Why should age, mobility issues or any disability be an obstacle to people who wish to travel and enjoy the good things in life?

According to Melissa James, founder and CEO of Inclusive Tourism, it shouldn’t. “Take the baby boomers for example. They’re retiring and it’s estimated 40% of them will have some sort of disability. They’re still active, travelling and wanting to have fun. They just need to know the places they are going are suitable for them.”

The holiday planning process becomes a lot more complex when you or someone in your group has a disability. With one in five Australians fitting into this category, more and more people need to consider the level of accessibility businesses offer.  

The accommodation is important, but it is just the tip of the iceberg. You also need to know how you will be able to get to your destination and once you’re there, what activities you can do, where you can go to eat and where you can hire any equipment you might need.

The sector of the tourism market that caters to this demographic is called Accessible Tourism, and it’s growing so fast that it’s set to make up 25% of the tourism market worldwide by 2020. In dollar terms, that’s worth over $8 billion in domestic tourism alone. Yet it is arguably the most misunderstood and underserved sector of the market today.  

A common misconception about this market is that it’s all about wheelchairs, wide doors and ramps when it’s actually only 7% of travellers that require that level of accessibility.   

“I often have people tell me they only have one accessible room in their motel.” says Melissa. “Yes, wheelchair accessibility is a part of it, and providing that level of access is fantastic – but it’s not the be all and end all. If you have ground floor units with walk in shower recesses all you need to do is install grab rails into the bathroom and now they’re accessible to someone who just needs a little help to balance.  

If a restaurant or café kept a large print menu or two on hand, someone with vision impairment will really appreciate it. These are both simple low cost changes that can make all the difference and will allow businesses to better cater to a broader range of people.

The next step to making planning easier for travellers is to make all the information readily available in one place. CanGoEverywhere.com.au has been designed to do just that. The idea behind it is to enable travellers to enter their destination into the search engine and have it come back with a range of accessible options. Places to stay, eat and play. And most importantly, detailed information on the level of access these businesses provide. Every person’s disability is different, and every person’s requirements are different, so providing details that allow them to make more informed decisions is the key.  

Many people would also say the best thing about their holiday experience was the service they received. It might be the extra bit of support you needed, or the big friendly smile as you arrived. It’s the icing on the cake; it’s the thing you remember the most. And you’ll probably tell your friends and family all about it.

But what if you’re in the most beautiful hotel in the world and the receptionist doesn’t know how to communicate with you, so chooses to ignore you altogether? Or you might be travelling with your service dog and the Taxi driver refuses to let you into his cab. It can all turn sour very quickly and it will probably ruin your day, if not your entire holiday experience.  

And so perhaps the final step to making accessible tourism truly accessible is to have properly trained staff. They might be very good at providing service in general, but if they are not disability aware, chances are they won’t be able to provide the best level of service to all their guests.

Having staff undertake disability awareness training need not be a difficult task. It really should be something that anyone dealing with the public goes through. Ideally it would be included as part of their induction training.  

There are many options for delivering such training, including face to face workshops and even online programs like the one offered by Inclusive Tourism. It covers all the basics and takes less than an hour to complete. And once they’ve done it, the receptionist won’t ignore you, the taxi driver will welcome both you and your dog and you’ll be talking about what a great holiday you’ve had!

Inclusive Tourism

You can find more on Inclusive Tourism here.

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