Unlocking the Potential of Accessible Tourism
There has never been a better time to invest in accessibility, according to an expert lineup of speakers from the European Network for Accessible Tourism (ENAT), the Italian Multiple Sclerosis Society (AISM), and the University of Genoa at IAAPA Expo Europe. Together, they argued the ethical, legal, and business case for accessibility.
Anna Grazia Laura, president of ENAT, defined accessible tourism as “the set of services, facilities, and infrastructures that enable people with specific access requirements to enjoy their holidays and leisure time without obstacles.”
The goal is to provide a warm welcome, ensuring everyone has autonomy over their tourism experience. If you can make people “feel comfortable and confident in your destination, that is an enormous result for the host facility and the guest who will feel proud of what they have done,” she said.
Accessible tourism is an opportunity for the attractions industry, and many operators are addressing it in their diversity, equity, and inclusion programs.
Improving accessibility can enhance an organization’s standing and profitability. “Access can differentiate your brand,” emphasized Ivor Ambrose, managing director of ENAT.
Ambrose shared research underlining the value of accessible tourism. “In 2012, accessible tourism in Europe generated 400 billion euros in revenues per year,” he said. In 2018, the total value of the accessible tourism market in the United Kingdom was around £15.3 billion.“The lion’s share of the spending is in the day visitor market.”
A study completed by Open Doors Organization, a non-profit that helps businesses succeed in the disability market, revealed the travel patterns and spending of American adults with disabilities. Conducted by The Harris Poll in 2020, a survey revealed that between 2018 and 2019, 27 million travelers took a total of 81 million trips and spent $58.7 billion (up from $34.6 billion in the prior 2015 study).
Ambrose suggested the growth “may be a sign that provision is getting better.” He also pointed out that people with access requirements often have companions—giving rise to a multiplier effect. They tend to stay longer, spend more, and make more repeat visits.
Demographic changes are also having an impact. Seniors account for 65% of the accessible tourism market. “One in five persons in Europe are over 60,” Ambrose said. They take 6-7 trips throughout the year, they have more discretionary income, and travel more overseas. “What’s not to like about these customers?” he asked.
He added, “If anyone in your party has an access requirement, they decide where you all go, what you do, where you eat and sleep, and what attractions you visit. So, it is important to think about groups and not just one individual at a time.”
Marco Pizzio, ENAT board member and head of accessible tourism and MICE at AISM, reminded attendees that “there is a wide universe of people with access needs.” These can include older people, pregnant women, and people with long-term illnesses or allergies. Many disabilities are invisible. Pizzio advised “listening to your clients” to meet customer needs.
Training Pays Off
Accessibility must be addressed in the design of all products and services, both physical and online. Companies should also market their accessibility. Ambrose recommended registering with Pantou, the global accessible tourism directory.
Training is also key in developing an accessible attraction. “Surveys of people with disabilities consistently show that staff attitudes and behavior play a powerful role in influencing—positively or negatively—their experience of a tourist destination,” Anna Grazia Laura said.
Riccardo Spinelli, professor of management and marketing at the University of Genoa, outlined an innovative pilot project to develop a master’s program in inclusive tourism management that will prepare professionals for this evolving market.
“We need to train people who think about the tourism market differently and who look at issues not as problems but as potential sources of value for businesses,” he said. The first cohort included five students with specific needs, and their real-world experiences provided “precious contributions to the class.”
Employers have already snapped up students, proving that their unique insights will help to guide the next generation of accessibility-minded tourism professionals.