Accessible Hotels, Nordic Style

By Simon Hudson Endowed Chair in Tourism & Hospitality, University of South Carolina | June 14, 2015

Millions of people around the world with a disability have the means and desire to travel, yet they chose stay at home because of the lack of accessible facilities. The potential size of the accessible tourism market is estimated at between 600 and 900 million people worldwide, suggesting that roughly 10 per cent of the population is looking for barrier-free or accessible travel. With an ageing population this percentage will continue to grow and there is an increasing recognition that this is no longer a niche market. According to a study conducted by Open Doors, a well-recognized training firm in the U.S., people with a disability take 31.7 million trips per year spending $13.6 billion on travel. Furthermore, people with a disability tend not to travel alone and are often accompanied by carers, family or friends. If their expenditure is factored in too, this increases the 'klout' of accessible tourism considerably in the overall tourism market.

The number of people traveling with a disability could rise significantly if accessibility enhancements were made within the travel industry. In Germany, for example, a recent study showed that about 37 per cent of travelers with a disability have decided not to travel in the past due to a lack of accessible facilities. Yet 48 per cent would travel more frequently if these facilities were available, and 60 per cent would be willing to pay higher travel costs for improved accessibility.

However, in order to nurture an accessible tourism market, a cultural shift needs to occur along with facility and service advancements in the travel industry. Some destinations have recognized this need to change, and have introduced initiatives to position themselves as 'accessible tourism-friendly'. Examples are: the Accessible Tourism for All program in the U.K.; the Freedom without Barriers project in San Marino; Hospitality for All in Germany; IMSERSO programs in Spain; the Accessible San Diego initiative; Peru's Tourism for All program; the Barrier-Free Thailand project; and Belgium's Accessible Tourism Destination Certification Program.

In the accommodation sector, hotels too are improving the services they offer to people with a disability. Just this year, the World Responsible Tourism Awards introduced a 'Best Accommodation for Disability Access' category for places to stay that set the standard for accessible tourism practices and serve as an example to the tourism industry. A Gold award went to Campo and Parque dos Sonhos Hotel and Adventure Park in Brazil. A decade ago, disabled people in Brazil hardly left their homes until a new law enforced basic criteria which enabled people with disabilities to have access to public places within the ensuing four years. At that time, local entrepreneur Fernandes Franco, who created Campo and Parque dos Sonhos, was already taking steps that went way beyond his legal obligations. Not only did he make bedrooms, bathrooms, restaurants, swimming pools, and all of the common areas accessible with the usual ramps and hand bars, but he introduced tactile floors, tactile maps and menus for the visually impaired, a reservation center for the deaf, and kennels for guide dogs. The hotel also ensures that people with disabilities can be just as active as fully able visitors, adapting adventure equipment, creating new operational procedures, and providing free motorized wheelchairs. Consequently, they now offer accessible zip-lining, canopy tours, carriage rides, hiking trails and accessible bicycles.

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A Silver award for accessibility went to the NATIVE Charming Hotels, an alliance of Madrid hotels which promote local accessibility across all venues, focusing on excellent communication methods so that people of all disabilities can become easily informed about hotel facilities. The alliance has created an easy booking system, and then signage and hotel information leaflets are all in Braille, as are the toilets, bath taps and so on. Using smart technology, Native Hotels gives guests a magnetic room key, which includes a BiDi code containing all the information a guest might need. This information can be converted to vocal text by using a smartphone.

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