About The Conference

Journeying to make destinations accessible

An estimated 1.3 billion people experience significant disability, representing 16 per cent of the world’s population or one in six of us. This updated figure by the World Health Organization (WHO) brings under the spotlight accessibility challenges they face when travelling and exploring tourism hotspots and the untapped growth opportunities in the travel and tourism market projected to surpass the US$8.9 trillion mark by 2026. Home to over 50 million People with Disabilities, the Middle East is one of the regions where accessible travel and tourism hold immense growth potential but is vastly untapped and undebated.

happy Mom with her boy with down syndrome
a vitally impaired person with a guide dog

The WHO, in a first-ever global study, identified barriers to People with Disabilities in tourist destinations which include inaccessible facilities at airports, airlines, hotels, parks, beaches, and tourist landmarks and historical sites. Tourists with disabilities make up one of the fastest-growing tourism markets, but several countries, according to this report, lack adequate mechanisms and satisfactory facilities to ensure the world ensure they see it the way disabled people want. Tapping the accessible tourism market has remained a key agenda for destinations in the 21st century.

About 54 per cent of people with access requirements avoid going to new places if not accessible to them. The biggest challenge is finding accessible destinations that meet their Special Needs and heighten their travel experience. Over three million tourism businesses in Europe are not prepared to cater adequately to the accessibility market. A study indicated that the accessible tourism market is a distinct sector, possessing the capacity for extensive future growth, and presents major travel providers with a potentially substantial and lucrative market, generating potential revenues of €88.6 billion by 2025. A 2020 market study by the US-based Open Doors Organization (ODO) about Adult Travelers with Disabilities, showed that the disability travel market has a greater economic impact on the travel industry than ever before. In 2018-19, more than 27 million people with disabilities took a total of 81 million trips, spending US$58.7 billion on their travel alone, up from US$34.6 billion in 2015. Worldwide, Adventure Travel News found that individuals with disabilities spend US$95 billion annually on travel.

a photo of motivation

For most people with disabilities, travelling and exploring destinations looks quite inaccessible. It is a world of challenges to explore cities and experience their sights and sounds. The most common issues that differently-abled tourists encounter include the non-availability of adapted hotel rooms, insufficient airport transfers in wheelchairs and adapted toilets in public restrooms, and accessibility at restaurants, and most landmarks.

His Highness Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, President of Dubai Civil Aviation Authority, Chairman of Dubai Airports and Chairman and Chief Executive of Emirates Airline and Group and Summit Patron says insights, experiences and best practices shared at the Summit have been helping destinations become more accessible and friendly to People with Disabilities. Dubai’s Universal Design Code defines how buildings and transportation systems have to be designed, constructed and managed keeping them in mind. This came ahead of it hosting the first-ever World Expo in the MENASA region. After Dubai rolled out its US$8.7 trillion economic plans until 2033 to be one of the world’s Top 3 economic cities, accessibility is going to continue its focus for enhancement and improvement.

photo of a disabled person smiling
a person on a wheelchair

Accessible Tourism has remained a work in progress to ensure every tourist destination, product and service becomes accessible to everyone, regardless of physical limitations, disabilities or age. Making tourism more accessible is not only a social responsibility – the improved accessibility boosts competitiveness and impacts profits as well. The Conference has been helping the stakeholders discover how improving accessibility improves the travel and tourism businesses that witness intense competition, and how cities can remain socially responsible and sustainable destinations. The travel and tourism industry has been swiftly shifting to innovate and provide services that offer more inclusive opportunities for tourists with disabilities.
Accessible tourism in the future is going to be much more than a range of support to the long-excluded target groups – it is going to become a set of ground rules and codes of practice that will contribute to the overall inclusive tourism development.
It will be a win-win for all.


Ghassan Suleiman
Secretary General

About The Summit

Making tourism destinations accessible to all

Over a billion people in the world, including 50 million in the Middle East region, are experiencing various disabilities. The first global study of People with Disabilities identified barriers for them in tourist destinations which includes inaccessible facilities like airports, hotels, parks and beaches. With one in ten people worldwide living with a disability, travellers with disabilities now make up one of the fastest-growing tourism markets. Few countries, according to the first-ever World Report on Disability, have adequate mechanisms in place to respond to the needs of People with Disabilities.

Tapping the accessible tourism market is a key agenda for destinations, but it remained vastly unexplored. About 54 per cent of people with access requirements avoid going to new places if not accessible to them. The biggest challenge is finding accessible destinations that meet their special needs and heighten their travel experience. Over three million tourism businesses in Europe are not prepared to cater adequately to the accessibility market. By 2020, an additional 1.2 million enterprises in Europe alone needs to provide accessible services. The UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain have the largest population of people with access needs- above 10 million. In 2012, people with access needs took approximately 783 million trips (visits) within the EU. Demand is anticipated to grow to about 862 million trips (visits) per year by 2020.

For most people, tourism looks quite accessible and they tend to take for granted the ability to embark on a vacation anytime. However, it is a world of challenges for People with Disabilities to explore destinations and experience their sights and sounds. People with access needs have many of the same travel desires and behavioural patterns as other travellers. The most common issues that differently-abled tourists encounter include adapted hotel rooms, airport transfers, wheelchair access vehicles, adapted toilets in public restrooms, and accessible restaurants and coffee shops. To make a meaningful impact, Dubai has stepped in the efforts to make the world’s prime tourist spots accessible to all and friendly to People with Disabilities. The world’s second most-visited global tourist destination wants to be disability-friendly by 2020.

His Highness Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, President of Dubai Civil Aviation Authority, Chairman of Dubai Airports and Chairman and Chief Executive of Emirates Airline and Group and Summit Patron says insights, experiences and best practices will be shared at the Summit to make destinations more accessible to People with Disabilities. Dubai Strategic Plan 2021 strongly outlines this commitment. The Emirate is modifying more than a thousand buildings, including hotels and heritage sites, to make them accessible to all. Dubai Universal Design Code defines how buildings and transportation systems have to be designed, constructed and managed keeping in mind the People with Disabilities. The tourism industry is investing in developing inclusive facilities.

A host city for the first-ever World Expo in the MENASA region in 2020, accessibility remains top on the agenda in Dubai’s growth journey. Accessible Tourism is an ongoing endeavour to ensure tourist destinations, products and services are accessible to all people, regardless of their physical limitations, disabilities or age. Making tourism more accessible is not only a social responsibility – improving accessibility can boost the competitiveness of tourism.

The Dubai Summit will discover how improving the accessibility could improve the tourism-related businesses facing intense competition. And how a city can remain a socially responsible and sustainable destination. Dubai is focused on making the destination accessible to all, whatever the disabilities. The inaugural Dubai Summit will be focused on how well the emirate is headed and getting inspired from success stories from around the world.