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Fibromyalgia and Tourism: Barriers to Access and Benefits of Tourism

Fibromyalgia and Tourism: Barriers to Access and Benefits of Tourism
Author: Mikyla Young
1 Commentries
This paper discusses the barriers people with disabilities face when accessing tourism, with a focus on those with Fibromyalgia. Additionally, the benefits they gain through tourism participation will be discussed. Primary research was conducted through the method of a questionnaire.

Keywords: Accessible tourism, Physically disabled, Fibromyalgia, Tourism barriers, Tourism benefits.

Fibromyalgia is a progressive physical disability. It is a mostly hidden disability, with the main symptom being chronic bodily pain. Other symptoms include, fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome and cognitive dysfunction (Diaz-Piedra et al, 2015). Although relatively unheard of, it is the most common chronic pain disorder, with 14,000 people being diagnosed a year in the UK alone. Currently, there is no cure for Fibromyalgia, however treatment is available in the form of medication, therapy and changes in lifestyle (FMAUK, 2011).

Accessibility of tourism is a much discussed topic in the tourism industry. ‘Tourism for all’ is often used as a target for the tourism industry, however, many physically disabled tourists feel they are let down by the industry (Israeli, 2002). This is due to the presence of barriers in relation to tourism access.

Access to tourism is problematic for disabled people as they face physical, attitudinal and lack of information barriers. Physical barriers include accessibility of transportation, accommodations and attractions. There is specific emphasis on transportation as disabled tourists rely on this to move around their destination and enjoy their experience. Attractions and accommodation can also become obstacles to the access of tourism, as physically disabled tourists need to ensure these aspects of tourism cater to their needs. Parking, elevators, staircases, footpaths, access ramps and restrooms are of particular concern when it comes to booking a trip (Israeli, 2002). Without the tourists accessibility needs being addressed, the attractiveness of a destination is insignificant as it is not feasible for disabled tourists to travel there.

The attitudes others hold of disabled tourists are also barriers to tourism participation (Buhalis and Darcy, 2011). Whilst some academics argue there has been an increase in awareness of disabilities which has resulted in more positive attitudes towards disabled tourists, others argue it is still a concern of disabled tourists.

Lack of information is also a significant barrier to tourism participation. Disabled tourists undertake a lot of pre-planning when wishing to engage in tourism and if the necessary information is not available, it is impossible to do so. Additionally, inaccurate information can lead to dissatisfaction of their tourism experience (Buhalis and Darcy, 2011).

People with Fibromyalgia face many barriers when engaging in tourism. These include those stated by Buhalis and Darcy (2011). However, questionnaire results show there is also a fourth category; personal situation.

Respondents commented on many physical access issues however the most common of issues raised were about transportation and accommodation. Many choose to travel around the UK rather than go abroad as they have difficulty boarding planes and sitting for long periods of time in the cramped seating. Additionally, there is no guarantee of seats being available on public transportation. This is especially difficult for those who do not use a wheelchair. As the condition is hidden, they do not look as though they are in need of a seat.

In terms of accommodation, people with Fibromyalgia find it difficult to find fully accessible establishments. Accommodation may state it is accessible but have a bath instead of a shower which they find difficult to get in and out of, and others charge more for rooms with disabled access. Lack of information of accommodation is also an issue as these tourists have found some accommodations do not state whether they are disability friendly or not.

Questionnaire respondents have also found they are confronted with attitudinal barriers. However, this is not only received from industry professionals. They have found to be looked down upon by others with physical disabilities. This is due to respondents not looking disabled and like they need the assistance they require.

Personal barriers include their mobility, finances; many Fibromyalgia sufferers are unable to work and cannot afford to participate in tourism, needing regular breaks to move around, which public transportation does not allow, and anxiety caused by the unknown - however, this can be reduced by travel companies providing more accurate information.

Although these Barriers are apparent, and some respondents have been discouraged from travelling, tourism does provide benefits for people with Fibromyalgia. Travelling can relieve the stress and provide refreshment of everyday life. Travelling to warmer climates can reduce the pain of some sufferers and increase their mobility.

Overall, more research is needed in regards to barriers of accessing tourism for people with disabilities. As Fibromyalgia is a hidden condition that is not commonly known about, it is important there be more research conducted on travelling with Fibromyalgia.


Buhalis, D., Darcy, S. (2011) Accessible Tourism: Concepts and Issues. Bristol: Channel View Publications.

Diaz-Piedra, C., Guzman, M. A., Buela-Casal, G., Catena, A. (2016) The impact of fibromyalgia symptoms on brain morphometry. Brain Imaging and Behaviour, 10 (4) 1184-1197.

Israeli, A., A. (2002) A preliminary investigation of the importance of site accessibility factors for disabled tourists. Journal of Travel Research, 41, 101-104.
Further discussion on Fibromyalgia and Tourism: Barriers to Access and Benefits of Tourism
Author: Claire Bennett
I have chosen to comment on this discussion paper because until recently it was an illness that I was not aware of existed. The author gave a very clear understanding of what the illness is, its symptoms and explains it in great depth. From the paper it can be easily understood that at times tourism is not catered for all, and as the author explains, this is due to lack of information about certain individual illnesses not being made aware of and towards the accessibility of transport, accommodation units and attractions. Yet research suggests that tourism and leisure activities provides both mental and physical benefits to individuals who have disabilities but many of these people do not have these benefits (Bedini, 2000).

The author mentioned people who have Fibromyalgia should travel to warmer countries as the warmer weather can reduce pain for many sufferers and this can lead them to being able to move about more, in addition to this research physicians are recommending gentle exercise such as yoga and cognitive-behavioural therapy will help to benefit from the symptoms. Other alternative therapies can help to work with pain is acupuncture, herbal supplements, mediation and relaxation methods (Jacks, 2018).

For individuals who have Fibromyalgia, they may be struggling with feelings of self-worth as well as the stigma from society and that of the attitudes from other people that remain a significant barrier because they do not understand the illnesses, as they do not see it. As they cannot see the illness people assume that the illness is not bad, this was also mentioned by the author. In the United States of America a civil rights law was brought out in 1990 to protect people with disabilities. The American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) acknowledged the invisible disabilities, which made the illness more public by the ADA. The ADA is a civil rights law that prevents discrimination against individuals who have any form of disability. The purpose of the law is making sure that people who have disabilities have equal rights like everyone else (National Network, undated).

In agreement with the author, as a marginalised group in society, more research needs to be done to understand people who have invisible disabilities, especially in the United Kingdom. This is something that I hope the research will contribute to improving in the future and therefore lead to the expansion of social tourism.


Bedini, L.A (2000) Just sit down so we can talk: Perceived stigma and the pursuit of community recreation for people with disabilities, 34 55-68. Available from http://libres.uncg.edu/ir/uncg/f/L_Bedini_Just_2000.pdf {accessed 18 May 2018}.

Jacks, L.B. (2018) Fibromyalgia Treating: What medical What medical research has shown about Fibromyalgia. Available from http://www.fibromyalgiatreating.com/what-medical-research-has-shown-about-fibromyalgia/ {accessed 18 May 2018}.

National Network, (2018) What is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)? Available from https://adata.org/learn-about-ada {accessed 18 May 2018}.