Travel & Holidays

Disability and accessible tourism: the accessible tourism dilemma

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… the accessible tourism dilemma.


In today’s post, I’d like to share some thoughts; I’d like these musings to be a starting point for a conversation.

I’ve been laid up in bed this week which means I’ve had plenty of time to ponder the accessible tourism dilemma. In case you’re wondering, the accessible tourism dilemma is how to encourage mainstream travel providers to fully get behind barrier-free travel.

In recent years we’ve come a long way, but it still feels like we are on the fringes, like we haven’t truly made the case for accessible tourism.

Ultimately, the travel industry exists to make a profit and without an obvious return on their investment, why would they give accessible tourism much attention?

I can remember the original accessible tourism dilemma, it was a time when most travels were inaccessible, not physically inaccessible but simply too expensive. Essentially, the price of travel meant most people couldn’t access tourism.

Rather than ignoring it, the industry fixed the problem. Led by the market, low-cost airlines, package holidays and ultimately the internet all played a part in reducing the cost of travel which by default made it accessible to millions.

I doubt there’s a quick fix for us, certainly not one that will have the same impact as reducing the cost did. But, surely there must be something we can do to speed up inclusion in the travel industry.

I’ve been searching for the proverbial magic bullet, the one thing to stop the inertia and make the industry stand up and take notice.

After much deliberation, I’ve concluded that my search was futile because the magic bullet is already here, we’ve got it, I just hadn’t realised it, not fully anyway!

And the irony is, we’re already using it, we’re just not using it enough!

Let me explain:

In January, the travel industry marketing machine goes into overdrive. They bombard us with brochures, TV ads, newspaper supplements and price reductions which are too good to be true. Their mission is to convince us that traditional holidays in drab B&B’s and sleeping under canvas are a thing of the past.

We are encouraged to jet off to paradise, laze by a pool, sail the seven seas aboard a floating resort and explore the wonders of the world. The truth is, most of these holidays are still inaccessible, for the most part, they’re still unaffordable, but for many, they’re still physically inaccessible.

If that’s the case, why does the travel industry bother, why do they spend time and money promoting holidays to a mass audience when they know most people won’t be able to book anyway, even if they wanted to?

In short, it’s marketing and marketing is a numbers game. They work on the premise; if you throw enough against the wall, some of it will stick.

So, my next question is, how does this relate to our dilemma?

Price cuts are always welcome, but price cuts won’t solve our problem. If we learn another lesson from the industry, marketing is the secret weapon, marketing is the answer.

I’m not only talking about marketing access information on behalf of the industry, we should also be reverse marketing on behalf of the consumer, in effect demonstrating the demand to the industry.

That’s all well and good, but how?

The internet gives us the opportunity to change the accessible tourism landscape, the power to reach out to people who feel excluded from mainstream travel. We can show them travel is possible, we can demonstrate how the industry is trying to become inclusive and we promote good access wherever we find it.

But what we don’t do enough of is market the consumer side. We need to figure out a way to collate what consumers want and need, and then find a professional way to put this information in front of the industry.

I am fully aware that I’m preaching to the converted, but I make no apologies for continually banging the same drum. In 2016, collectively we can get the message out, we have the tools, and we need to double our efforts to use them.

Maybe I’m way off track; let’s face it, accessible tourism isn’t sexy or glamorous. It’s not immediately apparent how important it is and to how many. It could even be perceived as too niche in the grand scheme of things.

I’ve written a few posts on Disability Horizons about accessible tourism, in What is Accessible Tourism and Who Cares Anyway, I hopefully made the case that it’s an important segment of the market and in my last post: Accessible Tourism – The Movers, Shakers and Influencers, I recognised the people and organisations who are doing something about it.

If I can be so bold, I would like this post to be a rallying call. Together we can make 2016 the year of accessible tourism, the turning point when it stopped being a niche and became the norm.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the accessible tourism dilemma, how we can improve our marketing efforts, what else can we do to keep the conversation going and keep it up front and centre.

By Robert Obey

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