Frank Raubenheimer of Aventura Parks Talks About Inclusion and Accessibility in Adventure Parks Tourism

About the episode

In this episode, we delve into the world of adventure tourism with Frank Raubenheimer, Director of Operations at Aventura Parks. Frank shares his insights into how Aventura has become a certified Autism Center™ making it the first attraction in the Middle East to achieve this status. He discusses the development of in-depth programs for guests with sensory needs and emphasizes the importance of inclusivity in adventure tourism, highlighting the impact of accessible adventure parks on transforming experiences for people of determination.

About the show

Accessibility Champions is an educational video podcast series that celebrates the world of accessibility and the inspiring work being done by industry leaders to serve the rapidly growing market of people of determination. Each episode features conversations with prominent figures and community partners across various sectors who go above and beyond to champion accessibility By exploring their initiatives, strategies, and success stories, we aim to shed light on the incredible impact of their efforts.

About the guest

Frank Raubenheimer is the Director of Operations at Aventura Parks, the first attraction in the Middle East to achieve certification as an Autism Center. As the father of a child with autism, Frank has a personal passion for promoting autism awareness and inclusion. He has spoken at various events on behalf of IBCCES, advocating for inclusivity in adventure tourism and sharing insights into the development of programs for guests with sensory needs.

About the host

Dr. Geraldine Naidoo has a Doctorate and a PhD in Natural Medicine and is a certified Trauma Informed Professional. She is also focused on removing “internal” barriers as  she provides stress relief and wellness solutions for  clients who are dealing with, or have been diagnosed with, Anxiety, Autism, ADHD, depression, pain and other chronic conditions that typically create stress and overwhelm which adds to their existing challenges. She uses a variety of research based techniques to provide impactful solutions that are focused, effective, and non-invasive, with no contra-indications.



Aventura in Mushrif Park Dubai is quite an unforgettable adventure where nature meets funfilled outdoor experiences and includes field trips and educational programs as well as corporate team building experiences. But perhaps the most exciting thing about Aventura is that goes beyond accessibility by fostering connection and community for people of determination.



Here to tell us more about how Accessible Adventure parks are transforming experiences for people of determination is Frank Raubenheimer. Frank is the director of operations for Aventura parks, which was the first attraction in the Middle East to be a certified Autism Center. Frank is the father of a beautiful child with autism. And his firsthand experiences have led to several speaking engagements at various events on behalf of IBCC II s in the advancement of autism awareness, and accessibility for everyone. Frank Hello, and welcome. 



Hello, Geraldine. Thank you very much for inviting me.




We’re so glad you could join us today. So Frank, you’ve done a lot more than just make your park accessible to people of determination. You’ve opened up a whole new world of epic adventures for everyone. And it’s been pretty awesome. Thanks to you, adventure tourism is no longer just for the adrenaline junkies, you’ve made it accessible and meaningful for everyone. Please, can you tell us a bit about the in depth programs that you have developed for guests with sensory needs?




Yes, certainly. Adventure tourism, and adventure parks ropes courses, especially where we are situated is already actually quite conducive to inclusion. The benefits of natural environments have been well documented, you know, for everybody, not specifically people with disabilities or people of determination. But what we did was try to be even more inclusive. So we were looking at a way to specifically at our junior business meaning. children that don’t quite meet the height requirements for our high ropes courses, we were looking at that kind of vertical to develop around 2019 2020. And when I developed when I was tasked with developing it, the the direction that I chose was to go for sensory development and development of the nervous system based on the pyramid of learning, alright, so and I did a whole layout and a design based on the different different bases of the sensory development of specifically children that eventually build up to being a fully functioning adult. So I built a discovery area with a vestibular area, proprioceptive area, tactile, and animal interaction area to help encourage these social and physical development of children. And in conjunction with this, also, like you said, we have educational verticals, which is a big part of our business, created an educational program that’s nature based, that’s outside that might not be as overwhelming as other attractions, or right now for children of that age, everything tends to be very loud and very bright and very busy. In contrast with the natural environment that we are already in, that can be very calming and soothing, and exposing to the environment. So that’s where I was focusing initially when we started on this journey to inclusion.




Wow, that’s a total game changer for many people who would otherwise not have the option of visiting a park like this.


Yes. So there’s quite an exciting buzz in the GCC around the need for accessibility and it’s only getting stronger. Now, in your experience. increased accessibility is more than just a family ideal. It also makes good business sense right?




does well as an organization, we weren’t specifically looking at the profitability of inclusion, it’s very much a values driven endeavor for us. It’s something that we as an entity, look at doing our mission statement specifically says inspire everyone. So everyone and we had a lot of back and forth and talking about what is what everyone needs. And we try to encompass everyone. It wasn’t, it wasn’t a profit driven, proven ideal that we were chasing. But in spite of that, we turned what was essentially dead space on our park into one of our major educational programs. And it’s definitely been one of one of our most successful products. 



Amazing. We do know that, you know, businesses are also seeking opportunities to stay connected and relevant. So thank you for sharing that. I mean, if you’ve turned it into an exciting space that is welcoming for everyone, it’s definitely making a lot of business sense too. So the impact is undeniable for families and for business, and you guys are really building a bridge to a brighter future where no one is left behind. And that’s pretty inspirational. 



Yeah, that’s, that’s, that’s very important to us. I mean, inclusion is obviously something that’s personally very important to me. Accessibility, being slightly difficult when it comes to physical disabilities with us because of the nature of the activities that we offer all, you know, climbing and stuff, finding very physically demanding activities. But wherever we can be inclusive we are. And it’s, that’s not to say that people with with physical disabilities have precluded rom from joining us, we’ve had amputees and very different levels of physical, physical disability, participate if we can get them through the, through the requirements. So as far as we can, that includes inspiring everybody, that everybody as far as is physically possible. 



That is truly commendable. Your Park provides a lot of thrill and excitement. But I’m curious about the risk factor. I mean, you’ve just described amputees and so on coming to visit, so people are up in the air on a rope. And this can invoke a whole range of emotions for any participant, and your staff would then require special training to better help and serve all of your guests effectively. How do you manage to provide and also to sustain this kind of specialized training for your workforce?




Yes. So what we’re essentially selling is the illusion of risk. So there’s, there’s, you know, it’s like a roller coaster. If everything goes well, and is done like it’s supposed to, it’s just the illusion of risk itself. So aside from our instructors, being very well trained with regards to Occupational Safety and the protocols that go around rope, our equipment is smart systems. So there’s, there’s not really a risk of doing something that can provide a full risk. And it’s top tier top tier equipment. Aside from that, we cater to obviously for for individuals with specific needs. So since we’ve become a certified Autism Center, which requires 80% of your staff to be trained customer facing staff to be trained in sensory and autism awareness, we’ve gone ahead and drained 100% of our staff, everybody from the housekeeping staff all the way to the Managing Director, have some level of autism and sensory awareness training. It adds that extra level of training we’ve also included sensory guides to all our attractions so that you can better prepare for what your journey is going to be and what your day is going to be like. So it just gives that little bit of comfort where you know that you’re surrounded by personnel that know how to deal with the different needs and situations that may arise.




Amazing. And is this training in house?



The the training is through the IBCCES As for the sensory training and the autism awareness training. So this is a certified training, and we do various sessions throughout the season as well. Maybe role plays or sub or discussing specific events on how to handle it. So like with all our other protocols, and safety protocols, and things that have to be practiced and reviewed regularly with our risk assessments, and with our customer journeys, these are one of the things we include. So we had a little boy that had a meltdown, because his carabiners wouldn’t open or it didn’t go in the same sequence. How do you? How do you deal with that? How would you handle that specific situation? How did you how did you how did you do it? Was that the best way can I improve? What is the training material, say, and we can kind of go back and forth on that. That is amazing. 



Yes, it’s so important to have someone that truly understands the backstory of how to handle a crisis like this. Frank, as a father of a child with autism, you understand firsthand the challenges faced by families with special needs, as well as children with special needs. And you cannot decide to just go on a family outing, because you have certain critical factors that need to be considered first, would you like to share some of your own story with us, please?




Yeah, certainly, our story started, actually in COVID, lockdown in 2020. Obviously, we had a lot more time together for those six weeks. And my wife and I started noticing some things that were not aligned with our son’s development milestones. I would like to give us all the credit for noticing these things. But they were hinted at by his nursery teachers at that point. And you kind of live with, you know, there’s nothing wrong at all fine. But after COVID, we decided or after the lockdown, we decided right now we have to get assessed and see if everything’s up and up. And ultimately, we received an autism diagnosis. And this is kind of more or less the same time that I was tasked with developing our junior business. So while I was in this world of being of researching what sense sensory processing disorder is, what autism is, what the what the therapies, and the strategies are for helping and getting the best outcomes, you can kind of draw the parallel for why I decided to develop along those lines.




Yes, something we do understand is that differences are not deficits. And the IBCC es firmly believes in the inherent worth and dignity of every individual just as you do. So as a family with these special requirements, what would you like to see other attractions doing to better accommodate families like yours?



Right? So, so there’s development that we did, what kind of came out of that. I was wondering about how to expose my son to the things that I like, in a way that will not be overwhelming. So being outdoors, adventure, sports, these kinds of things. And, and what I ended up doing is building it. Luckily, I was in a position where I had the opportunity to be able to do that. And I was supported by the company director and Managing Director and general manager who saw the value and just kind of supported me with that. You know, unfortunately, that’s not something everybody can do, just build the thing you need for your child. So the advantage that we have in the region right now is that a lot of the attractions are being certified as autism centers and going somewhere and traveling. One of the most daunting things that you can do as a family with a member is neurodiverse. I mean, I think we’re talking and 90%, 96% loyalty from from POD, people of determination, keep returning to the same to the same attractions because they know that their family members are catered for or understood the personnel are trained installations or if not necessarily directed towards them marked in a way that they know which is overwhelming, which is not, they know what they enjoy. So they tend to go back to the same things over and over again. And the reason for that is, like I said, they know that the personnel all are trained to handle it, I don’t have to helicopter the whole time, and make sure that my, my son isn’t having a sensory overload or isn’t having a routine based meltdown, or something is going going wrong that the guy on the ground can’t handle. So this is definitely something that we look out for, we look out for. If the these the I wouldn’t say installation, if the if the organization is certified, right, so that that is an automatic mark of approval almost for us, Autism Travel helps with that a lot as well. If you’re going to, to hotels or to travel, it’s definitely something that we look out for. There are other organizations that are not certified that are pretty good. But these are very difficult to vet. And we don’t in the UAE at least have the community backups that we would have anywhere else. I mean, the society is so transient here, the word of mouth and the community knowledge isn’t doesn’t have the longevity that it would have somewhere else. So I’m having a platform to kind of check this out and have an organization that you trust, say, these guys are good enough to carry out silver, that helps a lot.




Amazing. So there’s quite a need not just for adventure, but it sounds like health care and travel tourism, all of these different. Yeah, very interesting. So there is quite a need for proper training.

And certification like you say thank you for sharing that. Frank. It is an absolute privilege to speak with someone at the forefront of such incredibly transformative initiatives. How can people get in touch with you? 



Thank you very much. No, I appreciate that. For Aventura parks we are we are very active on social media so, Aventura parks all our handles on all the platforms. TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, on all of those is our website as well. And we all are all our contact information if people want to plan visits, or have a look at what we’re doing. And then I’m usually around you.




Excellent. You are a true champion for accessibility and opportunity. Thank you for making the world a better place. Thank you very much. I appreciate you saying it’s been an absolute pleasure having you with us today. The IBCCES is proud to stand alongside inspiring industry leaders in the shared purpose as pioneers of a future where accessibility is for everyone. We believe in the strength of collective action, and invite you to collaborate with us in forging an environment of equal access regardless of ability. For more information, go to IBCCES dot O R G, that’s We hope you’ve enjoyed today’s informative session and invite you to share this information so we can create a symphony of voices that make the world a more accessible and thrilling place. May your week be filled with the unwavering spirit of those who overcome any obstacle. Thank you and goodbye.