During Destination Analysts’ November 2022 webinar update on The State of the American Traveler, we sat down with representatives from Wheelchair Travel, Accessible Travel Solutions, as well as Travel Oregon and Visit Mesa to discuss broadening accessibility to travel experiences and increasing the industry’s ability to be more welcoming to all. You can watch in the video above and read below for our key takeaways from this important discussion.
According to John Morris of Wheelchair Travel, while disabilities vary between people, and everyone has different needs, so it is important for destinations to reach out to their travelers to see how they can meet those needs. This is especially key when considering that seniors overlap significantly with the disabled population, and accessibility comes into play for both groups.
Some of the main barriers in accessible travel in the current landscape include misunderstandings at the decision-maker levels about the accessible travel market and the definition of accessible travel. It is challenging for destination leaders to evaluate the opportunity and understand how best to move forward. The need for expertise is part of this obstacle, and this in turn feeds into resources. Oftentimes, organizations do not have an accessibility expert and there is limited knowledge around what tools exist, according to John Sage of Accessible Travel Solutions.
It is also an awareness issue, says Morris. There is a lack of understanding of the size of the community of travelers with disabilities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 26% of the U.S. population has a disability. According to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 12% of the population with a disability use a wheelchair. But there is a need for awareness around the opportunities that exist in the marketplace. Because of the lack of accessible environments, travelers with disabilities are less likely to be visible in the population of travelers visiting destinations, which exacerbates this issue. But in fact, there is an opportunity for destinations to really make a foray into that market, given the size of the population and the universal desire to travel that is shared by all travelers, regardless of their background.
Our panel shared resources that are available to organizations for support in their efforts to become accessible destinations and businesses. Among these, Travelability is a wonderful resource, according to Visit Mesa; the organization has a summit next summer that is highly recommended. Visit Mesa also recommends using community resources such as Facebook Groups to learn directly from travelers with disabilities about what their pain points are. Travel Oregon suggests turning to city managers, as cities often have Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Coordinators who can provide information on accessibility in the community. The local community of people with disabilities can also be a wonderful resource.
We want to take the opportunity to once again thank Wheelchair Travel, Accessible Travel Solutions, Travel Oregon and Visit Mesa for sharing their learnings and best practices with the greater travel industry and for their incredible efforts in expanding travel’s accessibility.