“Most places don’t have an access problem – they have an access information problem.”
This is what TravAbility founder Bill Forrester told the Accessible Melbourne event I attended in 2017. It’s a truth I’m reminded of every time I’m planning a trip and everytime I talk to operators.
For example, it’s virtually impossible to find accommodation information about accessible rooms. Ask any traveller with access needs, or take a look online – it’s as though they don’t exist.
Of course, they’re out there, but to discover one – and other facilities that support access – I often have to spend hours emailing, phoning or scouring the web. (And even then, there can be a measure of doubt.)
A recent international report by travel technology company Amadeus found that the top problem experienced by more than half of all travellers with access needs was ‘lack of information about accessibility at destination’.
A 2018 Austrade report found 86 per cent of travellers with a disability wanted more practical information. Many also said that ‘not knowing what to expect’ was a barrier to travel, again indicating the importance of good information.
The report estimated that the disability travel sector in Australia could be worth as much as $8 billion a year, once travelling companions were included. Its authors conceded that this figure didn’t account for the broader accessible travel market – including people with injuries, parents with prams, or older people with particular needs.
In accessible tourism, information is its own form of marketing. It will often be the deciding factor for someone arriving at your door. Put yourself in the position of a potential customer – a wheelchair user, for example, someone who has low-vision or is hard of hearing, or someone using crutches or a brace following an injury or operation. What information can you provide to give them confidence, and help them know what to expect?
Personally, if I know where the accessible parking bay is, how the main areas are configured, what to expect from staff and what the situation is in the bathroom, I can visit without the stress of the unknown.
Of course, every customer is different. Some will also be using assistive technology – such as a wheelchair power assist, or a hearing device. This isn’t a replacement for good access design: the point is to work with each customer so they can have the best possible time
An open attitude is key. You won’t cover everything and everyone immediately. (Having said that, parking and toilet information are a crucial starting point.) Treat each enquiry and each customer individually, and see accessibility and access information as an ongoing part of your customer experience improvements.
And remember, customers with access needs want to travel independently where they can. They don’t want to unnecessarily burden anyone and they absolutely want to be treated with respect and dignity.
So where to start – and how to do it? Information about the physical environment is incredibly important.
Photos are good, videos are great, and in some cases measurements will be crucial. Virtual video tours, allowing prospective visitors to imagine themselves at your destination, can be as valuable for someone who uses a walker as they are for someone with autism.
Store all your information on a dedicated, easy-to-find specific ‘accessibility’ page – and don’t forget the details. Handrails, seats – even the type of door handles – can be great to know, and plan for regular checks and updates of this information.
Think, too, about ways to integrate accessibility information into your wider, ‘mainstream material’. For example, you may not need to be so explicit on your homepage about your entryway access ramp if there’s a photo right there showing people walking (and wheeling) up it. You could then supplement this with a separate document or resource with ramp locations, widths, gradients and materials.
While access information remains difficult to find on many travel sites, there are a few shining exceptions.
New York City’s tourism website, NYCgo has a video of a family with a wheelchair user. The narrator invites people to her city and provides an overview of access considerations. Then there’s a directory of experiences, hotels and highlights that you can filter.
Disneyworld’s Disability Access Service is another great example. The service allows registered visitors to minimise wait times for rides with a queue-holding service. The service’s webpage also has detailed information for visitors, including those with reduced mobility, cognitive disabilities, lighting sensitivities and hearing disabilities, and those using service animals. There’s also a dedicated disabled visitor phoneline and email.
Closer to home, Melbourne’s Corner Hotel has a dedicated accessibility webpage that provides photos, transport information, service dog information, and links to a large print menu, communication cards and tips on how to see a live band if you live with a disability.
As this illustrates, you don’t need a Disney or NYC-sized marketing budget to meet your customers’ accessibility information needs. It’s about comprehensiveness rather than expense.
Just engage with your potential customers and their needs (an access consultant can help) and get accurate, timely information out there, consistently.
Remember: information brings confidence and confidence brings visitors!