From Rights to Business, Tourism for All as an Opportunity to Grow
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) is the first international legally binding instrument setting minimum standards for a range of civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights for people with disabilities around the world. It is also the first comprehensive human rights convention to which the EU has become a party (IP/11/4).
The UNCRPD was adopted on 13 December 2006 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York and was opened for signature on 30 March 2007. There were 82 signatories to the Convention, 44 signatories to the Optional Protocol, and 1 ratification of the Convention. This is the highest number of signatories in history to a UN Convention on its opening day. The Convention entered into force on 3 May 2008.
Article 30 of the Convention addresses “Participation in cultural life, recreation, leisure and sport”, establishing for the first time, tourism and leisure as human rights, to be enjoyed by all citizens, including those with disabilities. In particular, the article states that:
“States Parties shall take appropriate measures…to ensure that persons with disabilities have access to services from those involved in the organization of recreational, tourism, leisure and sporting activities.”
The European Union ratified the UN Convention in January 2011, filling an important protection gap in international human rights law, as it recognises disability as a legal issue rather than a mere welfare matter.
All 28 Member States have signed the UN Convention and ratified it, the final country to do so being Ireland in 2018.
The European Disability Strategy 2010-2020, adopted by the Commission in November 2010 (IP/10/1505), set a concrete agenda of actions in the areas of accessibility, participation, equality, employment, education and training, social protection, health and external action.
One in six people in the European Union – around 80 million – have a disability that ranges from mild to severe. Over one third of people aged over 75 have disabilities that restrict them to some extent. These numbers are set to rise as the EU population grows progressively older. Most of these people are all too often prevented from fully participating in society and the economy because of physical or other barriers, as well as discrimination.
Different national accessibility requirements for products and services affect the well-functioning of the single market, causing disadvantages for both businesses and consumers. For this reason, after consulting with stakeholders and industry in December 2013, the European Commission services have been working on a European Accessibility Act. The aim of this proposed Act was to improve the functioning of the market of accessible mainstream products and services for the benefit of people with disabilities.
After many years of discussions and negotiations between the EU Parliament, EU Commission and the Council of European Member States a provisional agreement on the European Accessibility Act was reached in November 2018.
The European Disability Forum, which represents associations of people with disabilities in EU Member States, declared:
” The Act fails persons with disabilities. It mainly covers digital accessibility and leaves out the real-world environment where persons with disabilities live.”
The European Accessibility Act will add new EU-wide minimum requirements on accessibility on a limited range of products and services. It was proposed by the European Commission in 2015, following more than 10 years of campaigning by the disability movement.
A range of products and services will need to be accessible to and usable by millions of persons with disabilities in the EU; such as computers, smartphones, TVs, ATMs, payment terminals, e-books, e-readers, websites and mobile applications of private companies and ticket machines. The 112-emergency number and telephony services will also have to be accessible to all Europeans.
Expectations not met
Despite these, the Act lacks essential aspects. It excludes transport. It excludes microenterprises that provide services. It excludes household appliances. It excludes any obligation on accessible buildings and infrastructure. It excludes the real environment where people spend most of their time.”
European Disability Forum, November 2018.7
Despite the lack of underpinning legislation that could help to drive a positive development, the economic value of the accessible tourism market gives a clear incentive to both the public and private sectors to address this subject, not only as a matter of public interest but as a commercially valuable sector.
As shown in the next section, there is scope for the tourism industry to make significant economic gains if the potential target of tourists with specific access requirements is offered the appropriate and comfortable conditions to enable them to travel.
From the results of market studies at national and international level, in various European countries, it is clear that the potential market, represented by people with disabilities, has significant figures regarding the number of people interested in travelling and shows estimations of an interesting economic return for the tourism sector.8
The Diversity of Visitors and the Demand for Accessible Tourism
According to the World Health Organization there are approximately 1 billion persons with disabilities in the world. This equates to approximately 15% of the world population having a physical, mental or sensory disability.
Based on evidence gathered by the WHO and World Bank (World Report on Disability, 2011), there is a high correlation between ageing and disability. Older people (over 65 years) who may not be considered “disabled” very often have similar difficulties in carrying out daily activities. Therefore, they are usually included among those who have specific access requirements, thus greatly increasing their number.
They represent a significant potential source of tourism business, which can benefit host countries and destinations if they take the necessary steps to improve their accessibility.
This significant potential becomes more evident if we consider that a rapid ageing of the population is under way. In 2015, there were 617 million people aged 65 or over in the world, comprising 8.5 per cent of the global population. Their number is projected to increase more than 60 per cent in just 15 years: in 2030, there will be about 1 billion older people globally, equivalent to 12.0 % of the total population. The share of older population will continue to grow in the following 20 years: by 2050, there will be 1.6 billion people aged 65 or over worldwide, representing 16.7 per cent of the total world population.
Due to the ageing population, the number of people with specific access requirements with the capacity to travel is increasing, boosting the demand for an accessible environment, transport and services and, therefore, bringing benefits to the tourism sector. Much of the senior population, in fact, has significant income and the desire to travel, both in their home countries and abroad, and their expenditure tends to be higher than that of tourists in general. Because many people with disabilities and older people are no longer active in the workforce, they have the possibility of traveling throughout the year, which helps to reduce the seasonality of demand experienced by many destinations.
The numerical importance of people with specific access requirements for the tourism sector has been confirmed by the results of the study published in 2014 that the European Commission has commissioned in order to provide a coherent picture of the current and future potential demand of accessible tourism in Europe and to estimate its economic impact.
According to this study, in 2011 there were 138.6 million people with access requirements in the EU (around 27% of total population), of which 35.9% were people with disabilities aged 15-64, and 64.1% were the older population aged 65 or above. In 2012, people with access requirements in the EU took approximately 783 million trips, thus generating a total gross value-added contribution of about €356 billion and a total employment of about 8.7 million persons.
Driven by the ageing population, which in Europe is much higher than elsewhere, the demand is anticipated to grow by 10% to about 862 million trips per year by 2020, equivalent to an average growth rate of 1.2% annually.
However, the overall potential is far greater: if it would be possible to increase the accessibility of tourism-related facilities significantly, then up to 1.231 million trips per year could be realized, equivalent to a growth of 43.6%. If accessibility is significantly improved, the total economic contribution generated by the EU tourists with specific access requirements is expected to increase against the current contribution by roughly 36%.
Moreover, like most of the people, persons with specific access requirements rarely travel alone; on the contrary, they usually prefer or need to travel with relatives or friends. According to the previous study, on average, people with specific access requirements in the EU travel with about 1.9 companions. Therefore, if we consider this, the economic contribution of Accessible Tourism will be amplified by a similar scale if the travel companion effect is taken into account.
Tourists with specific access requirements and older people do not form a homogeneous group.9 Concerning their travel motivation, they do not significantly differ from other travellers. However, some special requirements have to be taken into account: the preparation of a journey plays a very important role for this group. Most important are the recommendations from relatives and friends as well as their own travel experiences. Although brochures and other print media are still very important, it is clear enough that the Internet with its numerous research opportunities is a very important source of information.
Many tourists with disabilities and older guests as well as families with children look for specific information of accessible conditions that are important to them. Thus, the lack of such information is considered to be a great barrier. In particular, families with children want more detailed information about the accessibility of their resort, their hotel, or recreational facility. For all groups, it is important that such information can be found in the standard media and not (only) in special-interest media.
For many travellers, the lack of awareness of the service personnel and the lack of knowledge about the needs of the guest is a frequently cited problem. This also applies to the accommodation area. Insufficient service and lack of physical accessibility are equally important barriers.
The Supply of Accessible Tourism
A tourist destination is an integrated system of attractions and services, or better still, a set of resources that attract and induce the traveller to make the necessary efforts to go and stay there.
In order for a location to be transformed in a successful tourism destination is necessary that the advantages (natural resources, architectural, historical etc) present in a specific area (once considered sufficient to cope with the market) get transformed in real competitive advantages, through the implementation of specific strategies of marketing, with the objectives to satisfy the needs and requests of the customer/tourist, needs that appear to be more and more complex and diversified. This combination that helps to create a destination, can be represented through the chain of tourist services, that highlights not only which are the ideal products and services but also the complementary relationships that exist between them. In fact, it’s not enough to have stunning landscapes, crystal waters and spectacular coastlines: in order to attract tourists is necessary to provide a range of products, distinctly receptive (catering and accommodation) entertainment, recreation, sports, culture, and able to satisfy the different demands of the customers.
All the services and attractions which create a destination are definitely much broader than those that are usually considered.
It is necessary to understand that each element of the chain influences and depends on the others: if one of the elements is weak, from the quality and the fruition point of view, the holiday can be strongly compromised as a whole.
Figure. The chain of accessibility is only as strong as the weakest link
The consequences could have a direct impact on the management of the enterprise: a dissatisfied customer will not use our services again but, most of all, he will be a “negative” voice against for our product, in a time when opinions of end users are much appreciated as true and qualified.
It is obvious that a single entrepreneur cannot control directly all the elements of the chain: consequently, it is vital, in all the strategic choices for the development of a tourist destination, to involve all the relevant components, both public and private, who have a say in managerial choices and the possibility to plan and implement measures for the improvement and the inclusive requalification of a destination area.
Clearly, the supply of accessible tourism services must be adequate in terms of the quality provided by individual suppliers as well as being sufficient for the rising demand, in order to have a well-functioning marketplace which accommodates all user requirements.
In 2014 the European Commission contracted a team of researchers, including ENAT members across Europe to make a study entitled: “Mapping and Performance Check of the Supply of Accessible Tourism Services in Europe”10
As part of this extensive study, the websites of European tourism service providers were scanned and analysed to establish the amount and types of information available concerning accessible tourism offers. Three types of information were collected:
- Membership of existing accessibility information schemes (AIS). These schemes bring together large numbers of suppliers with accessible services and they make information about those services available to travellers with specific access requirements;
- Individual registrations of suppliers that claim to provide accessible services / facilities, gathered via the web tool Pantou.org which was specifically designed for this study;
- Suppliers and services collected from identified third-party sources offering accessibility information of tourist venues. These sources are: hotels.com which is an affiliate of Expedia, Inc., handistrict.com, an online database developed by the French firm Kernix and several other AISs and national or regional tourism online services.
This large-scale survey provided, for the first time, an overview of the existing stock of accessible tourism services offered in Europe, compared with the overall supply of tourism services.
It has been estimated that about 3.4 million enterprises were active in the EU tourism industry in 2010. These enterprises accounted for 11 % of the persons employed in the non-financial business economy and 29 % of persons employed in the services sector. In addition, more than one in two enterprises in the tourism industries operated in the accommodation or food and beverage serving sector.
The mapping exercise conducted as part of this study has uncovered 313,286 accessible tourism services across the EU Member States (EU-28). Existing Accessibility Information Schemes list 224,036 accessible facilities and services.
The study finds that accessible tourism services constitute approximately 9.2% of the overall supply of tourism services.
While this study has focused on the supply of accessible services, the potential demand for such services has been estimated in a parallel study whose main figures have been reported above.
Taking these estimates as a starting point suggests that demand for accessible services may be as high as 37% of the total travel market estimated in number of trips.
Contrasting this figure with the estimated supply of 9.2% of services catering to tourists with access requirements suggests that today there is a significant gap in the supply of accessible services of 27.8 percentage points.
Furthermore, it is likely that the gap between the provision of accessible services and demand for such services will increase further over the coming years. According to the parallel demand study, expected future demand for accessible services will be at least 24.2% higher in 2020 than it is today. In the absence of any changes in the supply of accessible services at least an additional 1.2 million tourism enterprises will need to provide accessible services to meet future demand.
From the above figures it is evident that the demand for accessible tourism services should bring a stronger a focus on accessibility as a competitive factor in the tourism sector. But it is important to remember that in order for these benefits to fully express their potential, attention to accessibility issues should cover the whole chain of tourism services, that comprises all the services a tourist utilizes before, during and after his/her trip, from the planning stage up until the return back home.
This means involving a large number of actors in the tourism industry: not only the accommodation facilities, but also restaurants, transport, museums, monuments, sport facilities, events, information and welcoming services, guide and accompanying services and so on.
It’s necessary to understand that each element of the tourism chain influences and depends on the others: if one of the elements is weak, in terms of the quality and the experience offered to the customer, the holiday can be strongly compromised as a whole. The accessible supply chain must also be “joined up” so that tourists can experience a series of trouble-free services throughout their journey, as they pass between the different venues they visit.
A hotel without barriers but located in a site where there are no recreational and cultural facilities accessible to people with specific access requirements, would not be assured of attracting customers with specific access requirements, however good the quality of its accessibility and usability. The same would apply to an accessible museum or monument that can’t be reached by suitable means of transport or hasn’t nearby adequate accommodation facilities to for customers with specific access requirements.
Destinations should therefore create a comprehensive supply of Tourism for All products and services in which all the elements of the supply chain (reservation systems, accommodation, transport, etc.) are easily accessed.
It must be added that a tourism destination that adequately caters for the needs of visitors with specific access requirements leads to improved quality of service and ensures a good experience not only for them but also for all the other visitors and improves the quality of the daily life of the local population.
A few examples can serve to illustrate this aspect. A ramp built to supplement a staircase leading to the entrance of a facility, such as a hotel a restaurant, a museum or a shop, is essential for wheelchair users but, at the same time, also makes the access to the building more comfortable and easy to all the travellers that move with luggage on wheels, a baby-buggy or rollator . A hotel room that is large enough to allow a wheelchair user to move
around freely and independently is a comfortable room for anyone. A menu or an information leaflet written with large font and contrasting colours makes it easier for everyone to read, not only people with vision impairments. When seating is provided along a footpath in a park or historical venue, this makes the visit more comfortable for everyone.
The “added value of accessibility” for tourism destinations and businesses has been summarised by Ambrose and Veitch (ENAT) in the following diagram:
Figure 2. Business and destination benefits of accessibility
Finally, it is important to remember that any tourists can have access requirements; they do not form a homogeneous group and they do not constitute a separate market segment, but they belong to different segments. For example, regarding travel motivations, as any other tourist, among those with specific access requirements are those who travel for cultural reasons, those who want to practice a sport, those who look for relaxing and calm holidays and those who seek fun and exciting experiences, and so on.
They only share the need to find tourism offers that cater for the access requirement they have and that derive from their personal conditions, which can differ from one to another depending on their personal permanent or temporary difficulties. And, above all, they require trained staff who understand their needs and know how to relate to them properly.
8See: Economic Impulses of accessible tourism for All – Federal Ministry of Economic and Labour Germany 2004. Accessibility Market and stakeholder analysis – OSSATE /University of Surrey UK 2006
9Economic Impact and Travel Patterns of Accessible Tourism in Europe – GFK and Partners
10 Mapping and Performance Check of the Supply of Accessible Tourism Services. (220/PP/ENT/PPA/12/6491) 02 April 2015