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Planning Retirement Online

Accessibility: levelling the playing field for senior tourists

A perspective from inside the Travel Industry

At the World Travel Market in London a panel discussion on accessible tourism included panellists from around the world, among them Paralympian Ade Adepitan. The participants expressed their frustration at the slow pace of change in levelling the playing field for travellers with disabilities, starting with those with physical limitations or consigned to a wheelchair. What was striking, however, was the way in which this segment of the market was still perceived as requiring extensive attention by ‘generalist’ travel and tourism operators. Perhaps this is the reason why, in contrast, operators of solutions in the senior space are generally better positioned to cater for the accessibility and disability market.

A focus on the senior market equips a business to deal with the individuality that the demographic requires: clients with specific medical requirements, habits and preferences acquired over a lifetime, dietary special needs, a greater likelihood of allergies and skin ailments, medicines management needs, and accessibility needs, among others. Making sure, for example, that seniors are not taking medicines which may be in conflict with one another, is a basic medical service for guests or residents. Providing appropriate infrastructure and facilities for disabled or wheelchair users forms part of a sensible solution which broadens inclusion, both within the senior segment and beyond.

The interesting thing, as the owner of a completely adapted site in Brazil pointed out, is that accessible facilities have increased the appeal of his site and much more revenue has been generated by the families and friends of disabled guests, than by any wheelchair user.

Response and interest from the market to fully accessible sites is high. For a business focussed on the 50+ market, simple single-floor or accessible multi-floor accommodation is the logical choice. As the general market begins to understand the benefits of accessible accommodation to the general public, it will be interesting to observe whether owners and developers opt for a retrofit of existing (unsuitable, typically double-storey) accommodation or the development of fit-for purpose accommodation.

A site’s accessibility credentials should include the number of rooms prepared for disabled or wheelchair access, elevators and ramps (including to indoor and outdoor pools, terraces and all public areas), wide doors, fully prepared bathrooms and showers with rails and support bars, sensor activated sliding doors and lighting, and accessibility equipment rental. An immediate challenge is to create a network of services which cover the ground between the location and the guests’ point of arrival or departure, and partnerships with a specialist accessible transportation company, for example, are key.

While airlines already provide support in the form of wheelchairs and assistance to disabled users, often the support ends as soon as the traveller enters the airport terminal. A network of accessibility partners, often part of regional networks such as the European Network for Accessible Tourism (ENAT), makes it easier for travellers with mobility or accessibility needs to more easily find suitable suppliers.

Service-based solutions are also helping the process, ensuring that accessibility information, including any limitations, is more readily available. Accessibility statements, better designed web sites, and in-situ signage, all help to make the experience of guests with disabilities as similar as possible to visitors who are not disabled.

To paraphrase Paralympian Ade Adepitan:

“There is an £8.5 billion market out there. Catering for the accessibility segment of the market is not simply a question of ensuring all travellers are treated fairly, but it makes sound business sense. Foolish is the business which ignores the potential of this vast market, avid for travel and for new experiences!”

Contact, call 0208 144 7558 for more information or e-mail

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