Accessible Tourism

With respect to the definition of Accessible Tourism (or tourism for all), there are dozens and none can be arbitrarily defined right or wrong, but seems appropriate to consider the parameters to which the European Commission refers defining Accessible Tourism as “the set of services and facilities that can allow people with specific needs the enjoyment of the holiday and leisure without obstacles and difficulties.”

As a prelude to the “Accessible Tourism” should be considered the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” of 1948. The Declaration affirms in art. 1 that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” and continues in the art. 2 stating that the rights and freedoms set forth must be guaranteed “without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, wealth, birth or other status”. The document also provides in art. 13 the right to “freedom of movement” and in art. 24 the right “to rest and leisure”.

The conditions of the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” on disabilities were reiterated in the “UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities” of 13 December 2006, which contains important references in the context of Accessible Tourism, such as Article num. 30, whose title (Participation in cultural life, recreation, leisure and sport) already expresses the concepts it contains. Among them is useful to stress the commitment of the States that have signed the Convention to take appropriate measures so to ensure for persons with disabilities access to sport, recreational activities and tourism.

The concepts expressed in the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” and the “Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”, developed internationally through then through State and local laws.

Although some important steps have been made in recent years, much remains to do for making Europe a destination truly accessible, attractive to millions of international customers who today still prefer destinations most tested from the accessibility point of view.

According to a recent study in Scotland ( the three main problems that have seen tourists with disabilities in carrying out their vacation were:

  • Bad attitude of staff towards disability.
  • poor customer service.
  • Lack of information on the services available.

So the prejudices, the inability and ignorance in dealing with customers with disabilities, the lack of understanding of their needs and the limited ability of operators to engage and provide recreation and correct information, are commonly reported as the most daunting obstacles for tourist with disabilities, more than the lack of facilities and infrastructure available, which are typically selected and tested well in advance before departure. Developing skills, to inform and train operators in the area are then fundamental elements for making a destination truly “for all”.

To justify efforts needed to develop accessible destinations there are also the figures showing the continued aging of the population, mainly due to three causes:

  • Aging of population. In Europe the people born during the baby boom between 1959 and 1964 will begin to reach the age of 65 in 2024.
  • The decrease of the population due to the falling birth rate.
  • The increase in life expectancy

Data from the World Health Organization showing trends in the period 2008-2040, indicate that in Western Europe in 2040 will be 28.1% of the population over 65 years (9.3% of the population will be over 80 years ). In 2008 Italy was second, just behind Japan, with 20% of the population over 65, but will remain second, after Japan, also in 2040 with 32.6% of the population over 65 and the average age of its population was 52 years (compared to 40 years of age average in 2000).

In addition to the aging of the population, there’s also to consider data related to disability. There are many sources and often the numbers differ, however, research and studies internationally established that the percentage of people with a disability is severe or moderate range between 15% and 19% of the world population, specifically a statistic published by the World Bank and recalled by the World Health Organization certifies this percentage being 15.3% (2.9% or less in the world the percent of people with severe disabilities).

Then, considering this ratio and the fact that in 2013 the people in the world were about 7.1 billion, is determined that in the world people with some form of disability, are over one billion (about 1.086 billion).

Considering the situation in Europe, it is estimated by a 2005 Eurostat study that describes the potential demand for Accessible Tourism to be approximately 127.5 million people (46 million people with some form of disability, plus about 81 million people over 65).

Therefore, despite the billion people around the world falling in the segment of Accessible Tourism, many are forced out because of architectural, cultural and psychological barriers, but also by economic conditions not sufficient to afford a holiday, being in fact people with disabilities often out of the job market with lower salaries. This means that a good percentage of these people can not actually afford a vacation.

According to a study promoted by Deloitte & Touche, Laurel Van Horne says that 70% of people belonging to the segment of Accessible Tourism has both economic and physical capabilities to carry out a vacation.

Another important consideration is that often people with disabilities also need an assistant to travel. If this makes accessibility from the economic point of view even more selective, on the other hand makes the so-called “niche” of Accessible Tourism even wider, being able to extend to carers the number of travelers. The multiplier mainly regarded internationally is 2, which means that for all persons with disabilities who have the economic and physical ability to travel, there are two others that accompany them, regardless of whether it is a friend, relative, or carer.

Then considering these studies and analysis, you can consider the following table to define the potential market of Accessible Tourism in Europe:

Flows and Potential Revenues for Accessible Tourism in Europe
People in need of accessibility (millions) 70% that have the economic and physical ability to travel (millions) Multiplier effect for friends and family Travel Companions (millions) Total Potential Market(millions) Average spending per person for holiday* (€) Potential Revenues (billions of €)
127.5 89.3 2.00 178.5 267.8 € 620 € 166
* Source: Eurostat 2005

The table above shows how the number of potential users in Europe for accessible tourism services is about 268 million people, representing a potential income of about 166 billions of Euros.

To make Europe truly accessible, fulfilling at first a moral and civic obligation, but also getting an economic return considering the important tourist flows that this segment can determine the territory, it is not only, however important, to make destinations accessible by investing in infrastructure and renovation, but also to activate a process of education, training and information that will allow tourism operators and tourist destinations to better implement, organize and promote their services meeting the needs of millions of tourists with specific needs worldwide.