The bags are packed and anticipation mounts as the holiday approaches. Everyone wants to spend some time relaxing, enjoying nature and culture, and having a great time. And people with allergies are no exception. ‘Allergy-friendly municipalities’ certified with the ECARF Seal of Quality for Products and Services can offer practical guidance when planning a vacation. Not only are there allergy-friendly accommodations in these certified locations, there are also approved shops and places to eat.
We spoke with Julian Schmitz, who has been managing director of Ferienland im Schwarzwald (‘Black Forest Holiday Region’) since 2012. Ferienland was the first region in Germany to be certified allergy friendly in 2011. Schmitz plays an active role in the community of interest for allergy-friendly municipalities.
When and where did you first find out about the ECARF Seal?
When I applied for the position of managing director at Ferienland Schwarzwald in 2012, I heard about the ECARF Seal for Allergy-Friendly Products and Services. I was excited about it from the beginning and still am, because it means that people with allergies are being taken seriously as a target group.
The seal creates real added value for everyone by offering guidance. It is great to see how many products carry the seal, such as cosmetics, laundry detergents and technological devices. Many well-known companies have certified products and services. We are pleased to be part of this group as a holiday region, together with our partners.
What has been your experience with the seal and what do your certified local partners have to say about being allergy-friendly?
Speaking for ourselves at Ferienland Schwarzwald, I can say that we think the idea and the concept are excellent. Of course there needs to be greater awareness and education on the subject, so we take information and quality management very seriously.
A lot of bookings for accommodations are now done online. People with allergies often call the hotel or guesthouse directly and ask whether they have allergy-friendly bedding, or ask for specific details about breakfast options.
Before acquiring the seal, most of the certified businesses already demonstrated awareness for the special needs of people with allergies. For example, a lot of our partners already labelled their food products before it was legally required. The seal now gives many of our service providers the opportunity to communicate their commitment to the public and profit from it financially.
What is really important to know is that there are both advantages and disadvantages for our service providers. Here’s an example. Cats and dogs are not permitted in hotels or guesthouses with allergy friendly certification. These hotels therefore cannot accept guests with pets. They have to recuperate these losses through the new target group. Our partners are totally committed to the cause, no matter what. And we are very grateful to them.
Ferienland has been certified allergy-friendly for six years now. Where does it go from here? Do you have any suggestions?
Allergy-friendly municipalities should form stronger networks and increase public awareness. We want to communicate more and increase the level of cooperation because we believe the seal has enormous potential.
People with allergies are voicing their needs more clearly and with greater confidence than before. They want to be taken seriously and not be branded as the guests with impossible requests. They want to have a worry-free vacation like everyone else. They want to sleep peacefully in the comfort of their rooms, begin the day well rested and enjoy a good hotel breakfast. The ECARF Seal is how we show our guests we care about them and do whatever we can so that they have a great holiday.
Julian Schmitz was interviewed by Bernd Janning.