Key Words: disability, niche market, marketing opportunities, inclusive society.
Travel and tourism for the disabled are opportunities for the traveller and provider alike. While much public attention and many policy formulation efforts have been given to barrier-free architectural design and local public transportation access, few similar consistent efforts have been made in long-distance travel and tourism (Cavinato and Cuckovich, 1992). In this context, Shaw and Coles (2004) stress the size of the market, estimating that there are approximately 9.4m disabled adults, reaching 10m if children are included in the UK. This is based on a wide interpretation of disability and includes some 6.5m people of working age who have long-term disabilities or health problems, and 8.7m are deaf or hard of hearing. At the other end of the spectrum are some 1.8m who are blind or partially sighted and an estimated 0.5m people who are wheelchair users. It has also been argued that the tourism industry should be more considerate of disabled tourism, not only for business reasons, but also for corporate citizenship in helping to create a more inclusive society and, of course, the requirements of the law (1995 Disability Discrimination Act in the UK and 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act). Therefore, it is quite clear that tourism marketers should acknowledge tourism for the disabled. Indeed, not only can it be considered as an emerging niche market, it would also help in creating a more inclusive society (Shaw and Coles, 2004).
Though "disability" is generally approached in terms of removing architectural and facility barriers for wheel-chair mobility, many different approaches are called for in serving the wide range of disabled persons. Access is defined in law but each form of disability represents a different set of access requirements. Cavinato and Cuckovich (1992) list the following types of restriction: stress, mobility, diet, sound, sight and communication. The segments of disabilities often require subtle considerations. Stress involves a wide range of conditions and experiences. It is related to dietary needs as well as affecting the choice of destination. Mobility, usually defined as and narrowly provided for as a wheel-chair access, also includes the needs of persons requiring assistance with lifting, accessing doors, eating, and use of bath facilities. Sight is often limited to Braille elevator floor markers and menus. However, hotel and facility layout information is often lacking for persons with this disability. Access is also very limited with air and ground transportation and hotels for persons requiring communication by way of sign language (Cavinato and Cuckovich, 1992).
Daniels et al (2005) state that it remains essential to acknowledge that travellers with physical disabilities do face unique circumstances that must not be understated. For these individuals, every stage of the travel process requires significant planning time and careful attention to detail. Unfortunately, it is far too easy for travellers and service providers without disabilities to act in such a manner that undermines the pleasure travel experiences of persons with disabilities.
In addition, Mills et al (2008) found that few hospitality and travel industry websites were geared for the vision impaired. They added that user disabilities were not the first consideration when businesses select and develop multimedia and web-based materials. However, considering the growing population of persons with a disability, it is a requirement that should strongly be considered by businesses.
Daniels et al (2005) state that overcoming constraints to pleasure travel requires the co-ordination of individuals with disabilities, social networks and service providers. One way to ensure equal participation in pleasure travel decision-making is to consistently seek, consider and disseminate the experiences and opinions of individuals with disabilities.
Huh and Singh (2007) bring up the important point of finances. Indeed, they state that while travellers with disabilities and their families might be price-sensitive, they might also be time-insensitive when taking pleasure trips. Thus, discount deals might be an effective way to attract them. Their above-average length of stay could then financially compensate for lower prices, especially if entertainment and activities specifically designed to appeal to travellers with disabilities and their families can be provided.
When considering the growing population of disabled tourists, it is clear that there is a need for change in the way tourism suppliers market their products. It is all the more important for tourism providers to consider this segment of the population as there will be increasing scope for them to target such market.
Finally and more importantly, Huh and Singh (2007) believe that installing programs to help disabled travellers can distinguish an enterprise from its competitors by the extent to which it goes beyond legal requirements in meeting the needs of people with disabilities. In addition, while this lack of attention by marketers might provide possible opportunities for entrepreneurs, mainstream marketers are missing chances to attract a loyal and large market segment (and one, which will continue to grow).
Cavinato, J. and Cuckovich, M. (1992) Tourism and Transportation for the Disabled: An Assessment, Transportation Journal, pp 46-53.
Daniels, M., Drogin, E. and Wiggins, B. (2005) "Travel Tales": an interpretive analysis constraints and negociations to pleasure travel as experiences by persons with physical disabilities, Tourism Management, 26, pp 919-930.
Shaw, G. and Coles, T. (2004) Disability, holiday making and the tourism industry in the UK: a preliminary survey, Tourism Management, 25, pp 397-403.