at SeaWorld. “Our resort is among the first properties in the area to be designated, and the timing is perfect with SeaWorld Parks announcing its designation earlier this year. Together with our partners at SeaWorld Parks, we can now offer a unique experience to meet our guests’ needs.”

Wilke and his team found the process through the IBCCES to be very simple to get started.

“The training was very inclusive of learning about our guests in the hotel and the best way to assist and advocate for them. The training was done via online channels with monitoring assistance from our corporate trainer,” he said. “One hundred percent of our high guest contact staff and managers have completed the training. At Marriott, we have a mission to ‘Welcome All,’ and that means ensuring our staff is trained on how to interact with all of our global travelers.”

Jones added, “Quite simply, we want people with special needs to feel comfortable and appreciated during their time at DoubleTree by Hilton Orlando at SeaWorld. All of our guest-facing team members are awakened to be aware of and exceed the expectations of any challenges our guests may be facing as they travel.”

What does it take to ensure a traveler with autism can feel comfortable, safe and enjoy their stay? According to Wilke, “The most important part is the peace of mind of coming to a location, whether it be a hotel or a theme park, knowing they are understood and they can enjoy their stay without disrupting their routine and feel a connection with our team.”

He added, “We put the training into action and foresee how can we best assist. Most importantly, we interact with the entire family just as we would with our families. Parents traveling with a child with autism are looking for the same thing as all families look for coming to Orlando—memories and experiences. Our mission is to help provide those experiences and create the best memories possible. Research has shown that interacting with water and animals, and playing outside are therapeutic for children and adults on the autism spectrum. Our family-friendly SeaWorld-themed splash area at our outdoor pool is ideal for soaking up the sun and enjoying water play.”

Jones offer the following tips to help hotel staff support families and travelers with autism and sensory concerns to have the best possible stay:

  • Be prepared. Assist families with resetting their outlines, maintaining their expected and comfortable schedules.
  • Maintain safety priorities, highlighting special points of interest on property map, entrances, exits, etc.
  • Identify triggers internally and remain proactive as a team; for example, put guests in quieter rooms, away from loud or distracting areas like the pool.
  • Educate and train staff.
  • Provide relaxing, fun areas throughout the resort.
  • Empower team to accommodate all needs. For example, open a small meeting room for use if a quiet space is needed, etc.