The European Commission Enterprise and Industry magazine reports that barrier-free travel is a win-win for society and EU tourism. Making tourism more accessible is essential to the development of new markets and services that will help Europe’s tourism industry thrive. By making basic adjustments to facilities and information services, senior citizens and travellers with special access needs will promote equal opportunities, social inclusion, and boost the tourism industry.
Senior citizens and people with special needs have the desire and the right to travel like everyone else. However, their travel experiences are often restricted by physical barriers such as transportation constraints, inaccessible accommodation and tourism sites and a general lack of information. Senior citizens are an essential element to the European tourism industry. Currently, more than 128 million Europeans are between 55 and 80 years old, and according to current demographic trends, this proportion is expected to increase. However, the potential for senior travel has not yet been fully exploited: Only 41 % of seniors between 55 and 75 currently travel. Tourism authorities, as well as industry and senior organisations, are being encouraged to engage in a stronger public-private partnership. In this context, the Commission is preparing to launch an initiative, ‘Europe, the best destination for seniors’, which is designed to increase the flow of senior tourists, particularly during the low and medium seasons, between countries both inside and outside the EU.
According to the World Health Organization/World Bank, an estimated one billion people in the world live with disabilities. Together with their families, that means approximately a third of the world’s population is directly or indirectly affected by disability. Many people have access needs, whether or not related to a physical condition (e.g. wheelchair users, visual, hearing impairment, allergies). For example, older and less mobile people or people with pushchairs have access needs, which can become a huge obstacle when going on holiday. For those people, travelling can be a real challenge, as finding the information on accessible services, checking luggage on a plane, booking a room with special access needs often prove to be difficult, costly and time consuming.
In order to promote accessible tourism, the Commission this year (2013), dedicated European Destinations of Excellence (EDEN) awards 2013 to locations that excel in accessible tourism. Destinations in 19 countries were recognised for their efforts in developing accessible tourism offers. In addition, barriers that restrict travel within or to Europe are being lifted. The EU boasts a comprehensive set of passenger rights which apply regardless of the transport used.
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