What is "Accessible Travel"?
“Accessible Tourism” (also known as “Accessible Travel, Access Tourism”, “Universal Tourism”, “Inclusive Tourism” or “Barrier-free Tourism”) is tourism and travel that is accessible to all people, with disabilities or not, including those with mobility, hearing, sight, cognitive, or intellectual and psychosocial disabilities, older persons and those with temporary disabilities”. (Source: Takayama Declaration – Appendix, UNESCAP, 2009)
Accessible Travel: Challenges and Opportunities
Due to the increasing number of international travellers with disabilities, it is of great social importance that the worldwide accessible travel industry is even more focused on this ever-growing group of people. Various research, studies, literature, and questionnaires have found that there are certain hurdles which people with disabilities often experience before, during and after a holiday.
Diversity of travellers with disabilities
Disabilities range from mobility issues to vision and hearing impairments and differ in severity from person to person. Additionally there are also people with mental and socio-psychological impairments. Generally, the estimated numbers of worldwide travellers that have a disability vary enormously.
It is a common misconception that the needs of all people with disabilities are the same. Not every restriction is a limitation in mobility, and disabilities are often not even visible. Moreover, there are not only differences in disability, but also variables in the extent of that disability, and in the support or resources that are required for a person to travel.
Travelers with a disability are also not a “segment” of the market such as backpackers or luxury travelers. People with disabilities can be part of any segment and have different levels of income. So, from a business point of view, this is another reason why it is always a great idea to make sure facilities are accessible to all customers.
The need for a different perspective
Accessibility does not only relate to the physical environment around us. Research has shown that attitudes towards people with disabilities also have to change. Approaching people with a disability as a “disabled person” gives travellers the feeling that they are considered “not normal” and they therefore feel not welcomed.
Inaccurate accessibility information
Information online regarding travel for people with disabilities is often outdated, inaccurate or insufficient. And this severe lack of information is not just a problem before people book a trip. Clear information is also essential during the journey itself. There is not only a lack of (accurate) information, but a lot is also wrong in the way in which this information is presented. For example, if a hotel has a ramp access, it is often not mentioned what the dimensions are (size and width).
Travellers with disabilities often notice that accessible holidays are more expensive than “regular” holidays. Depending on the required support during a trip, additional costs are regularly incurred, for example because volunteers or caregivers have to be hired.
Specialized group tours and customized travels
Many travellers with disabilities make a distinction between organized (group) tours, in which a specialized organization is involved, and “normal” or independent trips. Travellers have pointed out that they do not always want to go on a group trip, simply because they want a holiday with their friends, family or partner, in a “normal” environment. While others can appreciate the company and the specific facilities and assistance with an organized trip. Sometimes these facilities are also necessary to be able to travel at all.
Additional stress and difficulty in booking a trip
Both people with disabilities and their caregivers can experience a lot of stress during the phase before booking, especially for self-organized vacations or package holidays booked with non-specialized tour operators. It often takes a lot of extra effort to find the right information and to verify if the destinations and the itinerary are suitable. Extra efforts in booking and organizing a vacation is required due to missing or outdated information, additional paperwork and documentation and having to constantly find out and verify whether the vehicles, transfers and accommodations have been adapted or are suitable.
An inclusive travel industry
Leisure activities and travelling contribute to people’s well-being and social integration. This applies to all travelers, but especially to travelers with a disability. Several studies have shown that vacations and tourism are quite important for people with disabilities. Being free from daily routines and connections with new people gives them more self-confidence and more self-awareness.
Traveling also allows people to handle unexpected and foreign situations better. However, people with disabilities still may encounter a number of difficult physical, social and informational barriers in booking holidays. These obstacles can not only discourage people with disabilities from travelling, but also their family members and friends who support them.
So, in conclusion, an inclusive travel sector will increase the quality of life for people with disabilities, but also that of their loved ones and caregivers.