Eastbourne is set to stage a major international conference on hearing loops in three months’ time, yet embarrasingly many of the hotels where delegates will be staying in the town don’t have loop systems.
Hundreds of delegates from around the world will be taking part in the third International Hearing Loop Conference at the Winter Gardens from October 6-7.
This prestigious event has previously been held in Zurich and Washington.
Yet for organisers Hearing Link, the Eastbourne-based charity, they face an awkward situation that many hotels are reluctant to install loops.
Only recently Jerome Farrow, chairman of the Eastbourne Hospitality Association, suggested there was not enough demand for the systems to warrant hotels spending the money on equipping reception areas, restaurants, conference venues and hotel rooms with them.
Mr Farrow told the Herald earlier this year, “Unless there is an increase in demand, this is unlikely to change.”
A Herald survey of 16 hotels has revealed the extent of the problem at a time when the borough council, the town’s MP Stephen Lloyd, and a number of major organisations are backing the “Let’s Loop Eastbourne” campaign.
Just two of the hotels visited had a hearing loop in the reception area, although the one at the Eastbourne Centre was not working.
When questioned about their knowledge of the loops, most staff in the town hotels surveyed were unaware of their existence.
Andrew Thomas, business development director for the hearing loop company Contacta, carried out the survey. His company is main sponsor of the autumn conference.
The Eastbourne Hospitality Association has over 100 member hotels, so the survey acted as just a Litmus test.
However Mr Thomas admitted he was very disappointed by the results, especially with the conference just a few months’ away.
“We visited the hotels and on each occasion I introduced myself as being the loop conference sponsors who wanted to understand what loop provision was available for guests who would be using the town’s hotel facilities,” he explained.
“There was no-one who really came out with any credit.
“The Grand had a portable system on their reception counter and the Eastbourne Centre had a loop on reception that didn’t work, and had no signage either.
“They were the only hotels who said they had room loops fitted in other parts of the hotel, but we were unable to check them because they were being used.
“There were a couple of hotels which did have portable systems in cupboards or tucked away under the counter, but they had no signage.
“The rest had nothing, and the Langham said they had a portable system somewhere but it couldn’t be found.”
Mr Thomas believes that hotels in Eastbourne which are working hard to boost occupancy rates are missing out on a lucrative market.
“Hotels are missing a trick since many of them are relying on business from pensioners and they are not making themselves accessible to those who are hearing aid wearers,” he said.
“In general, the staff were very helpful, but they were mostly unaware of loop systems.
“A few of the staff wanted to know more about loops when they realised there may be some business in it for them with the conference coming up.
“Loops could be used at reception counters, function rooms and also in the bedrooms to assist in TV listening.
“What is even more concerning is the hotel’s fire evacuation policies for hard of hearing guests.
“Now that is another story.”
l Next week: East Sussex’s Fire & Rescue’s fire safety officer gives his reaction to the hotel survey.