Accessible Tourism Development & Marketing- An Analysis

Just as VisitEngland unveiled plans for a national marketing campaign to promote accessible tourism in England next year, we talk with Ivor Ambrose, Managing Director of the European Network for Accessible Tourism (ENAT) for an analysis of the accessible tourism market.

On the English front, Visit England, the national tourist board will work with five destinations to develop exciting itineraries with top class accommodation and attractions that provide a warm welcome for all visitors including those with access needs. It will identify tourism businesses in their area that provide particularly excellent levels of service to visitors with access needs – such as those with hearing and visual impairments, wheelchair users, older and less mobile people and people with pushchairs.

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The national tourist board will then work with the destinations and businesses to ensure that they all meet the same high standard of accessibility, focussing on key issues such as customer service and visitor information. This will incorporate a number of VisitEngland’s tools and resources, such as Access Statements and online disability awareness training.

As Ivor Ambrose, Managing Director of the European Network for Accessible Tourism (ENAT) comments, “VisitEngland has a strong track record of supporting its destinations and businesses to help them capitalise on the growing accessible tourism market. It is encouraging to see that English tourism businesses and destinations are getting a helping hand from their national tourism authority, especially as the recession is biting hard.

In the UK, the Equality Act, which has replaced the former Disability Discrimination Act, now applies generally to the provision of services, including tourism. It is important that managers can get practical advice when it comes to compliance issues surrounding access. Creating a destination that is truly accessible for all visitors requires that managers and staff can provide a warm welcome as well as taking care of a various practical issues.

Developing Accessible Tourism

Destinations can – and must – play a key role in binding together the accessibility efforts of local tourism businesses. They can help to design itineraries for customers, pointing out the various attractions, shops, food and drink outlets and accommodation that make up the “chain of accessibility” which can support them throughout their stay. Also, it is essential that public spaces, pavements and local transport meets access requirements, enabling freedom of movement at the destination for all visitors.

The example of leadership shown by VisitEngland should be followed by other National Tourist Boards (NTOs). If NTOs do not encourage their destinations to make services more accessible,  businesses will continue to under-perform as demand in this sector is inevitably going to increase in the coming years due to demographic ageing. While this market accounted for 11% of total overnight stays in England in 2009, the potential or unmet demand may be up to 25% and even higher in the coming years, as population ageing increases the proportion of elderly travellers with both minor and more severe impairments. Doing nothing to improve access will result in customers going elsewhere, to places where accessibility is an integral part of the offer.

Disabled people tend to be loyal to an accessible destination, staying longer and spending more. According to figures from Open Doors Organization (USA), American adults with disabilities or reduced mobility spend about $13.6 billion a year on travel. In Germany, the direct turnover generated by disabled travellers is estimated at €2.5 billion, and rises to €4.8 billion when including indirect effects. In Australia disabled tourists contribute up to 16% of tourism GDP and sustain up to 17% of jobs in the tourism sector, according to research studies.

These figures could rise even higher in future if the gap between the potential customer base and the actual number of travellers can be reduced. In Germany, for example, about 37% of disabled people decided not to travel in the past due to a lack of accessible facilities. Yet 48% would travel more frequently if these were available and as many as 60% would be ready to pay higher travel costs for improved accessibility.

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