Accessible travel has long been seen as an industry niche — one that’s often relegated to the backburner. But in recent years, tourism professionals are putting renewed focus on accessibility, both in their infrastructure and in their marketing efforts.
And while tourism has made encouraging strides in becoming more accessible to all travelers, many destination organizations are still playing catchup when it comes to how they communicate about these accessibility efforts. And that means they might be missing out on a fast-growing number of potential travelers.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, up to 1 in 4 adults in the United States have some type of disability. But that’s not slowing them down. Travelers with disabilities are going on leisure trips with nearly the same frequency as those without mobility issues and spending a total of $58.2 billion per year on travel.
But accessibility is about so much more than capturing a market segment. It’s about making real steps toward becoming a more inclusive industry, one that is truly open and welcoming to each and every traveler.
Here's how destinations can demonstrate their commitment to accessibility through your marketing efforts.
Consider all your channels
When it comes to accessibility, your destination’s website is likely a big area of focus. But you can’t forget to consider all of your destination’s platforms, from Tweets and TikToks to email marketing campaigns and beyond. Here are some questions to consider for each channel:
- Are users with accessibility devices able to quickly and easily navigate through your website?
- Is the flow of the site clear and predictable?
- Are actions clearly labeled and easy to understand?
- Are all features on your website functional for all users? Interactive/multimedia elements, such as forms and maps, are common sticking points.
- Is your content formatted in a way that works for screen readers and other accessibility devices?
- Are your hyperlinks clear and descriptive?
- Is your text readable and easy to perceive? Font choice, text size, spacing, and color contrast are all areas that can affect readability.
- Is your video content accessible?
- Do they follow best practices for alternative text, captions, and audio descriptions?
- Are you using social media accessibility guidelines, including alternative text for images, video captions, emoji use, etc.?
- Is your email template fully accessible?
- Are you mindful of alt text, color contrast, descriptive link text, and other accessibility standards? Be aware of any email attachments or embedded media as well.
- Is your font and text size easy to read?
- Are you able to offer large text or braille versions for travelers with visual impairments?
Take the time to do a thorough audit of all your channels and their current level of accessibility. Ask yourself two key questions: Is this channel fully accessible and following all best practices? And how am I using this channel to spread information about accessibility at my destination?
Know when to bring in the experts
Despite our best efforts, not every destination marketer is an expert in accessibility. And that’s okay! Accessibility is so multifaceted — it affects almost every aspect of a destination’s digital and physical experience — that it’s extremely difficult to keep up with the many nuances and changing recommendations.
That’s why it’s important to know when to call in the pros. There are tons of organizations out there, both local and national, that specialize in helping companies level up their accessibility efforts. This can include technical behind-the-scenes updates or guidance on your consumer-facing messaging.
For example, Choose Chicago partnered with Access Living, a locally based advocacy group, to collaborate on holistic improvements to their website's accessibility.
“Our collaboration with Access Living has been invaluable for our accessibility efforts,” says Jason Lesniewicz, Choose Chicago’s Senior Director of Cultural Tourism. “They were able to offer detailed guidance on every aspect of our accessibility content, from specific messaging to website functionality, to help us ensure the most inclusive, seamless experience for everyone who needs to access this vital information.”
The partnership resulted in key improvements to Choose Chicago’s Accessibility content hub, including the type of information that is shared and how it's presented. And back-end improvements created a solid technical foundation and ensured a seamless experience for every user.
Choose Chicago also recently hosted an educational event for their partners that featured a panel of experts from the disability space. The panelists shared insights into travel data and trends and offered guidance on how the hospitality industry can provide exceptional guest experiences for people with disabilities.
When it comes to incorporating accessibility into your marketing, it’s important to know when to tap into subject matter experts. If you feel like your destination is falling behind when it comes to accessibility standards, it might be time to bring in the pros.
Honor first-hand experiences
The disability experience is extraordinarily diverse. It’s different for every individual, which is why it’s important to represent a variety of these experiences in your marketing efforts.
The best way to do that? Working with the people who encounter accessibility first-hand in their everyday lives. Incorporating these perspectives into your marketing efforts will not only make these communications more authentic, but more helpful to potential travelers.
For example, New York City Tourism + Conventions does an excellent job putting the lived experiences of disabled people (and their travel companions) at the forefront.
Their accessibility hub, Accessible NYC, features a video from disability advocate Lakshmee Lachhman-Persad and her sister, Annie, who is a wheelchair user. Not only does the content do a great job sharing helpful mobility tips, but it acknowledges the city's accessibility limitations while highlighting what it does well. Most importantly, it centers Lakshmee and Annie’s experiences and perspectives.
Not only is content like this a great way to increase representation in your marketing, but it will also bring in a more accurate, multi-faceted depiction of what accessibility means at your destination. No matter how familiar you are with the accessibility space, there will always be something to learn from hearing about people’s perspectives.
How to Explore NYC with a Wheelchair
Prioritize meaningful representation
While many disabilities are invisible, mobility devices and other physical aspects of a disability are a part of everyday life for many. As a part of your diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, it’s important to be cognizant of how people with disabilities are represented in your marketing. If you find that they’re largely absent from your current strategy, here’s how to begin fixing that:
- Invite influencers and media members with disabilities to participate in FAM visits and experiences.
- Find models (or just regular locals) with mobility devices or other accessibility needs for photo and video shoots.
- Identify writers with disabilities to help create blogs, videos, and other related content
The key is that this collateral shouldn’t just be used on your specific accessibility content. To be truly equitable, people with disabilities should be visible and represented across all your marketing efforts no matter the topic or audience.
Hone in on a differentiator
Just like with any strategic marketing effort, you need to know what sets you apart. Find out where your destination excels when it comes to accessibility. Or, identify a gap in the market and see how you can up your accessibility game to fill it.
For instance, Visit Myrtle Beach has been making a concentrated effort to become the go-to vacation spot for individuals with autism. Here are just a few ways they’re positioning Myrtle Beach as the nation’s top autism-friendly destination:
- Became the first autism-friendly certified destination in the country via the Champion Autism Network
- Creating and promoting sensory-friendly experiences, including attractions, restaurants, hotels, and more
- Offering perks like preferred entrances to attractions and travel discounts at local businesses
- Hosting trainings to help staff at attractions learn how to respond to autism/sensory needs
- Launched the Sunflower Lanyard Program at Myrtle Beach International Airport to help travelers with autism alert airport staff that they may require additional assistance
- Offering cards for families to display at participating restaurants and attractions, notifying them that a family member has autism
While Myrtle Beach is going above and beyond in their accessibility efforts, there are plenty of ways other destinations can implement these types of ideas on a smaller scale.
The first step is to identify the areas where your destination excels at accessibility. Maybe you have excellent public transit, theaters with audio-described performances, wheelchair-friendly beaches, museums with sensory-friendly exhibits — whatever it is, find your niche and let the world know.
Make it easy for your audience
When asked how travel destinations can better attract visitors with mobility disabilities, 8 in 10 travelers cited increased information on accessibility available prior to visiting and the promotion of accessible lodging options by the destination.
That means not only do you need a wealth of accessibility information available, you also need to remove any potential barriers to make this content easy to find and navigate.
- Create a digital hub for your accessibility content so that users can find all the information they might need in one place.
- Make it easy to navigate to this content hub by adding links from the main navigation or other prominent places. We love how Visit Indy has an eye-catching accessibility button embedded into the main header throughout their site.
- Add filters to your search pages that allow users to search for accessibility features (like wheelchair-friendly, sensory-friendly, and more)
- Allow partners to showcase their different accessibility features in their listings. Adding icons for each feature can make it easy for users to quickly scan the information to find what they need.
Accessibility has been a long neglected topic across industries, with travel being no exception. It’s been so encouraging to see DMOs step up their game in recent years, but we’re also aware that there’s a long way to go before our industry is truly inclusive for people with disabilities. We hope these tips are helpful during your destination’s accessibility journey and we can continue to learn and grow in this space together.