Disability and accessible tourism: what is accessible tourism and who cares anyway?
The Bimblers describe themselves as the UK’s most unlikely travel bloggers. Rob together with his partner Bridget travel in a wheelchair, reviewing access as they go. Driven by the mantra “Access For All” Rob has joined us to share his thoughts, observations and ideas to make travel easier for people of all abilities. In today’s post, accessible tourism…
Be honest, do you really know what accessible tourism is?
Before you read the post, pause for a moment and think about accessible tourism – what is it, 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”. I honestly didn’t know it was a real thing, let alone an important branch of tourism.
Purely by chance, accessible tourism entered our lives and became a major part of it. Without sounding melodramatic, I’d go as far to say, it gave us a new purpose, it essentially saved us.
Let me backtrack, I’m Rob from TheBimblers.com, together with my partner Bridget, we travel around the UK and Europe in a wheelchair.
Travel has always been important to us, but travelling in a wheelchair is a whole new adventure. Naively, we assumed we wouldn’t have too much trouble – until we tried it, that’s when accessible tourism started to matter.
What is Accessible Tourism?
The most succinct definition I can find is this one:
“Accessible tourism is tourism that can be enjoyed by everyone, including those with access needs. Many people have access needs including disabled people such as those with hearing and visual impairments, wheelchair users, older and less mobile people and people with pushchairs.”
Visit England Business Development Unit
Did your answer mirror the accepted definition? Maybe it did, maybe it didn’t. I’m guessing your answer was tainted towards what accessible tourism means to you and your circumstances.
And, that, in a nutshell, is the point. We are all different with differing needs, pigeonholing us somehow over simplifies 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 the efforts of people, companies and organisations who are working hard to make travel accessible, but it does seem strange we need a separate branch of tourism for disabled, families and older people.
If, (playing the devil’s advocate) we are a separate group of people, collectively we must be numerically larger than childless singles and couples. Maybe, we’re not that niche after all?
The Customer Case for Accessible Tourism
There are an estimated 10 million disabled people living in the UK, I have no idea how many families with young children or seniors there are. In these demographics, access varies almost from person to person, but one thing is very clear – there are a lot of us!
Accessible Tourism is a broad sometimes contentious topic. In reality, there are no perfect solutions, no matter how hard we try, it’ll never suit everyone’s needs.
Disability or not, things go wrong, access is a dynamic issue, often a very personal thing. It clearly 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 were unable to 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 the last couple of years, but why leave it out this year?
Week in, week out, national and regional tourism departments are doing important work around accessible tourism. Often working alongside access experts, they identify opportunities, form think tanks, create campaigns and advise their members. They clearly 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 a year to the UK economy. Whenever I read about accessible tourism, information is slanted towards convincing the industry there’s a market for it, and of course money in it. Without doubt, 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 make more profit – everybody wins.
I have another theory, one which I haven’t seen mentioned before and it’s this.
Business are not stupid, they know accessible tourism is potentially a lucrative market, if anything we’re a captive audience. So, where is the roadblock, what’s the reason they are slow to tap into it?
Personally, and I say this with respect, 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, 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 a bit of planning and very little cost.
Secondly, very few disabled people travel alone, often they’re accompanied by family members or carers, in short this increases average spend.
Another issue I can see for business owners is…
They’re well aware of the amount of legislation surrounding disability. The legislation is of course important, but can also be very confusing.
For a businesses owner, the fear of getting access wrong could also be a factor.
If we add into the mix people’s ability to leave a negative review, almost instantly, the risk to a businesses 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’m a firm believer in “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, they understand the untapped opportunity and are passionate enough to do something about it.
Some mainstream providers are brilliant at promoting access, others have access information hidden away. I’ve even found holiday accommodation were 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, 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 access 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 a tolerant bunch. We’re used to making adjustments and we will never criticise anyone who’s trying to help us.
We must work together with businesses and tourism departments. We should share information about our needs, offer practical solutions where we can 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, it’s a measurable goal which together we can achieve.
What Do You Think?
I’d really like 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 to you?
By Robert Obey
If you’re planning your next holiday, why not visit our new travel site, Accomable, to find accessible accommodation not just in the UK, but across the world.
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