When I chatted with Matt Wong, owner of iFLY Queenstown in New Zealand, it was a joy to realise we speak the same language. I don’t mean English; I’m referring to the language of access and inclusion. Occasionally I meet someone who, despite having no lived experience with disability, just gets it, and Matt is one of those people.
iFLY franchises around the world offer indoor flying experiences for ages five to 105 years of age with no experience necessary. Unlike skydiving from a plane, where you jump and fall several thousands of feet, at iFLY you fly gently on a cushion of controlled air. It offers all the thrills of flying minus the danger.
Matt recently purchased the business having launched iFLY Queenstown three years ago, and in this time he’s truly embraced inclusion. As an international brand, iFLY is strong in the inclusive movement but it’s clear Matt has plans to take it to the next level with his own business. He says the core principle that drives his business is a person-centred approach and used a Maori saying which refers to looking after people:
“He aha te mea nui o te ao (What is the most important thing in the world?):
He tangata, he tangata, he tangata” (It is the people, it is the people, it is the people).
It all began for Matt when began when he was approached by Jezza Williams, the founder of Makingtrax, and respected thought leader in the area of inclusion. Jezza asked iFLY Queenstown to become a member of MakingTrax, a not-for-profit aiming to open up tourism to all abilities. Matt welcomed the opportunity and over time he became keen to learn more to ensure his membership was not merely a token gesture.
He met with Jezza again but this time it was to gain an understanding of how businesses in Queenstown could drive the movement and to educate the iFLY staff. Matt believes it’s important that all his staff are trained and can support any guests with a disability and has picked a team that shares his values.
Jack Howatson is a raving fan of the iFLY Queenstown team and has become a regular flyer and unofficial ambassador for the business. Jack sustained a spinal cord injury while snowboarding. Seeing a video on iFLY he was immediately keen to give it a go.
Jack says the staff at iFLY Queenstown are “welcoming, laid back and make anything work. Nothing is a drama for them.” Proof of this is the pool noodle adaptation brace the team created for Jack to keep his legs together when he flies.
Jack attributes his time flying with improving his health and building a great sense of community for him. When asked what tips he’d have for nervous first-time flyers, Jack’s answer is simple: “Go for it, the staff are awesome.”
Seeing the difference iFLY Queenstown makes to his customers has further fuelled Matt’s passion to encourage other businesses to adopt an inclusive approach to tourism. Matt says being inclusive is “not that hard” and businesses shouldn’t be scared to embrace it. Instead, they should work collaboratively, talk to people with lived experience to understand what they need and stop putting it off. Matt says inclusive tourism should be a responsibility and priority for businesses.
It would seem iFLY Queenstown has encouraged Jack to believe the sky really is the limit because he now has his sights set on flying beyond the tunnel and going for his skydiving licence.
Find out more about iFLY on their website.
This feature first appeared in Travel Without Limits magazine. You can subscribe here.