There is a strong demand within the travel industry for a higher level of inclusion. This encompasses all types of travellers, including individuals living with disabilities. Tarryn Tomlinson, Accessibility and Inclusion Auditor, is just one of the thousands of travellers from across the globe who are actively pursuing travel opportunities and constantly looking to embrace new adventures despite a disability.
“I hope to inspire others to live their best lives, all while changing people’s perceptions around what I like to call ‘diverse abilities’. It is time that our world became more inclusive. After all, humans have been to the moon – why, then, are some places, products, and services still not accessible?” she says.
According to Tarryn, the reality is that most individuals are only disabled because the environments in which they find themselves present barriers to their participation in different aspects of daily life. If the correct tools and solutions were put in place, the vast majority of individuals living with disabilities could go about their days rather seamlessly and with minimal assistance. She says that there needs to be a greater emphasis on making tourist destinations, products, and services accessible to everyone.
The World Health Organisation estimates that over 1 billion people are currently living with an unseen or seen disability. This number equates to approximately 15% of the world’s population. While age certainly isn’t the only factor influencing disability, it does play a notable role.
Baby Boomers, who are people born between the years of 1946 and 1964 make up around 80% of the luxury tourism market and continue to outspend Millennials. Of this generation, 50% who are over the age of 65 already have a mobility impairment. In short, if a travel supplier, operator, or destination is not focused on optimising accessibility, there is a good chance that it is going to lose out on a significant amount of profit as a result.
Another worrying statistic is that most people living with disabilities will spend around 2 – 4 times more on their overall holiday expenses compared to their able-bodied counterparts. The costs add up very quickly.
For example, if a person in a wheelchair wished to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, he or she would need twice the number of guides than a person on foot. He or she would also need to invest money in renting portable toilets when camping or enjoying any other activities out in the wilderness. Most people living with a disability will be forced to stay in higher-priced accommodation and spend larger amounts when booking flight tickets due to requirements for extra space, as well as hire larger vehicles or spend on door-to-door transportation to avoid public transport, which can prove problematic in many countries.
Why tourism-related businesses benefit from prioritising accessibility
Focusing on maximising accessibility offers a variety of golden opportunities:
- Build back better tourism: There needs to be more focus on getting the basics right. After all, the industry will only survive if everyone starts thinking and acting responsibly towards both the environment and each other.
- Tap into a growing market: On average, this market is growing by 22% per annum. Obviously, disabilities aren’t going anywhere. Therefore, travel suppliers must adapt and think strategically towards the future, otherwise prospective travellers living with disabilities will simply spend their money elsewhere.
- Year-round guests and customers: Travellers living with disabilities generally aren’t limited to seasonal travel. This is due to the fact that many of them work remotely or are retired.
- Enhanced corporate image: People want to support companies that care and that pride themselves on standards of excellence.
How to become more accessible
Accessibility starts with education and is followed by transformation.
“The first step is to know what needs to change and how to go about it. From there, travel suppliers can create or adjust their accessibility policies being careful to adhere to international standards,” comments Tarryn.
Once the appropriate changes have been made, Tarryn emphasises the importance of properly communicating information surrounding the new additions and improvements.
“Information must be extremely specific – it’s not enough to simply state that the premises are ‘accessible’. Of course, one person’s idea of accessible might differ substantially from another’s. Instead, detail all of the accessibility tools and solutions currently in place, such as lower bed heights, ramps, grab rails, stair lifts, larger room size, etc. so that prospective travellers can make informed decisions with confidence.”
It is important for travel suppliers to remember that people living with disabilities deserve memorable experiences, too. Tarryn speaks passionately about a few individual travellers who have inspired her over the years, including Willem Kooft from the Netherlands who visited South Africa in 2019 to kite surf, Cory Lee who has been to 7 continents and 37 countries, and Zizipho Ndlwana who became the first black man with a disability to summit Mount Kilimanjaro.
“A person’s attitude determines their altitude!” she concludes. That goes for travel suppliers from a business success and progression perspective, as well as for travellers themselves!