If you are one of the millions of people around the world who have the time and the resources to travel, but who have physical restrictions or are disabled, you are not alone. Today you are part of a growing trend of travellers.
The travel and tourism market for people with physical restrictions or disabilities is now at €100 billion and set to develop even more strongly, according to Lilian Müller, president of the European Network for Accessible Tourism (ENAT).
“People with disabilities or reduced mobility want to travel just like everyone else. They don’t want to stay at home”, says Müller.
In Europe alone, there are 80 million people with disabilities, according to the ITB World Travel Trends Report. Add their travel companions and the ‘accessible tourism’ market involves an estimated 133 million people.
Worldwide, the number is estimated at between 600 and 900 million out of a total world population of seven billion. These figures mean that roughly 10% of the population needs ‘barrier-free’ or ‘accessible’ travel, according to the ITB report. And that number is set to grow with the increasing age of the population.
In Europe, the proportion of people over 65 with long-term medical conditions and disabilities already lies at 42% for women and 30% for men, according to the report.
Although there have been some improvements around the world in improved accessibility for people with disabilities or restrictions, much more needs to be done if the travel industry wants to capitalise on this growing market.
“It’s a good idea to invest in tomorrow’s consumers,” says Müller.
It may become even more than a good idea as the sector faces new legal obligations in terms of accessibility.
More than 140 countries, for example, 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 to all citizens, including in the travel and tourism sector.
The ENAT president stressed that making tourism more accessible was not just about widening doorways, but also about covering all parts of the value chain, including providing better information about accessibility during travel and at destination, as well as more user-friendly services for people who require access assistance.
“This means that there will be some considerable improvements in the years to come for travellers who are disabled or who have accessibility restrictions,” says Garry Nelson, Head of Group Marketing at AllClear Insurance, which provides travel insurance for people with pre-existing medical conditions or disabilities. “This will allow them to do the things they want to do with much greater ease and flexibility.”
Although Müller is concerned that “marketing of accessible tourism is not functioning equally well in all countries and regions of Europe,” she feels economic and social factors will require greater attention to this market in the future.
“We believe everyone deserves the right to travel. But, if you have a disability or a pre-existing medical condition and are looking to go abroad, it is important to declare this on your travel insurance to ensure you are comprehensively covered and can travel with peace of mind” Says AllClear’s Garry Nelson.
Plan your travel
The UK Government advises travellers who are disabled or who have limited physical ability to do a few simple things when planning their travel:
1) Ensure you have comprehensive travel insurance that is appropriate to your needs;
2) Research your destination and the facilities and transport options;
3) Consult widely, including good guidebooks, UK disability organisations, the Embassy/High Commission of the country you are planning to visit, specialist tour operators or tourism boards;
4) Check out the UK government’s country travel advice, which is available here;
5) When contacting holiday providers, airlines, hotel and the like, clearly state your needs and the assistance you require;
6) Check out the Association of British Travel Agents checklist for Disabled and Less Mobile Passengers;
7) Confirm enquiries, bookings and reservations in writing and double check before departing;
8) Discuss your preferred means of communication with your travel organiser.
ITB World Travel Trends Report 2012/2013, prepared by IPK International on behalf of ITB Berlin
Americans with Disabilities Act, US Dept. of Labor
UK Government, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Foreign travel for disabled people
Association of British Travel Agents checklist for Disabled and Less Mobile Passengers