US: Vacation rental platform VillaKey has launched a collection of more than 100 properties suitable for use by families with autistic children.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 68 American children has autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and 11 million children have a developmental disability.
VillaKey says that although research has shown that travel and activities away from home are therapeutic for children with ASD, few hotel and lodging options are tailored to fit their families’ requirements.
VillaKey CEO Alice Horn said: “We saw an under-served market with a genuine need. Children on the autism spectrum are uncomfortable with unfamiliar environments, and many families avoid hotels, or may not go on vacation at all. The children require a familiar and safe environment, which can be best provided in a vacation home.”
VillaKey offers more than 100 autism-friendly homes in the Orlando area, with plans to expand to destinations throughout the US over the coming year. The homes include full kitchens to accommodate cooking for special diets; the use of fragrance-free cleaning products; decor with soothing colours and alarms on exit doors. Service pets are welcome. Both staff and local property managers are certified in the requirements of autism travellers. Over time, VillaKey plans to add services and activities to suit the autism market.
Research for the platform included a focus group at the Center for Autism Related Disorders (CARD) at the University of Miami. This led to development of educational tools to assist parents and children as they prepare. “Our goal was to eliminate some of the uncertainty that our families experience when they’re planning a trip,” said Ms. Horn.
A percentage of all bookings goes to the VillaKey Cares™ fund to help support travel expenses for families who struggle with autism and may not have the resources to afford a vacation on their own.