Barrier-free – where holidays become accessible for all

It is important to us that all guests feel comfortable at our facilities. In the following interview, Kurt Schempp (responsible for accessibility at the Swiss Youth Hostels) reports on how the SYH promote inclusion as well as the benefits of the ginto app.

As project manager at the SYH, Kurt Schempp is a key figure when it comes to accessibility at the youth hostels. We wanted to know from him what it really means to offer “barrier-free holidays for all”.

Kurt, how long have the SYH been committed to people with with disabilities?

Inclusion of all walks of life and nationalities has always been of central importance to us. We have set out this commitment in our statutes. Above all, this also means: We are convinced of this in our identity.

In today’s world, people with disabilities make up an ever larger part of society. Be it an elderly person who’s no longer as light on their feet, a mother with a pram, an athlete with a cast, a travel group of people with mental disabilities or a father in a wheelchair, etc.

Because we want to accommodate all these guests in the best possible way, we factor in barrier-free access in every project or conversion during the planning phase.

Can you briefly present the main concerns when it comes to accessibility?

We want to break down barriers, at all levels, in everyday life and in the mind.

People with disabilities have exactly the same needs on holiday as other travellers. They want to choose for themselves how they participate in social life, enjoy their holidays and benefit from tourist offers in the surrounding area. This is what we focused on.

We cater to people with disabilities during the booking process by providing the information needed about arrival and the youth hostel setup on the hostel page (or by phone at the Booking Centre +41 44 360 14 14). In other words: For us, accessibility doesn’t begin at the facility’s door step, but much earlier.

pon arrival, we also break down social barriers by promoting interaction between all guests and providing information on accessible tourism events at the destination.

Which youth hostels are barrier-free?

We have 33 barrier-free youth hostels in our offering, 25 of which are classified as “suitable barrier-free” and 8 of which classified as “partially suitable barrier-free”.

Suitable barrier-free means that the facility guarantees the requirements for barrier-free access in all areas – i.e. from arrival, to access, to the bathrooms. These areas can be used by standard wheelchair users without any barriers. However, individual public ancillary rooms (e.g. seminar room, roof terrace) may be difficult to access.

The classification partially suitable barrier-free can have various reasons. The assessment is based on a consideration of the following points:

• Individual barriers such as low thresholds that are nevertheless easily manageable for many wheelchair users.
• Important public rooms that are inaccessible for wheelchair users.
• Limited space in the rooms.
• All hostels with this classification have at least one specially adapted bathroom (shower and WC) for people with a mobility handicap.

Further information can be found on our website.

ESome hostels have special infrastructures: At Laax wellnessHostel3000, athletic guests can benefit from a pool lift, for example.

wellnessHostel3000 has, among other things, 16 barrier-free rooms as well as a 25-metre swimming pool with pool lift ©Cornelia Vinzens

Which hostel was most recently converted for barrier-free accessibility?

With our latest renovation, we were able to upgrade Rapperswil-Jona Youth Hostel (reopening on 30 April 2021). The accommodation is completely barrier-free; so no restrictions are to be expected, both indoors and outdoors. The hostel page lists important details such as the slope of the ramp, the flooring of the garden seating area, lift and door width, wheelchair accessible parking and much more.

In the blog post “More information on accessibility thanks to the OK:GO initiative”, Julia explains why exactly a mother with a pram feels very comfortable at Rapperswil-Jona Youth Hostel and what this has to do with the OK:GO initiative.

Thanks to the ramp and wide doors, access to Rapperswil-Jona Youth Hostel is child’s play even with a tandem pushchair ©OK:GO

The last new building was realised in Schaan-Vaduz (opened on 23 April 2021). Here, all rooms are accessible without barriers, a ramp leads from the car park to the entrance on the ground floor and the lift extends from the basement (dining room) to the top floor (seminar room).

The restaurant at Schaan-Vaduz Youth Hostel offers a cosy atmosphere and plenty of space ©Thomas Andenmatten

As on all hostel pages, you will find important information on barrier-free options for reaching the hostel by public transport, car or taxi – tailored specifically to this hostel, of course.

What are the most difficult challenges for people with disabilities during their holidays? And how can the SYH mitigate these challenges?

The first challenge lies in the booking process. Many hotels don’t offer much in terms of information, which severely restricts a guest’s spontaneity – because time-consuming research is often necessary for an accessible stay. As a guest with disabilities, you can check out all the essential information on the hostel page before you book accommodation. You will also find various links to experiences in the area.

In addition, the most important information on our website is available barrier-free (i.e.: accessible for people with visual impairments).

Spontaneity means freedom – this is made possible by transparent communication about our barrier-free offering

The next challenge is during check-in. Since our managers are well trained and very experienced, they have elegant workarounds for many problems. In many places we have special check-in points that are lower down so that communication at eye level with wheelchair users comes about naturally.

At check-in, it is also possible to move to a lower table ©Thomas Andenmatten

And, don’t forget contact with other guests. We have everything ready for you – tables that can be rolled under allow you to socialise at the large table and the breakfast buffet is designed to be barrier-free. In this way, all guests can talk about their good experiences without inhibitions, broadening horizons on both sides.

As far as arrival and the holiday experience are concerned, this is also where a new app comes into play that was born out of the OK:Go initiative. Thanks to the ginto app, you can now find information about possible barriers and barrier-free options that lie on your path at any time, even on the move. We are currently in the process of making our know-how available there as well

What are the advantages of the ginto app?

This app is very valuable because it collects information in a non-judgemental way and highlights positive and negative aspects. Travellers with disabilities can find information on possible obstacles on their personal journey – and also on paths, events or hostels where barrier-free access is guaranteed. This allows you to make an impromptu coffee stop if you feel like it.

But not only businesses or tourism providers can have a say here – users can too. Your input or experience can be of great benefit here.

What visions do the SYH have in the area of accessibility?

The Swiss Youth Hostels would like to make the interests and needs of people with disabilities visible and fulfil them through active knowledge transfer. In this area, we already clearly set ourselves apart from other accommodation providers because we are fully aware of our social responsibility. Participating in the ginto app is an important step on this path and is a great fit with our vision.

We always take guest feedback very seriously and very often incorporate it into projects to make renovations and new buildings even more guest-friendly.

Dear Kurt, thank you very much for this interview!

An interview with Kurt


Kurt, who is up for any fun and always has a good saying ready ©Kurt

Kurt Schempp is a project manager at the Swiss Youth Hostels. His commitment flows into the design of new buildings on the operational side and into ensuring that they are barrier-free. In his spare time, his passion is cooking and fine dining.

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