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Is a cruise ship the best destination for people with mobility impairments?

Is a cruise ship the best destination for people with mobility impairments?
Author: Kathleen Pfannenschmidt
1 Commentries
The increasing number of people with mobility impairments prompted the tourism industry to think about this market segment carefully. Organizations tried to get an insight into the feelings of this people to create products that will satisfy their needs and motivations. The main concern of this paper is to examine whether cruises can be seen as the best holiday destination for people who have to sit in a wheelchair.

Over the past twenty years cruise tourism has become more and more popular and one of the fastest growing sectors within the tourism industry (Coltman, 1989, Dowling, 2006, Dowling and Vasudavan, 2000, Yarnal and Kerstetter, 2005, Kester, 2002, Wood, 2000). Because guests are roomed when they enter their "hotel", fed and entertained during the day and even transported to their favorite ports (Coltman, 1989) cruise are created to be seen as a destination itself (Dowling, 2006).

This high demand has disposed cruise lines to build more and bigger cruise ships. In December 2009 the biggest cruise ship up to now made her maiden voyage. On board of the "Oasis of the Seas" 5400 Passenger could experience how this swimming hotel transported them between the ports of call. This year, in 2010, ten further cruise ships will enter the market, whereas three of them are already in use (Heusser, 2010).

But do these large vessels with bigger rooms and places create a perfect destination for people with mobile disabilities?

Because disabled people seek to satisfy their travel desires in the same way non-disabled do (Kwai-sang Yau et al, 2004), Prager (1999) suggested this big group as the "next consumer niche" in the tourism industry (cited in Ray and Ryder, 2003).

With launching the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) in 1990 and the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) in 1995 the tourism industry gained more interest for this market segment and noticed that people in wheelchairs have fewer opportunities to find an access to a lot of tourism activities. Cramped rooms, overcrowded places and restaurants where tables are to close together are only some obstacles they are faced with (Shi, 2010). Therefore they choose future destination after accessibility of accommodations, public places and transportations (Kwai-sang Yau et al, 2004)

Next to these access-problems there are also other issues that can influence their choice of the next holiday destination. In the first stage all people with mobility disability have to accept their situation. Only then they could feel independent although they are sitting in a wheelchair. Not till this time they can see tourism as an activity they could handle with (Kwai-sang Yau et al, 2004). Mobility-disabled people also want to feel free and see new places as well as the evidence that there is still something they can do even if they sometimes need help from others (Shaw and Coles, 2004). Indeed the most important needs are rest and relaxation during their trip. They want to be relieved from all difficulties and duties they are faced at home (Shaw and Coles, 2004).

Although there are still problems within this tourism segment cruise lines have become more and more suitable for mobility-disabled.
New cruise ships are as bigger as their forerunners and designed to be accessible for people with wheelchairs (Soifz, 2009, Wohlfahrt, 2008). While offering mobility-disabled friendly cabins and enough space to reach all places without any problems cruise ships give them the chance to spend their best holidays on the sea.

Furthermore to this some cruise lines (e.g. Princess Cruises) also offer a lifting at the pool that enables an access to the pool area. So people with mobility impairments can even more enjoy their time and do the same things non-disabled do right next to them (Soifz, 2009).
In October 2008 the German tour operator "Rfb-Touristik" offered a special cruise only for people with mobility impairments as well as their family and friends. Under the theme "travel without any barriers" AIDAdiva transported them through the Mediterranean Sea for seven days.

However all in all, cruise ships can be seen as a satisfying destination for this market segment. Cruise lines try to avoid any obstacles and barriers on board and make the holiday experience as positive as possible. Mobility-disabled can move independently on the ship an do many activities. Furthermore they can visit a lot of destinations in a very short period of time and they can meet locals as well as passengers and become friends with them. The most important aspect is that they can find rest and relaxation and feel free when there is nothing else than the sea around them. They can forget duties and worries and have the feeling that they still can do something with their disability.


Dowling, R.K. (ed.) (2006) Cruise Ship Tourism. Wallingford: Cab International

Kwai-sang Yau, M., McKercher, B., Packer, T.L. (2004) Traveling with a disability - More than an Access Issue. Annals of Tourism Research, 31 (4), pp.946-960

Wohlfahrt, W. (2008) Disablitiy Can't Stop the Cruise Lovers. [online]. Available from: http://www.tourism-review.com/article/907-disability-cant-stop-the-cruise-lovers [Accessed: 21st April 2010]

Cruise tourism for the mobility impaired: friend or foe?
Author: Emilie Gay
I chose to comment on your paper as, although I did my paper on tourism for the disabled, I did not focus on one particular disability and had not read up much on cruise tourism. Therefore, I thought it might be interesting for me to broaden my knowledge on this aspect.

I have to agree with the fact that disabled tourists are becoming an important market segment. Indeed, as stated by Shaw and Coles (2004), the size of this market is definitely non-negligible, with, in the UK, 9.4m adults considered as having a disability. This number can even rise up to 10m if counting children, all these people being covered under the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act. Therefore, I agree with you when you say they can be considered as a "niche market" within the tourism industry.

As you mentioned, cruise tourism has been a growing part of this sector over the last few years. Indeed, it seems to be a very much all-inclusive way to visit different places without having to worry about accommodation and allows passengers to broaden their tourism knowledge by being shown different areas.

Although, I would like to point out that unfortunately most cruise lines have no legal obligations to meet all the needs of disabled customers (Wohlfahrt 2008). However, I had previously thought that the passing of the 1995 Act had clearly removed the voluntary basis and, in its various components, shifted responsibilities to the tourism industry (Shaw and Coles, 2004). However, I do understand that some ships are unable to accommodate such demands; their being too small or old for any refurbishment work of this size to be made possible.

Even though some of the cruise liners can accommodate the needs of their mobility-disabled passengers, what can be said regarding the shore excursions? They still present challenges for wheelchairs. Especially small, mountaineer islands are difficult to access. It is still possible that some shore excursions might not be accessible due to a lack of sufficient transport (Wohlfahrt, 2008). Therefore, it would be of great importance for the tourist to ensure, previous to booking their cruise holiday that they will be able to access any of the excursions planned. This is when using a tour agency that caters for disabled travellers comes in handy. Indeed, the experience of the owners helps to insure that most of the possible problems that could arise are addressed and avoided. These trips offer individuals the chance to be part of a group and this may be a welcome change for some (Cavinato and Cuckovich, 1992).

All in all, a cruise ship could be a wonderful idea for mobility disabled tourists in that they are not to worry about accommodation and can still visit some places, which are wheelchair friendly. However, I am not sure this can be defined as the best destination in the sense that cruise liners are not legally bound to accommodate disabled travellers and that some of the excursions might not be accessible to them.

Cavinato, J. and Cuckovich, M. (1992) Tourism and Transportation for the Disabled: An Assessment, Transportation Journal, pp 46-53.

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.

Wohlfahrt, W. (2008) Disablitiy Can't Stop the Cruise Lovers [online]. [Accessed 3 May 2010] Available at <http://www.tourism-review.com/article/907-disability-cant-stop-the-cruise-lovers>;