Accessible Tourism in Spain: Enhancing Travel for All

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Accessible Tourism


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.

Madrid Smart City
Malaga, Spain

What makes a destination accessible?


Accessible tourism for all requires collaboration between all stakeholders – government bodies and the private sector. It requires working together with disability organisations, advocacy groups and disabled people themselves to understand their needs and challenges and to create and promote accessible tourism programmes and initiatives. Inclusive or universal design, assistance services and staff training are key points to take into account when making an environment accessible.


Inclusive Design


Tourist infrastructure, services and activities should be designed or modified in a way that can be used safely and easily by people with disabilities. Some of the main areas to consider are:


  1. Public buildings: ease of access to public buildings and free movement once inside are crucial, especially for anyone with reduced mobility or visual impairments. Accessibility features include:
    • Dropped kerbs, level access or ramps, wider doorways, and automatic sliding doors with sensors, a pressure mat or appropriately placed illuminated push button.
    • Ideally interiors should have a compact layout which minimise walking distances, but which allows enough space for wheelchair or mobility scooter users.
    • Adapted lifts, accessible toilets, tactile systems and audio guides improve accessibility within buildings.
    • Emergency exit routes must be clearly indicated, and flashing warning lights should accompany alarms, with announcements available in audio and visual form.
  2. Signage: signs are vital for conveying information and so must be modified to be accessible for various disabilities:
    • Placement of signs must consider viewing distance as well as lower eye level needs for wheelchair users.
    • Signs must be clear, using easy to understand language, an appropriate size font, with good tonal and colour contrast or embossed print for visually impaired people.
  3. Lighting: good lighting is crucial for people to be able to see signs and other information systems, but also to move freely, avoiding hazards or obstacles, and to feel safe.
    • Natural lighting is the ideal, but when this is not possible, the use of downlights and ambient lighting can help to avoid glare, reflection and shadows, which can be hazardous or can make it difficult to see visual information.
  4. Public transport: incorporation of well-designed accessibility features in public transport buildings and vehicles provides those with a disability greater independence to travel.
    • Train stations and trains:

– Tactile paving and tapping rails for visually impaired people can be incorporated to indicate safe areas to walk and stand.

– Service counters should be at an accessible height for wheelchair users with enough knee space, or with support handrails either side. Other useful features include hearing loops, non-reflective glass screens for people who lip-read or rely on facial gestures, and accessible intercom.

– Ticket vending machines should be simple, within reach for wheelchair access, with an audio function, clear buttons, large font size, and tonal and colour contrast. A special assistance option can link to a contact centre where agents can help with ticket purchase.

– Staff help points at stations should be height-accessible, clearly signposted and continually attended by dedicated, trained employees.

– Trains: accessible features include clearly labelled priority seating for disabled passengers, maps in braille and audio, braille on control buttons and large print text and contrasting tonal and colour scheme indicating handrails and doors. Step-free access and electric ramps can facilitate independent boarding and getting off trains.

  • Airports:

– Mobility: wheelchair access through airports and transport chairs or buggy services are especially important in large airports where longer walking distances can be inaccessible for those with disabilities.

– Parking: disabled parking in airport car parks should be close to and with easy level access to terminal entrances.

– Information: alternative ways of conveying important travel information are essential for a disabled person to feel confident when travelling. Wheelchair-accessible telephones, assistive listening systems, and pagers for communicating delays and boarding times are just some of the features that can be incorporated that make all the difference.

– Seating: reserved seating, with space for wheelchairs and a variety of adapted seats for different needs are essential for the often extended waiting periods at airports. Provision of quiet lounges for passengers with anxiety and sensory issues is also invaluable.

– Assistance: dedicated assistance services are becoming increasingly available in airports, including wheelchair escorts. For those with hidden disabilities, cards and lanyards can be provided to discretely indicate impairments to airport staff.

-Specialist equipment for boarding and disembarking aeroplanes includes ramps and mobile boarding bridges for step-free access.

  • Buses:

– Adapted, wheelchair-friendly vehicles with clearly marked disabled seating are indispensable and standard regulation in new buses.

– Raised bus boarding areas can be incorporated so that wheelchair users can board without a ramp.

– Information: aids include automatic on-bus announcements, clear, large-print timetables, and audio (voice-activated information systems) and visual information.

  • Other facilities:

Seating: ideally there should be a mix of perch seats and wall-mounted seats and chairs, and tables for wheelchair users with sufficient space to manoeuvre between them.

Toilets: non-gender-specific accessible toilets allow helpers or family members of the opposite sex to gain access. Adapted changing rooms should have a height-adjustable bench and hoist, support rails, emergency alarm cord, and matt and mid-sheen finishes for surfaces to maximise colour differentiation.

Assistance dogs: specially trained dogs are used not only by blind or visually impaired people, but also by those with hearing loss, epilepsy, diabetes, physical mobility problems and much more. Tourist businesses should make allowances for these animals and allow them onto their premises. In public transport buildings, there should be designated secure areas for service dogs. On trains, display cards can be provided to alert other passengers that the space around and under the seat should be kept clear for an assistance dog.

  1. Accommodation, restaurants and tourist sites:
    • Hotels, guesthouses and self-catering accommodation can make modifications to improve accessibility, including wider doorways, grab bars, lower countertops and beds, telephones with large buttons, and visual and vibrating alarms.
    • Tourist attractions and activities should consider accessibility needs and provide adapted pathways, exhibits, and amenities to accommodate people with disabilities. Access to information can include offering brochures and websites in multiple formats (e.g. braille, large print), using easy-to-understand language, and incorporating sign language interpretation.


  1. Information and communications technology (ICT): there are many ways that ICT is improving accessibility.Some of these systems include:
    • Touchscreens: these should be user-friendly and intuitive, legible, with clear language, large icons, high contrast fonts, audible output, and help instructions. Their design should allow for a high tolerance for errors and easy correction. For people with motor impairments, accessibility can be enabled through commands that can be entered by voice or by devices such as mouth- or headsticks.
    • Contactless ticketing: systems designed for accessibility include braille or raised numbers and lettering on tickets, as well as appropriate positioning of ticket machines and card readers.
    • Real-time information (RTI): RTI systems can provide passengers with accurate and up-to-date information via electronic display boards. Digital signage can be made more accessible through adapted display design and placement, as well as via talking display systems, which trigger announcements from boards based on proximity and can be controlled using an app or other trigger device.
    • Wayfinding systems: these technologies are fundamental for disabled people to navigate unfamiliar environments with ease and autonomy. Goodmaps uses state-of-the-art LiDAR imaging and highly accurate camera positioning to enable smartphone location and orientation. LiDAR – an acronym for ‘light detection and ranging’ – uses laser beams to precisely measure distance and movement. Audio signage solutions, such as audio beacons, are particularly useful for helping visually impaired people find their way in indoor and outdoor environments. Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons, which can interact with smartphones without the need for additional infrastructure, broadcast short messages and enable smartphones to estimate distance to the beacon based on radio signal strength.


Assistance services and staff training


For disabled people to have equal access to travel, it is crucial that there be dedicated, trained staff on hand to provide appropriate assistance and support. Businesses in the tourism industry could provide free workshops to provide their staff with the required knowledge and skills in accessible and inclusive tourism. This should include basic disability awareness to understand visible and hidden disabilities, learn the appropriate language of disability, improve communication skills (i.e. using soft tones and a clear voice), match the pace of disabled guests, and generally to improve staff confidence in providing the right kind of special care, attention and respect.

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Accessibility in Spain


According to the National Statistics Institute (Instituto Nacional de Estadística – INE), there were 4.38 million people with some degree of disability in Spain in 2020. Spain has shown its commitment to making the country accessible not only to its citizens but also to every visitor, with many initiatives and programmes aimed at enhancing accessibility and providing guides and information on accessible transport, accommodation and facilities.


The Spanish government has earmarked 167 million euros for its “Spain is Accessible” (España País Accesible) plan, which aims not only to ensure universal accessibility but also to generate jobs for people with disabilities.


Accessibilitas is a digital platform supported by ONCE and the Royal Patronage for Disabilities (Real Patronato sobre Discapacidad) which promotes universal design and accessibility, providing information on technical and legal regulations, guidelines, multimedia materials, conferences and workshops, best practices, news and much more. The platform is aimed at all individuals and companies interested in contributing to accessibility, with premium membership for public administrations, universities and non-profit organisations.


The Spanish Network for Accessible Tourism (Red Estable) is an association that brings together more than 100 member companies working towards improving accessibility in the tourism industry and promoting accessible tourism in Spain.


The TUR4all project started in 2012 as a website and app providing information about accessible tourism establishments in Spain. Over the years, its growing community of users have collaborated to create a huge accessible tourism resource database with versions in 10 languages, not only including recommendations for other users but also providing tourism authorities, businesses and other stakeholders with valuable input from tourists with accessibility needs, as well as extending its reach to other countries.


How accessible is Spain?


Adapting public infrastructure, transport, buildings and services is a work in progress in Spain. All new public works are now required to adhere to accessibility regulations and laws. However, older constructions and public transport networks still need modification to ensure they are accessible. Some of the measures successfully implemented are as follows:


All airports in Spain provide assistance on request for people with physical or mental impairments, with dedicated trained members of staff on hand to assist through all airport procedures. AENA, the state-owned airport service provider which manages 46 airports and two heliports in Spain, provide their “Sin Barreras” (barrier-free) assistance service, which can be booked online, by phone or by using their app.


The Accessible Airport Award is the result of a Memorandum of Understanding signed between the European Disability Forum (EDF) and the Airports Council International (ACI-Europe) in 2016. It recognizes European airports that have achieved a high level of accessibility and excellence in the range and quality of assistance services for people with disabilities. The clear winner for 2023 was Alicante Airport, specifically for leveraging technology to develop innovative solutions for persons with reduced mobility (PRM). Initiatives include direct assistance services, wheelchair charging stations, navigation apps for visually impaired people, and designated PRM lanes for security and passport controls. There are also plans to build a sensory room for travellers with hidden disabilities.


Spanish railway stations are increasingly working towards better accessibility, by installing ramps and lifts, and providing assistive devices for visually or hearing impaired travellers. Additionally, RENFE – Spain’s main rail operator – offers a free assistance service for people with disabilities or reduced mobility, managed by the state-owned rail infrastructure administrator ADIF, providing information and support at stations. The ADIF Acerca service is currently available at 140 stations in Spain. Their accessible and user-friendly app can be used to request assistance, check on request status and cancel requests. Since 2020, RENFE has also been rolling out contactless ticketing across Spain’s suburban rail network. ADIF will be investing five million euros to provide mechanical equipment such as wheelchairs and ramps, signage and fixtures. It will also be extending its “Svisual” service – digital display boards featuring sign language interpreters – to 69 of the stations it manages.


Metros and trams are gradually being adapted for disabilities, and accessibility is guaranteed in the newer metro networks, such as in Valencia, Seville, Bilbao and Málaga. Taxi and car rental services are also adding adapted vehicles to their fleets.


Tourist accommodation, restaurants and attractions vary in accessibility according to region. Local tourist information centres and tourist boards provide detailed information on accessible structures and services, and there are many online platforms and resources that people with disabilities can consult to tailor their holidays to their needs.

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Indoor pool of Luxury Villa La Fortuna in La Zagaleta

Accessible Costa del Sol/Marbella


The Costa del Sol prides itself on being an accessible destination, with most of its cultural and nature sites, tourist attractions, shopping centres, restaurants, streets and beaches adapted for people with disabilities.


In 2021, Marbella city council pledged to update their Urban Mobility Plan to create a town that is “compact, friendly, accessible and sustainable”, with priority given to “liveability” and accessibility through innovation.


Changes made to transport infrastructure and vehicles include the addition of five new accessible and eco-friendly buses to Marbella’s fleet of 26 in 2022.


Málaga airport has 15 assistance points, with three providing personalised assistance. There is a shuttle service with a fleet of adapted vehicles including minibuses for transfers within the Costa del Sol area.


Many of the main museums are wheelchair-friendly and most provide multi-media guides and apps with closed captions, audio description, and in-screen sign language. Some also have interactive touch screens and sensory experiences.


More and more tourism service companies are offering accessible tours, with trained, local guides, which can be tailored for most disabilities. They can provide wheelchair adapted vehicles, mobility equipment rentals, and other services according to tourist needs.


It’s not just the urban areas that are accessible. Guided tours of many natural areas of beauty within the province of Málaga are made possible through installation of adapted walkways and aids such as audio description.


There are 41 accessible beaches on the Costa del Sol, five of which are in Marbella. These include disabled parking, accessible promenades and boardwalks to the sea, toilets, changing rooms, shower and foot washing facilities, floating “amphibious” beach wheelchairs, sunshades and dedicated disabled zones, assistive devices and staff assistance.


Marbella Mountain Resorts


Our goal as a company is to enable people of all abilities to enjoy their holidays without facing physical, sensory, or cognitive barriers. To this aim, we work closely with our clients to identify their needs and wishes so that we can recommend the perfect villa for them and a tailored accessible holiday experience.


Many of our villas are equipped with accessibility features, including lifts, ground floor accessible rooms with level access, barrier-free open-plan communal areas, private transport, in-house medical and rehabilitation services, adapted indoor swimming pools, and easy access walk-in showers. Some of our properties also come with live-in staff.


Marbella Mountain Resorts believes that access for all to tourism facilities, products, and services should be a central part of any responsible and sustainable tourism service provider’s policy, and we strive to uphold and promote the principles of universal accessibility in the tourism industry.

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