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Travel Industry 'Failing to Cater for Disabled'

22/02/2010 | 1 comments

Tourism for All UK logoBritain's leading travel companies are failing to serve the needs of disabled travellers, new research has found. 

The study, carried out [by Co-operative Travel with the assistance of] Tourism for All, a British-based charity that specialises in travel for the disabled, found that 85 per cent of respondents did not believe travel agents understand the needs of disabled travellers, and 78 per cent did not feel they were catered for by high street agents. The survey also found that 35 per cent would not consider booking with a mainstream travel agent.

There are approximately 10 million adults and 750,000 children in the UK who suffer from some form of disability. It is estimated that a quarter of these regularly travel abroad.

Brian Seaman, head of consultancy at Tourism for All, said the travel industry needs to do more to understand the needs of disabled travellers.

"We have conducted independent research in the past by sending disabled travellers to the high street to find a disabled-friendly holiday to Majorca," he said. "In every case, not one travel agent was able to offer a product that might have resulted in a booking. The agents had great difficulty in finding suitable accommodation and when it came to visiting the accommodation on the island that they were able to find, they turned out not to be as accessible for disabled people as the agents had suggested."

Keith Richards, head of professional development at Abta, the travel association, admitted that the level of awareness of disability issues within its membership was not as high as it should be, but said there had been a big improvement in recent years.

"In June we will be launching our e-learning tool on accessible travel for all our members. We're developing this jointly with the Equality and Human Rights Commission to tackle the issues raised here," he said. "The services are mostly provided overseas where there is rarely any legal framework to provide access to goods and services generally, let alone hotel or tourism services. It is left to British tour operators and agents to try to find out how accessible a hotel is."

Jane Witherington, commercial and market development manager at the Co-operative Travel, which commissioned the Tourism for All research, has promised to improve its service to disabled travellers.

"We have launched a new tailored service aimed specifically at disabled travellers," she said, "and trained staff from 40 branches nationwide to ensure that they are up to speed with all aspects of holidays for people who require specialist travel."

This week Expedia, the online travel agent, launched new search tools designed to help disabled travellers find accessible accommodation. The move follows a court case in the US last year that resulted in Expedia being instructed to add content and search features to its websites that would allow people with disabilities to reserve rooms. The service is currently only available on the US website.

Leonard Cheshire, a British charity that supports disabled people, has given warning that many airports still fail to meet the needs of disabled passengers, despite EU laws introduced in 2008 that make it the responsibility of airports to provide assistance to disabled travellers. [ See: Leonard Cheshire article, July 2009].  The Civil Aviation Authority is close to completing its own report on how these laws have been implemented.

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Tourism for All, UK is an ENAT Member.

1 comment(s) posted

Posted by King Sheila on 2010/03/20 - 01:16:37

Thoughts on Accessible Tourism – 2010

What is accessible tourism in the 21st century, and how is it designed? Do the products and services currently available really cater for the demands and needs of a constantly evolving market? Is there a concrete dialogue between users and service providers that has developed sufficiently to guarantee an effective response? Is it possible to measure the accessibility of tourism services? And, ultimately, is this the sort of investment that pays? These are questions that still confront us – is the tourism industry listening – I am not sure that it is!

Is accessible tourism a viable size market to entice tourism providers to confront?

At the end of 2008 it is a fact that accessible tourism was the fastest growing business opportunity in the tourism industry. It is also a fact that the tourism industry needs to recognise that this business opportunity also includes the world-wide growing older population, and see this unique market of people with disabilities as being very profitable.

More than 54 million U.S. residents, or about 19% of the population of the USA, have some sort of disability, the U.S. Census Bureau reported in December 2008. In Europe there are approximately 50 million people with a disability. 63% of people with disabilities are older than 45 years. Nearly 30% of people in the age group 55-54 report a disability. Is this a big enough market for the tourism industry to come to terms with?

70% of people with disabilities are able to travel, but because of the lack of accessible tourism accommodation and other venues such as restaurants, museums, theme parks etc, they do not. There is an enormous mismatch between demand and what is offered by tourism providers in the way of infrastructure and services, neither of which are meeting the needs of people with disabilities. All stakeholders in the tourism industry, including transport companies, need to make more effort to improve the quantity of accessible tourism facilities. People with accessibility needs have the desire and the right to travel like everyone else. However their travel experiences are still highly restricted by physical barriers such as transport, inaccessible accommodation and other tourism sites as well as other barriers such as a general lack of information or poorly designed web sites.

A recent study undertaken by the Balearic Islands School of Catering in Spain found that 90% of hotel chain websites and 75% of individual hotel web sites were inaccessible to certain groups of users. As a result tourism providers lose market share. is a prime example of an international web site which is devoted entirely to tourism accommodation and venues which are accessible to people with disabilities.

A survey carried out by Viajes 2000 in Spain found that people with disabilities nearly always return to the place they initially found accessible

With these figures in mind it is obvious that this cannot be termed a ‘small niche market’. Accessible business is big business and the market is growing fast – partly because the world is growing older.
The tourism industry should realise that open access benefits all customers – accessibility is a competitive and economic advantage, not just a social or legal responsibility.

Various providers in the tourism industry, both private and public, have started, although too slowly, to be aware of the importance that a substantial portion of potential customers pay for products and accessible services.

In many countries legislation is in place, but its implementation is not mandatory, but this does not mean that accessibility should be ignored by the tourism industry.

Returning to our question: “Is the tourism industry listening?

It is very clear in relation to world-wide accessible tourism the demand is increasing very rapidly. The demand is not only coming from people with disabilities, but also from elderly tourists, who do not see themselves as being in any way disabled, but who appreciate the fixtures and fittings in accessible accommodation, to aid their balance. There is also a lesser, but increasing, demand from families with young children for accessible facilities.

So the answer to the question posed above is “I am not sure that it is”!

Sheila King
Australia For All Alliance – Accessing The World

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