Is Accessibility The Newest Tourism Development Hero?

by: Jake Steinman, Founder & CEO, TravelAbility Summit

I recently took part in the Destinations International Annual Convention in St. Louis, where one of its sessions focused on inclusivity/diversity as a market with future growth potential. While many organizations have expanded their efforts in the LGBTQ, Hispanic and African American markets in the past few decades, accessibility represents a massive growth opportunity for destination organizations - one that, until recently, seems to have been hiding in plain sight.

There is clearly a demand for accessible tourism - and it’s only going to keep growing:

  • IATA this year reported a 30 percent increase in airport wheelchair requests during 2017.
  • Adaptive technologies and products have emerged - and this cottage industry could be a huge resource for hotels, airports, or attractions who want to become more accessible.

But, there’s no distribution channel to the tour and travel industry.  

That’s why we created the TravelAbility Summit. It will serve as a bridge between the disability community and destinations whose industry partners rely on them for trend information that will affect their future business.  So, what’s the next step?

Transitioning from Marketing to Managing

Several Destinations International Annual Convention sessions suggested that destination organization “marketers” need to evolve to become destination “managers” if they are to be relevant in the future. This means developing new product that will appeal to locals as well as visitors. It’s a new approach to product development that will not rely on the traditional destination organization “Field of Dreams” approach: Build it and they will come. Not only is luring visitors with new attractions, convention centers, and eclectic themed museums costly, projects can take years to realize. Equally frustrating is the fact that tourists can be fickle -always looking for the next big thing. A project you spent years on (untangling red tape, building community support and helping to facilitate funding) is suddenly what I like to call a nothing-burger. Not appetizing enough to amount to much of anything.

Creating Accessibility Product at Low Cost

The market is already there - in plain sight. And there are already accessible features at hotels, attractions, restaurants and in ground transportation. They just need to be researched and organized as an accessible section on your website and promoted with the right kind of targeting. Accessibility can often be enhanced through incremental and low cost or free steps in design or training that can make hotels and attractions serve disabled visitors better. Here are a few examples:

  • Stepless Light makes a portable ramp for $71 that can be used by hotels who lack full ramp capabilities.
  • And, as for customer service, travel companies are not hardware stores; they’re in the hospitality industry where service is the differentiator. The Beaches at Ft. Myers/Sanibel CVB has embedded a disability module into their customer service training programs for its hotels and attractions.

The sooner a destination is accessible for today’s travelers with a disability, the sooner they will also be ready for the 75 million Baby Boomers who are expected to age into a disability over the next 20 years and who will be seeking out destinations that cater to their needs. Will you be ready?

Getting in the Game with Forward-Thinking Destination Organizations

To design content for the TravelAbility Summit, our team conducted a three-month listening tour and uncovered examples of destinations who have begun to develop product that can be targeted to segments of the disability community, often at a fairly low cost. Here are a few examples of destination organizations accessibility product development:

  • Autism is all about families and Marc Garcia of Visit Mesa worked with IBCCES, a prominent autism certification organization, to be the first destination orgazniation to become autism certified.
  • Fred Dixon of New York City & Co developed an accessibility guide for all five boroughs on their website.
  • Mary Kay Vrba of Dutchess County, NY, crafted a simple downloadable booklet that got to the heart of the matter—titled Think Differently, it asked towns to take a pledge that they would make accessibility a priority in their communities. It was signed by 60 local leaders at last count.
  • Mark Everton of Visit Oakland held a disability tourism workshop, led by a disabled former travel agency owner, that was attended by 40 hotels, attractions and restaurants.

Forging Ahead: A 4-Step Plan

  1. Research current accessibility assets
  2. Convene a meeting with local disability organizations
  3. Hold an “Accessibility Workshop” for your industry
  4. Include Accessibility modules in your customer service training initiatives.

To jumpstart the process, consider taking part in the TravelAbility Summit Nov. 12-13 in San Francisco.

About the Author

Jake Steinman
Founder & CEO
TravelAbility Summit
Jake is the founder of TravelAbility Summit, a division of North American Journeys, producers of the RTO Summits, Active America China and eTourism Summit, as well as the Inbound Report and TourOperatorland, which were recently acquired by Connect Travel. TravelAbility Summit will bring together the leaders of the travel industry with the key influencers in the disability to help make destinations "Accessible Ready.""