Could tourism operators be more profitable by better serving the disability sector?

People with disabilities represent a good proportion of national tourism spending, but how well are we serving this sector of the market?

There is a large, growing and diverse range of travelers with disabilities, and their needs are not that unusual. Think: getting on and off a tour bus, finding a washroom to fit a mobility aid through the door, and seeing the sights alongside your friends and family.

Sadly, this hasn’t always been possible and has sparked growing frustration among the estimated 20% of Australian adults with disabilities.

Data from Tourism Research Australia has shown that around three-quarters of people with disabilities travel, and more people say they would like to if the products or technologies existed to support their travel.

Sector “missing”

Melissa James is CEO and Founder of Inclusive Tourism, and a qualified Access Consultant, specializing in the accessible tourism space.

Melissa James of Inclusive Tourism says tourism providers are lacking in potential profits. (Provided: Melissa James)

“It’s an incredibly valuable market, it accounts for about 11% of national tourism spending. So it’s huge, about $ 8 billion a year, that’s what this market is worth,” she said.

Ms James said the tourism sector was absent by not responding to a wide range of travelers.

“Most people don’t travel alone, they travel in groups, so you have a multiplier factor that occurs there,” she said.

“If we think of something as simple as you have a cafe and a bunch of people want to walk into your cafe and have a coffee. Now, if any of those people use a wheelchair, a walker, or a stick walker, and they have to climb some stairs to get into your cafe, they’re not going to go.

Gap in the market

Elyce Tunbridge began touring the Washington state area just as COVID hit.

Front of white van with lady in diving seat, holding thumbs up by window and smiling
Elyce Tunbridge began touring WA Mid West as a covid hit in early 2020.(Supplied: Elyce Tunbridge)

She said she quickly learned how minor adaptations opened up a whole new market with around 10 percent of those who used her service needing additional supports.

“I just saw this huge gap in the market and I’m looking to increase accessibility for people to get to these places,” Ms. Tunbridge said.

It explored ways to improve its ability to accommodate more tourists.

“I’ve tried to be as accommodating as possible with what I have, and already I’ve had people who have come on my tours who are legally blind, who use frames, people with canes, all kinds of different disabilities, but we adapted them as best we could. ”

Ms Tunbridge said the experience had made her see things differently.

“It also highlighted the flexibility, the way we can all accommodate people with different needs and provide them with an equal experience.

“I’m just happy to share more with more people.”

Chris Kerr is a recipient of the ABC Regional Storyteller Fellowship, a partnership initiative with International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

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