Read about the importance and benefits of accessible tourism and what is being done globally to pave the way to accessibility. Find out what makes a destination accessible and discover how Spain is promoting accessibility and catering to the diverse needs of its citizens and visitors.
Accessible Tourism – why is it important?
In 2023, an estimated 1.3 billion people – 16% of the global population – are living with “significant disability”, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The term “disability” is wide-ranging: it covers physical impairment leading to reduced mobility; sensory impairment, such as diminished vision or hearing; mental health disorders; and temporary or invisible disabilities, such as injury, a heart condition or breathing difficulties. In line with the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities of 2006, it is considered a human right that every individual should have access to tourist destinations, transport, information and communications channels, activities, accommodation, services and products, regardless of their disabilities.
Paving the way to accessibility
The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), in collaboration with the Spanish National Organisation of the Blind (Fundación ONCE) and the European Network for Accessible Tourism (ENAT), has produced manuals on Recommendations on Accessible Tourism for All, a framework to guide tourism stakeholders in their accessibility strategies, which was adopted by the UNWTO General Assembly Resolution in 2013.
The Accessible Tourism Destination was launched in 2019 by UNWTO and ONCE, to acknowledge and promote accessible tourism destinations. At this first edition, Portugal was awarded the distinction, with Barcelona and the Indian city of Thrissur receiving a special mention. Since then, the initiative has been on hold due to the pandemic. Although these awards are not formal certification of accessibility, they give due recognition to destinations which show their commitment to improving accessibility.
In November 2023, UNWTO and the Government of the Republic of San Marino will be staging the TOURISM FOR ALL International Conference on Accessible Tourism. This will be an opportunity for public and private sector entities to discuss the global accessibility agenda in the tourism industry, focussing on policy, innovation, accessibility strategies and standards, the market potential of accessible tourism, and its role in ensuring service excellence and life quality.
What are the benefits of accessible tourism?
Making tourism accessible benefits not only travellers with disabilities but also the tourism industry and society as a whole. By enabling people of all abilities to travel and participate in tourist activities, accessible tourism promotes equal rights and inclusivity, helps people with disabilities feel included and empowered and can contribute to breaking down societal barriers and stereotypes. Increasing awareness of the challenges faced by people with disabilities can lead to increased empathy and understanding by the general public.
By catering to the needs of people with disabilities, the tourism industry can tap into a growing market. Businesses and destinations that prioritise accessibility can enhance their reputation and brand image as inclusive and socially responsible entities, leading to increased customer satisfaction, word-of-mouth promotion, positive reviews and repeat business. Finding innovative solutions to design accessible facilities and services can lead to creative developments in the industry.
Accessible tourism can have a positive impact on local economies, with increased revenue from additional facilities and services provided for people with disabilities. Collaboration between stakeholders in the tourism industry to promote accessibility can lead to mutually beneficial partnerships and information-sharing. As societies age, it is becoming increasingly important for tourist destinations and urban areas in general to provide accessible and inclusive infrastructure and amenities to ensure long-term growth. Moreover, any type of infrastructure, building, environment, service or product which follows the principles of universal design not only benefits people with disabilities but also improves the overall travel experience for everyone.