In trends

This month's blog has been kindly contributed by our colleague Chris Veitch, an independent consultant and expert in the field of  accessible tourism:

Accessible Tourism offers destinations and businesses new opportunities.  Among other things it can contribute to business growth, an improved quality of experience for all visitors and increasing competitiveness. 

Thinking more about accessibility - and not just about compliance and legal obligations placed on businesses not to discriminate – can really help place the customer at the heart of a business. Many businesses will feel they do this already, but if access requirements are not taken into consideration it is likely that many customers are not receiving the amazing customer experiences which we want them to enjoy.  Tourism is all about emotions, offering and delivering those amazing ‘wow’ experiences and moments for visitors, which become treasured memories.  This makes it more likely that they will become repeat customers and recommend you to others, which is, as they say, probably your best form of marketing.

According to Training Consultant, Trisha Bennett:

“If you don’t listen to your customer you can’t understand what the customer needs.  If you don’t understand what the customer needs you can’t deliver excellent customer service.”

Addressing all aspects of accessibility, where visitors’ different needs are both understood and anticipated through the delivery of relevant information, supported by trained staff and the provision of appropriate facilities, will ultimately benefit all your visitors. Accessible Tourism is relevant for everybody, not just the obvious groups of disabled and older people who have access requirements.  Many may travel independently, many will travel in groups, with family and friends for leisure or as part of their business, attending meetings and conferences.  Understanding and responding to their access requirements means business can be won, ignoring them means business can be lost to the competition.

The Market

Two-thirds of British people admit that they feel uncomfortable talking to disabled people [1].  Possibly this is why this market is neglected by some businesses and more is not done to reach out to the large and growing numbers of people with access requirements, as some fear doing or saying the wrong things.

A report released by the Extra Costs Commission/Charity Scope [2] found:

  • The Purple pound, that is money spent by people with a disability, is valued at £212 billion a year.
  • Businesses are losing £1.8 billion a month, by not engaging with disabled customers. 
  • 75 per cent of disabled people and their families have walked away from a UK business due to poor service.

[1] Scope, May 2014 - view full report 

[2] Extra Costs Commission 2014 ‘Driving Down The Extra Costs Disabled People Face Interim Report’

In 2012 Saga highlighted the need for businesses to change to attract the “grey pound”, seen as a growing and very significant market.  While many in this group may have ‘bad knees and hips’, be hard of hearing and/or visually impaired, they may not see themselves as disabled and they will not be labelled as such, but they will share exactly the same access requirements as those people who are recognised as disabled and their numbers are very significant.

According to Saga:

  • The number of over-65s in Britain is set to surge by 4.5 million by 2030.
  • Consumer spending among the over-50s is forecast to continue to grow in all areas except housing. That represents £320 billion of consumer spending, £100 billion more than nine years earlier.
  • Britain’s older generations have overtaken the country’s youngsters as the great travellers of the modern age and now account for 58% of travel and tourism expenditure, up from 49% just five years ago. [3]
  • Numbers will continue grow as people live longer and healthier lives. [3]

[3] Saga, September 2016 - view full press release

We don’t really know the value of the potential market in the UK of those with access requirements, who would like to travel but who currently choose not to do so. We do know, however, that fear over the welcome they will receive and the attitude of staff is a major barrier for many people, followed by the lack of relevant information and then lack of appropriate facilities to aid access.

We also know that the existing market for accessible tourism across the UK is significant. In England alone it is calculated that around £12bn a year is spent on trips where a member of the party has an impairment.

Source: VisitEngland

Disabled travellers tend to stay longer, with an average length of stay of 3.3 nights compared to 2.9 for the market as a whole.  Their average spend is also higher, at £210 compared to £191 overall.

Source: VisitEngland

The breakdown of the market might surprise you as well.  Many think of Accessible Tourism as being primarily about wheelchair users. A look at the figures, however, shows that only 6% of those we need to consider when thinking about providing accessibility are wheelchair users, while 24% have a mobility impairment but do not use wheelchairs. The largest group, at 46%,are people with a long-term illness, while 24% are deaf or have partial hearing loss.

Source: VisitEngland

Of course we are all individual and people don’t necessarily fit comfortably into just one disability ‘segment’.  This is reinforced by recent research from Tourism for All, which reveals that many people have multiple impairments, so for example a wheelchair user may also be deaf, blind or have a long term illness. 

What does this mean for the destination and businesses?

For disabled tourists and travellers accurate and relevant accessibility information is essential to help their decision making and planning, and it is particularly crucial for those with high access requirements, such as wheelchair users. DMOs have played a central role in the provision of accessibility information, using data templates designed by VisitBritain and implemented by DMS providers like New Mind | tellUs and New Vision Group.  These data fields are based on self- assessed tick boxes that show which of a range of essential access facilities are available (an example of this is shown below).

An analysis of user data from DMSs between Oct 2010 – Oct 2011 showed that:

  • There were 2m+ accessibility searches across websites they supported
  • There was also a 26% (average) increase in bookings of accessible accommodation

From research we know that there are real business benefits to be gained through good accessibility.  For example [4]:

  • Higher satisfaction due to accessibility provision often appears to translate into repeat business.

Some (14%) of hotel operators notice an increase in turnover after improving their accessibility provision. Sometimes this is repeat business, and sometimes word-of-mouth or online reviews encourage others with accessibility needs to stay.

The key for success in this large and growing market, and to being competitive, is to see the customer, not the disability.  A warm welcome, backed up by improved accessibility and relevant information, can help businesses and the destination as a whole deliver amazing customer service to everybody and to demonstrate how much you value your customers and clearly understand their needs.

[4] - Serviced Accommodation Survey 2015

Chris Veitch - Biography:

Chris Veitch is an independent consultant with significant and wide experience in the field of accessible tourism. After gaining a First Class degree in Tourism Management, Chris was a policy executive in the English Tourism Council (ETC) managing projects to improve the accessibility of tourism in England. In 2003 he set up his own practice.  

Chris has been, and is currently, involved in major European projects, working across Europe including developing accessible tourism in Georgia and Turkey. Nearer to home Chris works closely with Visit England, Visit Scotland and Visit Wales, to help develop and promote Accessible Tourism.

He has collaborated in writing a number of papers and book chapters on this subject and is a regular guest speaker at conferences in Europe and elsewhere. He is also a guest lecturer at universities in the UK and elsewhere.  

He recently has assisted the Australian Government in the area of Accessible Tourism working with Tourism Australia, Accessible Tourism with Austrade, Visit Melbourne, Local Govt New South Wales, Queensland Tourism and Events, Gold Coast Management and Commonwealth Games organisers.

Chris’s expertise and knowledge has been recognised by the UK government when in February 2017, he was appointed to be the UK Government Disability Champion for the Tourism Sector.

Chris is a Trustee of the UK Charity Tourism For All and a member of the European Network for Accessible Tourism.

Underlying all of Chris’s work is his passion for providing outstanding customer service for all. The development and implementation of Accessible Tourism is a key step in achieving that goal.




  1. Neilstoreman
    My partner took my children and myself to London for the day yesterday.
    It was mainly to go round The Oxford street shopping area.
    I suffer with Scoliosis and Functional Motor Disorder spending a lot of my time in a wheelchair.
    Going round the main tourist shopping area I was very disappointed and uncomfortable in main with the paths which many do OT have dropped kerbs making it very difficult to manoeuvre around on my own without assistants and secondly the amount of shops that have high stepped access without ramps etc and thirdly the amount of two or more storey shops which do not have lifts etc to gain access to the higher or basement type floors.
    So if you were shopping in London yesterday and saw a wheelchair user sitting outside a shop it was probably me or someone with the same predicament as me that could only access the ground floors and when I'd seen what was on that floor would go sit outside whilst the rest of my family could carry on shopping.
    I came home so disappointed with our capital city London after experiencing my access problems throughout the day, the worst one being one of our major fast food restaurants(which has a clown mascot)having no seating area on the ground floor only seating on the lower ground and level 1 floors, no lift but a wheelchair sign saying 'Help with disabled access if required'. When we asked a member of staff would I be able to get to the seating areas in my wheelchair the member of staff said sorry but we do not have a lift you will have to change your order to takeaway, which I did and again sat outside the shop.
    Very disappointing day for me and made it less enjoyable for my family as some places if I couldn't access they wouldn't go in.

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