Accessibility in Tourism: challenges and opportunities
Globally the WHO estimates that 15% of the population has some kind of need for accessibility assistance. For these people, accessible space is essential to be able to carry out daily activities including their leisure time. Also, many people have some temporary difficulty such as pregnant women, recovering from an accident, children, etc. The progressive ageing of the population associated with a longer life expectancy in developed countries also is causing an increase in the number of people with reduced mobility.
The importance of accessible tourism
“Accessible tourism” enables people with access limitations in mobility, vision, hearing and cognitive dimensions to function independently and with equity and dignity by delivering universally designed tourism products, services and environments (Darcy and Dickson, n.d.). According to the European Network for Accessible Tourism (ENAT, n.d.) accessible tourism includes:
- Barrier-free destinations: infrastructure and facilities.
- Transport: by air, land and sea, suitable for all users.
- High-quality services: delivered by trained staff.
- Activities, exhibitions, attractions: allowing everyone to participate in tourism.
- Marketing, reservation systems, websites and services: information accessible to all.
70% of Europeans with disabilities have physical and economic possibilities to travel, this is equivalent to 58.115.778 potential visitors only in the European Union. In the case of Germany, people with physical disabilities spend a total of about 5 billion euros each year on travel, although the number of trips has been reduced due to the lack of accessibility in tourist areas in Europe. In America, specifically in the United States, people with motor disabilities spend about 11,212.90 dollars on travel each year (González, 2014).
Europe and the United States of America are home to most of the specialized travel agents in this field of providing accessible tourism. However, companies around the world are beginning to appear as a result of a growing need, driven by high-end tourism and due to increased life expectancy in developed countries.
With the growth of the Internet, online travel planning is also becoming more common, leading to an increase in online accessibility maps. As an example, starting in 2016, Lonely Planet began offering accessible online resources by country.
Accessibility and reduced mobility are on the agenda
In the last twenty years, accessible tourism has become a priority for both public and private initiatives in different countries through laws protecting the right to accessibility for people with disabilities.
In the year 2016, the theme of the UNWTO International Tourism Day was “Tourism for All”. The website of this organization refers to the fact that accessibility is not only focused on the elderly, families of limited resources or workers. It also promotes the opportunity for recreation and rest for people with some kind of disability (UNWTO, 2016).
“Governments and the private sector should view the potential for inclusion of 15-17% of the population as an untapped market, as a sound investment in social inclusion – something that could benefit large swathes of the population,” says Charlotte V. McClain-Nhlapo, Global Disability Advisor at the World Bank.
A consistent supply of accessible tourism requires a combination of integrated public and private services, providing reliable and up-to-date information to both residents and tourists. It also requires adequate means of transport and the necessary protection to ensure the safety of all.
Integrating digital, social and sustainable skills in a tourism accessibility strategy
With persons being at the heart of all tourism services, their awareness about the topic, knowledge and necessary skills are critical for successful implementation.
The human element is and will be a key factor in any adapted tourism product design because the levels of attention and care required by these groups must be highly personalised. Social skills (empathy, communication, assertiveness, etc.) are essential in accessible tourism since most of these people will require direct accompaniment or help in carrying out many leisure activities.
The technological revolution with the appearance of internet, robotics, virtual or augmented reality, big data, provides new opportunities to improve the accessible tourist experience in services and destinations. Providing human resources with the necessary digital skills will favour a better adaptation of these services to the real and specific needs and the different types and levels of disability or reduced mobility.
The level of demand regarding the adaptation of facilities and equipment in accessible tourism is high. A strategy of “inclusion” of groups of people with disabilities results in a greater degree of sustainability of the initiatives. In such a “global” concept, the versatility and adaptability of the tourist offer are perfectly complemented by the fulfilment of environmental criteria and integration in the territory and the local population.
NTG is seeking greater integration of these competencies in the future design of training itineraries, which increasingly need to take into account accessibility requirements.
Practical problems and how to solve them
Specific problems encountered by travelers or tourists with disabilities include:
- Inaccessible or only partially accessible websites
- The lack of wheelchair accessible vehicles
- The lack of well-adapted hotel rooms
- Lack of professional staff capable of dealing with accessibility issues
- Lack of reliable information on the level of accessibility of a specific attraction
- Lack of accessible restaurants, bars and other facilities
- The lack of adapted bathrooms in restaurants and public places
- Inaccessible streets and sidewalks
- The lack of technical aids and equipment for the disabled, such as wheelchairs, bathing chairs and public toilets
Public institutions and the private tourism sector are already working in many cases in a coordinated manner to try to gradually solve these limitations.
EU countries have incorporated minimum accessibility criteria and requirements in the regulations governing public and private buildings and spaces. Tourism regulations establish a series of minimum requirements in terms of accessibility such as, for example, the obligatory of access without architectural barriers in entrances and common areas, the requirement for lifts, adapted public and private toilets, etc.
In some countries, private or mixed initiatives for the enjoyment of tourist services and activities by the disabled have been implemented. They refer to the creation of accessibility standards according to the type of disability, or the definition of labels or certifications of accessible tourism services or destinations. Here are some practical examples of best practice, guidelines and resources to support tourism businesses:
- UK national accessible scheme for tourism
- Manuals on recommendations of adaptations for accessible tourism offer; e.g this one elaborated by Predif the State Representative Platform for People with Physical Disabilities
- Guides of accessible tourist resources on Greenways
- Companies whose product is focused on inclusive tourism. They provide their facilities and equipment with high levels of accessibility and take care of specific training and qualification of their workers many of whom have some degree of disability. E.g. Ilunion Hotels (Spain)
Eurogites is working now on this topic. The project Access IT (INNOVATION FOR ACCESSIBLE TOURISM IN NATURAL AND RURAL AREAS) supports the capacity of EU tourism SMEs operating in nature and rural areas to bridge accessibility gaps through stakeholder co-design of innovative solutions for tourism products for customers with specific access requirements. For more info click here.
- Accessible tourism: a reflection from the public and private sectors.
Erika Cruz Coria[a], Carlos Ignacio Patiño Tejada[b]