Rethinking disability to rebuild better tourism

Author: Tarryn Tomlinson

As with everything, it starts with education.

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When looking at creating inclusive policies in post-pandemic times, the tourism industry needs to treat accessibility as a competitive advantage. Companies will reap the benefits of putting accessibility in place. Designing inclusive experiences reduces the need for personalised services and accommodates the widest range of potential visitors. Embrace a greater diversity of clients for economic sustainability.

People were not identified as having a disability based on a medical condition. Rather we are disabled by an environment that erects barriers to our participation in social and economic life. Physical barriers could mean steps to an entrance, uneven pathways, or long distances from one section of the premises to another. Social barriers include prejudices, pity, isolating of people with disabilities or overprotecting them. Disability is not an all-or-nothing concept. It ranged from mild to severe, it could be constant or episodic, seen or unseen, or even temporary, like a broken limb.

Persons with disabilities had a US$200 billion global disposable income per annum, and they did and would continue to travel, deserving equal access to products and services. Travellers with disabilities on average spent two to four times more on holiday expenses.

They stay in higher-priced accommodation due to requirements for space, hygiene and access. They spend more on vehicle hire (bigger vehicles) and door-to-door transportation services. They pay more for extra space on board an aircraft simply to be more comfortable. The long and short of the story is that we pay. As people who pay – more than the average traveller – more attention needs to be paid to getting the basics right for us.” Here are my suggestions on how to overcome the environmental and social barriers to accessible tourism.

As with everything, it starts with education.

Gather data on accessible tourism that reveals profile behaviour and spending patterns of travellers with disabilities, their needs as well as those of their families and essential staff.

Once you have an understanding of how to change, you need to adjust or create accessibility policies and strategies. A large part of the problem is that these policies are designed without the active participation of persons with disabilities, so include them in the process.

Apply international standards to ensure the same level of accessibility and service quality. It also supports a common understanding of tourism products and services. 

Improve customer service. Usually, tourism service personnel lack training and therefore confidence concerning catering to customers with disabilities.

Use innovations and technologies as a lever in marketing travel. Alternative formats like sign language, audio description and braille should be incorporated. Target customers through mainstream media channels and not as a niche market. Simply include people with disabilities in your marketing and advertising.

Tarryn Tomlinson is the Founder and CEO of LiveABLE, a company enabling accessible and inclusive travelling and living.

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