Access issues of mobility-disabled tourists in hotels in the UK
By Elizabeth Rodgers
The mobility-disabled tourists are a market which is too often ignored and authors Shaw and Coles (2004) found that the tourism industry appears to be reluctant to make any necessary changes required by disabled customers. "Between 5% and 20% of the [global] population are disabled" (Yau et al 2004: 947) and the number of disabled people is expected to rise because of the aging 'baby boom' generation, increasing life span and reduced child mortality due to better healthcare and improved medical technology (Yau et al 2004; Burnett and Bender Baker 2001; Miller and Kirk 2002; Ray and Ryder 2003). This paper will analyse the literature on disability tourism and also undertake some primary research to validate the findings.
Two methods of primary research were used for this paper; the first was a brief analysis of disabled facilities in London hotels. Another aspect that was considered was whether the hotels with disabled facilities were part of large chains, to see whether this affected their provision of facilities. The second method used was two unstructured interviews with parents and carers of people who are both wheelchair bound and learning disabled. The first interview was conducted with two NHS carers, and the second was with two parents of a wheelchair user.
There are personal and environmental barriers which a mobility-disabled person will face in their daily life; these barriers sometimes mean that they cannot participate in tourism and leisure activities (Yau et al 2004; Daniels et al 2005). The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) aims to reduce physical barriers for wheelchair users in public places.
Authors Miller and Kirk (2002: 4) and Campbell (2000) found that "the present standards of service provision for disabled persons are far from satisfactory". Authors Burnett and Bender Baker (2001), as well as the interviews, found that there were many environmental barriers in hotels which can affect a disabled person's experience. Some hotels take note of these issues and provide some rooms which are specifically designed for wheelchair users; this will be addressed in more detail further on in the paper. Although many wheelchair users feel that disabled facilities could be better across the tourism industry, "the accommodation sector in particular, apparently see little demand for accessible facilities" (Yau et al 2004: 948) and in both the UK and US they are lobbying against governments to reduce the disabled requirements.
Yau et al (2004: 954) found that "international calibre hotels usually have better facilities, but they come at a premium price". The primary analysis of London hotels found that most of the chain hotels did not actually advertise disabled facilities and the amount of independent and chain hotels with disabled facilities was of an equal amount.
One of the most important points which arose from the interviews, concerning disabled facilities, was that even if a hotel, or any establishment, advertises disabled facilities this should not be taken at face-value. The interviewees have found from experience that you should always ring up a hotel with a list of requirements for the individual wheelchair user to confirm that the hotel caters to what they need. Many of the disabled facilities in hotels are inadequate for some levels of disability, for example many lifts will be big enough for a standard wheelchair, but not for a reclining wheelchair which has to be used for a severe disability.
Another important barrier which disabled tourists can face before even reaching their destination is that of planning as they need to do a lot more research into the destination, hotel, transport and facilities (Yau et al 2004). The importance of planning a holiday for a wheelchair user, especially one who is also learning disabled, was the main issue highlighted in the two interviews. The NHS carers interviewed said that it can take up to a year to plan a holiday because of aspects such as risk assessments which need to be conducted before they can take the wheelchair user on holiday. Risk assessments are undertaken to cover the carers in case anything goes wrong on the trip.
Burnett and Baker (2001) found that many disabled customers are very loyal, and this was also revealed in the interviews; that once the wheelchair user has found a hotel that they like and which caters to their specific needs, they will usually return several times because they know that they will be comfortable there. The interviewees said that the internet and word-of-mouth recommendations are the main way in which they find out about hotels, because they do not trust travel agents' knowledge of disabled facilities (Mckercher et al 2003, Daniels et al 2004, Ray and Ryder 2003). The interviewees said that they often visit specifically designed hotels for wheelchair users, but there are not many in comparison with the amount of wheelchair users, and they are often more expensive than 'normal' hotels.
Overall the provision of disabled facilities in hotels in the UK could be improved so that wheelchair users have a wider variety of hotels and places they can visit. It should be in the interest of hotels to provide disabled facilities as the disabled market tend to be a very loyal niche.
Burnett, J. J and Bender Baker, H (2001) "Assessing the Travel-Related Behaviours of the Mobility-Disabled Consumer", Journal of Travel Research, vol. 40, no. 4, pp 4 - 11, www.sagepub.com, [03.03.2010]
Miller, G and Kirk, E (2002) "The Disability Discrimination Act: Time for the Stick?" University of Surrey, www.epubs.surrey.ac.uk, [10.03.2010]
Yau, M. K., Mckercher, B and Packer, T. L (2004) "Travelling with a Disability - More Than an Access Issue", Annals of Tourism Research, vol. 31, no. 4, pp 946 - 960, www.sciencedirect.com [03.032.2010]