Being Able-Minded About Accessible TravelJuly 9, 2020
As we push forward with recovery efforts to get travel back on track, we want to make sure everyone is along for the ride and focus on accessible travel. A look at Sweden last year, however, reminds us that sometimes inclusivity isn’t a priority for all destinations. A decision late in December 2019 to relocate the 2021 Special Olympics Winter World Games from the Scandinavian country was far from a PR dream. It was a potential disaster.
The government failed to secure funding, and as such, the Special Olympics suggested that Sweden was not interested in promoting inclusivity and accessible travel.
Fortunately for Sweden, the event did not create a huge backlash in the media. Not yet, at least. As the Special Olympics looks for a new host country, it’s important for destinations to look at their own offers and make sure that they are accessible to people of all abilities, even if they aren’t planning on hosting a Special Olympics event just yet.
Accessible travel is still an issue, even in the most developed countries. Airports in the UK have been the subject of critiques lately, by not providing adequate services to it disabled travelers. Some public transportation systems have also come under fire. Whether the comments are just is irrelevant from a PR standpoint – the word is out, and we can’t put it back in the box. Disabled travelers are already often forced to pay more for their travel experiences than able-bodied travelers, so being sensitive to their needs should be a priority for DMOs.
Highlighting accessible travel might not seem important for each and every destination, but if your efforts attracts the attention of an international sporting event like the Special Olympics, it might be worth paying closer attention. There are some 56 million travelers with disabilities of all types, so alienating them is not an option.
Does your destination offer some special programs for the differently abled? Make it known! In London, for example, the city offers a badge for people with disabilities to wear in the transit system so that other riders could offer their seat to those who may not visibly have seemed disabled.
Travelers with disabilities will feel comforted knowing that your city or destination is thinking of them and addressing their unique needs. It’s not, however, just enough to have these programs. Make sure the press knows. Help the message spread as much as possible, and don’t be shy about using social networks to promote these programs.
Here’s an inspiring example from Panama City, Florida. Vinny & Bay’s Coffee and Eatery hires locals with special needs, helping them to take part in the workplace, creating a safe, dignified working environment. Wouldn’t you want to put that story forward in your marketing strategy?
It’s difficult to imagine easy access when a hotel or accommodation was built in the 1700s. Wheelchairs are not always going to roll so freely. That said, does your DMO website have a section dedicated to disabled travelers? Do they know where to look for accommodations? Are there elevators and ramps available in most hotels?
These are the questions that some disabled travelers will be thinking of, so try not to alienate them. Be sure you have plans to create more accessible accommodation if there isn’t much already. It will take time, but it will be worth it for both you and your future visitors.
Just like hotels, transportation systems need to be accessible, but it can be a nightmare for disabled travelers to know what to expect in a new destination. Communicate clearly on what reduced-mobility travelers should look for when traveling to your destination. If there are buses or car services that will make their lives easier while enjoying their visit, don’t hide this information.
Events and conferences
Like the Special Olympics, hosting events welcoming disabled visitors is a great way to showcase how your destination embraces inclusivity. It might also be a great way to learn what shortcomings there are to overcome still. The conference, Disability:In, scheduled for this July is still happening, albeit virtually. There are others out there like it that could bring positive changes to your destination.
Every meeting or conference comes with its own challenges, but events like Disability:In are capable of bringing lasting change and inclusive practices that your destination may need.
Have you developed an app for your destination that shows where accessible transit is located, or that that provides information to accessibility at major attractions? If not, do you think that might be a good idea?
Yes, that was a leading question.
You should be doing all you can to promote accessibility, whether its for disabled travelers or even for senior citizens. Knowing the best way to navigate a destination is key to guaranteeing that visitors leave with a positive impression.
Publicize rules and regulations so travelers know their rights
Do hotels have to have a wheelchair accessible room? Are restaurants required to offer elevator to dining rooms? What about transportation? The U.S. Department of Transportation does a pretty good job of laying out the rules, so take note.
A short blog post or webpage about the rules and regulations regarding accessible travel will help tourists know what to expect, as well as ensuring that local businesses are complying with the law.
Even before they get to a destination, travelers want to see themselves in images and promotions. That said, how often have we seen promos for a white sand beach and a traveler in a wheelchair? Not often. This needs to change.
Think outside the box to create more inclusive marketing materials, to show people that, no matter their abilities, they can participate in the act of travel to your destination. You can even create campaigns alongside periodic events like December 3, International Day of Persons with Disabilities, using social media to celebrate the day and promote your destination as an inclusive one of all abilities.
Be realistic about what can be accessible.
While inclusivity is the goal, don’t promise more than you can deliver in terms of accessible travel. Some destinations have limitations and navigating the experience in a wheelchair may be more uncomfortable than it is pleasurable. As technology and services advance, this will likely be less often the case, but remain realistic with your current offer while striving to do better. Sweden may have overshot with the Special Olympics, but your destination can set achievable goals.
It’s all about basic dignity in the end, and the goal is to let travelers know that they are welcomed and will be treated as equals in your destination. That’s a pretty universal goal for any DMO, or at least it should be.
Concerned you might be struggling to engage with inclusivity in your destination? It’s hard, we know. With 60 years of experience marketing destinations around the globe, DCI knows about the struggles of capturing various markets attention and keeping it. Contact Daniella Middleton at [email protected] to find out how DCI is able to leverage our digital expertise to assist you in this endeavor.