This is a post I originally wrote for Disability Horizons. In it, I wanted to explore “What is Accessible Tourism”.
Specifically, I wanted to know what it is, why it matters and who cares about accessible tourism anyway.
I’m republishing the post here on the blog because it raised some important points, and I know you’ll enjoy revisiting it.
Accessible Tourism and Travel
Do you know what accessible tourism is?
Before you read the post, pause and think about accessible tourism – what is it, and more importantly, what does it mean to you?
Back in 2014, when I gave up work to become a full-time carer, I’d never heard of the term “Accessible Tourism”, and I honestly didn’t know it was a real thing, let alone an essential branch of tourism.
Purely by chance, accessible tourism entered our lives and became a significant part of our lives. Without sounding melodramatic, I’d go as far as to say. It gave us a new purpose, and it essentially saved us.
Travel has always been important to us, but travelling in a wheelchair is new. Naively, we assumed we wouldn’t have too much trouble – until we tried it, accessible tourism started to matter.
What is Accessible Tourism?
The most succinct definition I can find is this one:
“Accessible tourism is tourism that everyone can enjoy, including those with access needs. Many people have access needs including disabled people such as those with visual impairments, wheelchair users, older and less mobile people and people with pushchairs.” Source: Visit England Business Development Unit
Did your answer mirror the accepted definition? Maybe it did, perhaps it didn’t. Your answer was tainted by what accessible tourism means to you and your circumstances.
And that, in a nutshell, is the point. We all have different needs, and Pigeonholing us somehow oversimplifies it. If anything, we should be part of mainstream tourism. We are, after all, paying customers, not an obscure group to be burdened with yet another label.
Please don’t misinterpret what I’m saying. I wholeheartedly support people, companies, and organisations working hard to make travel accessible. Still, it seems strange that we need a separate tourism branch for the disabled, families, and older people.
The Customer Case for Accessible Tourism
An estimated 10 million disabled people live in the UK, and I have no idea how many families with young children or seniors. In these demographics, access varies almost from person to person, but one thing is obvious – there are a lot of us!
Accessible Tourism is a broad, sometimes contentious topic. There are no perfect solutions, and no matter how hard we try, they’ll never suit everyone’s needs.
Disability or not, things go wrong. Access is an emotional issue, often a very personal thing. It matters to tens of millions of customers, but does it matter to those who can do something about it?
The Industry Case for Accessible Tourism
Sadly, we could not attend this year’s World Travel Market in London. The event is the premier tourism gathering of the year. During the four-day event, the world’s tourism industry comes together to promote, discuss, network, learn and do business.
Guess which branch of tourism wasn’t on the agenda this year?
Okay, I’m being a bit unfair. Accessible tourism has been discussed over the last couple of years, but why leave it out this year?
Week in, and week out, national and regional tourism departments are doing important work around accessible tourism. Often working alongside access experts, they identify opportunities, create think tanks, create campaigns and advise their members. They care about and recognise the importance and opportunity of accessible destinations.
Yet, this year, it was left to a handful of individuals, including Martyn and Srin from Disability Horizons, to spread the word at World Travel Market.
The Business Case for Accessible Tourism
According to Visit England, accessible tourism is worth £12 billion annually to the UK economy. Whenever I read about accessible tourism, information is slanted toward convincing the industry there’s a market for it and money in it. There is a demand and, subsequently, money to be made.
I’m no business guru, but I understand simple maths. Invest in universal access. More people will travel, they’ll spend more money, businesses will make more profit – everybody wins.
I have another theory that I haven’t seen mentioned before, and it’s this.
Business is not stupid, and they know accessible tourism is potentially lucrative. If anything, we’re a captive audience. So, where is the roadblock? What’s the reason they are slow to tap into it?
I say this with respect because I think they could be scared. I know this sounds odd, so let me explain.
If you’re a business owner, what matters is your bottom line. If you invest money in access, what’s the return? How can you measure it?
There are no definitive answers. It’s almost the chicken and egg situation. What comes first, customers or accessibility?
What I will say is try and book an accessible hotel room in a popular destination, then you’ll see there is a demand. I would also say many access issues can be resolved with little planning and minimal cost.
Secondly, very few disabled people travel alone, often accompanied by family members or carers. In short, this increases average spending.
Another issue I can see for business owners is this.
They’re well aware of the amount of legislation surrounding disability. The legislation is, of course, essential but can also be very confusing.
The fear of getting access wrong could also be a factor for a business owner.
If we add people’s ability to leave a negative review almost instantly, the risk to a business’s reputation increases.
Both of these factors potentially leave them with a dilemma. Of course, they want to welcome everyone and take our money, but at what potential cost to them?
I believe “if your sail is up, you’ll catch the wind” and “lethargy creates opportunities”.
Trailblazers like Martyn and Srin are leading the way with their new venture Accomable.com. Their sail is well and truly up, and they understand the untapped opportunity and are passionate enough to do something about it.
Some mainstream providers are brilliant at promoting access. And others have accessibility information hidden away.
I’ve even found holiday accommodation where pet-friendly is more prominent than disabled-friendly. I can go on holiday with my dog but not my wife when, in fact, I’d like to go on holiday with both or at least have the choice.
My point is that we have a long way to go to prove the business case. In the meantime, I applaud the entrepreneurs who are investing time and money into accessing resources for the benefit of all of us.
We Should All Care About Accessible Tourism
Essentially we live in an inclusive society, one where we’re everyone should be able to enjoy the same freedoms.
For the most part, those of us with access issues are a flexible and tolerant bunch. We’re used to making adjustments and will never criticise anyone trying to help us.
We must work together with businesses and tourism departments. We should share information about our needs, offer practical solutions, and champion good access wherever we find it.
Access is not the responsibility of one person, business or entity. It’s all our responsibility. Only by talking and working together can we start to make a difference. Access for all is not an impossible dream, and it’s a measurable goal that, together, we can achieve.
What Do You Think?
I want to get your feedback on accessible tourism. What does it mean to you, what difficulties do you have, what solutions can you offer, and what would you like the tourism industry to do to make travel more accessible?
Source: This post was initially published on Disability Horizons