Lilian Müller, president of the European Network for Accessible Tourism (ENAT), told the 20th World Travel Monitor Forum in Pisa Italy that while millions of people around the world want to travel and have the time and money to do so, they are forced to stay at home because of insufficient facilities. However, with improved accessibility, the €100 billion travel and tourism market for people with disabilities or physical restrictions could develop strongly. She added that given world population aging, this neglected market will inevitably grow in importance in coming years. According to research in Europe alone, there are 80 million people with disabilities. When travel companions are included, the potential size of the “accessible tourism” market is estimated at 133 million people, the Swedish expert said. In the UK, disabled visitors (about 11% of all visitors) contributed almost £2 billion to the British domestic visitor economy in 2009, while in Australia, about 11% of visitors are disabled and contributing up to 16% of tourism GDP and sustaining up to 17% of jobs in the tourism sector. In Germany, the direct turnover generated by disabled travellers is estimated at €2.5 billion, and rises to €4.8 billion when including indirect effects. However, in that country, 37% of disabled people decided not to travel in the past due to a lack of accessible facilities, 48% would travel more frequently if these were available and 60% would be ready to pay higher travel costs for improved accessibility. Worldwide, 10% of the population needs “barrier free” or “accessible” travel.
“People with disabilities or reduced mobility want to travel just like everyone else. They don’t want to stay at home,” Müller said. The travel and tourism industry should therefore recognise them as an important customer group both now and in future. “It’s a good idea to invest in tomorrow’s consumers,” she commented. Disabled people are also significant because they tend to be loyal to a destination, staying longer and spending more if their needs are met. In addition, the sector is facing new legal obligations in terms of access, Müller pointed out. More than 140 countries have signed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, while the European Commission is planning an EU Accessibility Act that would oblige member states to ensure equal access to goods and services, including travel and tourism, for all citizens.
The ENAT president stressed that accessible tourism has to cover all parts of the value chain, from better information and booking, transportation, through to facilities at the destination, including accommodation, catering and activities, as well as tourism services. This is not a niche market any longer; accessibility must be part of all offers and tourism products but there will also be a continuing need in the market for specialised suppliers who can provide services for customers with higher level access requirements, she emphasised. One important area in future will be to make travel and tourism information more accessible on the internet, for example for blind and deaf people. But tourist board websites generally fail on this front, according to an ENAT survey. Only 10 out of 39 NTO websites complied with web accessibility criteria in a 2011. More than half failed to provide accessibility information.