Accessible traveling: What does the industry sector offer?

It’s all about the destination – usually, choosing the vacation spot comes first, at least when it comes to travel. You gather information at a travel bureau or on the Internet and make a decision. Then you book a reservation, plan and pack your suitcases and let the vacation begin. But can people with disabilities also do things just like that? Does the tourism industry pay attention to their needs as guests?


Photo: Man and his wife who uses a power wheelchair on a beach promenade; Copyright:

Not only booking or the hotel, but also the surrounding areas on site should be accessible; ©

Basically, everything already starts by choosing your travel destination: are the accommodations and surroundings accessible? What region or country is generally well suited for people with disabilities? Several cities often provide only a limited amount of good information online. At the Hamburg Tourism homepage, for instance, interested visitors are actually able to find a large variety of detailed information about the surroundings and choices on location. There are more and more available enterprise information portals especially in the German-speaking realm that try to combine information pertaining to certain areas and provide tips if needed.

Barriers to booking vacations

Once you have finally decided on a destination, you need to book your vacation. Aside from dedicated travel agencies that are specialized in people with disabilities, there is obviously also the option of booking online. However, the problem here is that it is often not immediately apparent whether a hotel offers accessible rooms and how they are equipped. Quite often, the online reservation needs to be followed up with a call to clarify the specifics. When it comes to accessibility for the disabled, the focus tends to be exclusively on people with restricted mobility. The needs of visually impaired, blind or deaf persons are often neglected. That’s also why shampoo bottles with Braille, for example, are so far more of an exception in hotel rooms.

But before you arrive at the hotel, you need to find a way to get there first. Here, too, the accessibility focus is often exclusively on the needs of wheelchair users. At the beginning of the year, the Miami International Airport has launched the MIAair program. It is designed to ensure that both autistic and hearing-impaired passengers enjoy their flights. Detailed descriptions and flyers explain every step special needs passengers can expect at the airport. The goal is to make these future passengers feel as safe as possible. And although these measures are certainly not able to take away all of their fears, they are at least a step in the right direction.

Photo: Several beach wheelchairs at the beach; Copyright: Kraynova

Beach wheelchairs are only one way to meet the needs of guests with disabilities; © Kraynova

Tourism industry needs to rethink its business

The fact that the subject of "accessible tourism" is still not a matter of course in the industry sector, was already evident in two examples in 2016: at the CMT Travel and Tourism Trade Fair in January, the Center for Living a Self-Determined Life ("Zentrum selbstbestimmt Leben"), ZsL Stuttgart, was the only booth that was explicitly dedicated to this subject. The subject was virtually not represented at the International Travel Trade Show ITB. Hardly any exhibitors were able to provide information on accessible travel offers, reported one wheelchair user who avidly enjoys traveling and explicitly kept asking for information at various booths.

The Accessible Tourism Day also took place during the ITB but was located far away from the actual trade events and therefore difficult to find. So if you didn’t know about it or specifically looked for it, you most likely didn’t encounter the subject. And yet this would be quite important, especially given the current situation. "The industry sector needs to realize that it loses valuable guests if it does not address their needs," said Francesc Aragall during the panel discussion. "This applies both when you don’t cater to vegetarian guests, for example, andif you ignore accessibility issues."

Dr. Rüdiger Leidner, Chairman of Natko, is also convinced, "There is still lots to do." Aside from the industry sector itself, he also sees the responsibility with another entity. "The government needs to be responsible for the reliability and designation of accessible services and offers; and preferably at a cross-national and uniform level." He also demanded that public project sponsorships pertaining to this issue should only be approved if they explicitly include accessibility aspects.

In any case, the various experts at the panel discussion on the Accessible Tourism Day in March all agreed: generally, the entire tourism service supply chain should be covered. Everything, from transportation to accommodation all the way to activities on location needs to be accessible for a variety of guests. At the end of the day, Ursula Wallbrecher, herself a wheelchair user and point person for accessibility issues at the State Museum, Mainz, summed up perfectly what an accessible travel experience should ideally look like: getting there, getting in and getting around.

Photo: Nadine Lormis; Copyright: B. Frommann

© B. Frommann

Nadine Lormis
(translated by Elena O'Meara)

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