"Many people underestimate the economic impact of accessible tourism in Europe"

Interview with Dr. Victoria Eichhorn, Fresenius University of Applied Sciences

There is a market for accessible travelling in Europe. Yet it only grows very slowly. But actually there is a huge demand, like a study has recently proved. So what do people with access needs really require? And what does the travel industry have to offer – already today and in future?


Photo: Dr. Victoria Eichhorn; Copyright: private

Dr. Victoria Eichhorn; © private

Dr. Victoria Eichhorn is Programme Leader for Tourism, Hotel and Event Management (B.A.) at the Fresenius University of Applied Sciences in Munich, Germany. REHACARE.com talked to her about barriers, potentials and Best Practice examples.

Dr. Eichhorn, recently you have presented the findings of the study titled "Economic Impact and Travel Patterns of Accessible Tourism in Europe". It was commissioned by the European Commission. How would you describe the current situation?

Dr. Victoria Eichhorn: I think it’s fair to say that we have seen some developments in recent years. However, the information that we have about the supply and demand structures in different European countries is rather fragmented. This is the reason why the European Commission supported three projects that dealt with accessibility at a more detailed and holistic level, covering the European market as well as important source markets.

One of the projects, as you mentioned, analysed the demand for accessibility. The aim of this project was to gain a better understanding of the market size and potential of the accessibility-requiring market (at present and including a forecast up till 2020). We also felt that we need to know more about the travel patterns, behaviour and experiences of people with access needs. The insights that we gained will hopefully help to enable suppliers to better comprehend this market, which in turn allows them to make the relevant adjustments to cater for this segment. This is essential in order to create an accessible environment, increasing the travel opportunities for all people. We really need to highlight that accessibility benefits everyone in society – everyone has access needs, either temporary or permanent. Parents with children are therefore also a key segment of the access-requiring market.  

To what extent does accessible travel have an economic impact?

Eichhorn: Many people underestimate the economic impact of accessible tourism in Europe. Just to give you a few figures: Our analysis revealed that in 2012, people with access needs (in the EU) took approximately 783 million trips within the EU, and the demand is anticipated to grow to about 862 million trips per year by 2020. The current tourism demand generated €786 billion of gross turnover and €394 billion of GDP, equivalent to 3 percent of the total EU27 GDP, and 8.7 million persons of employment within the EU, considering direct, indirect and induced contributions (2012).

The EU economy could benefit from further contribution under scenarios of minimum, medium and extensive improvements of accessibility by about 18 percent to 36 percent against the current level, respectively. While arguments surrounding social responsibility are very important and necessary, we believe that the numbers regarding the current and future economic contribution are crucial to offer a strong business case, which will hopefully convince suppliers to (further) invest in accessibility.
Photo: Wheelchair access to the beach; Copyright: panthermedia.net/Silvina Rusinek

Accessibility and more participation can be achieved with already little arrangements on site; © panthermedia.net/Silvina Rusinek

What types of barriers do travelers have to deal with?

Eichhorn: In our study, we analysed the numerous barriers that people with access needs still face when wishing to embark on a holiday. We analysed these barriers for each type of restriction across different sectors of the tourism value chain. So for example, what are the main barriers that people experience when gathering information about holiday destinations, what are the main obstacles during the transit and at the destination (in accommodation establishments, at attractions and in the food and beverage sector)? We now have a very comprehensive overview.

When considering all sectors of the tourism value chain together, the lack of accessible toilets in all types of tourism facilities was regarded as the main barrier, preventing individuals to fully enjoy their holiday. What is striking, and also very important, is the view held by people with access needs that attitudinal barriers are more important than environmental or infrastructural barriers. Hence, we need to work intensively on removing these interactional barriers. In other words, we need to improve the human aspect as essential element encountered during the service encounter. Here, greater sensitivity and training for the industry is required. But accessibility training should not start at industry-level. Sensibilisation for this topic should start in schools, at universities and other educational instances. We cannot afford to ignore this important topic for the future generation of tourism employees or managers – and for humankind in general.
Photo: Two men help a wheelchair user to get into a boat; Copyright: panthermedia.net/Manfred Sobottka

If employees on site are used to have contact with people with disabilities, it will help to make their holidays as nice as possible; © panthermedia.net/Manfred Sobottka

Are there examples of best practices you would highlight?

Eichhorn: I think, we see some very good examples already. Also with regard to my previous point, there are some hotel chains that offer a very solid – and on-going – training for employees. They follow principles of experiential learning, e.g. everyone in the organisation gets to experience a restriction first-hand by sitting in a wheelchair or moving around blind-folded. This knowledge does not only help to fully understand access needs but also assists tremendously in coming forward with suggestions on how to improve particular products and services.

What potentials need to still be tapped more in the future?

Eichhorn: Future potential can also be identified when it comes to the marketing and promotion of accessible services. People with access needs highlight again and again that the information they need with regard to accessible tourism should be integrated in mainstream channels. Yes, of course, the information needs to be absolute reliable but the channels for information provision should be the same. We should also be careful how people with access needs are portrayed in promotional material. It needs to be appealing and not reinforce stereotypes – we see many examples that are inappropriate.

As a reminder: people with access needs have many of the same travel desires and behavioural patterns as other travellers. So we need to work on removing existing barriers so that people with access needs can enjoy tourism experiences like everyone else as well.
If you are interested in the full study as a PDF, click here
Photo: Nadine Lormis; Copyright: B. Frommann

© B. Fromman

Nadine Lormis
(translated by Elena O'Meara)