Disabled travelers: the untapped market

When most people think about accommodating people with disabilities in their work, they feel intimidated in their guts and their minds scramble to find this very important history when the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) came into effect. It doesn’t have to be this way! When business owners open their eyes and start realizing that there are billions of dollars to be literally reaped in the available travel market, I think we’re going to start eliminating the fear associated with ADA.

There are currently over 50 million persons with disabilities in the United States and 180 million worldwide, representing the largest untapped tourism market in the world. According to a recent Harris survey conducted in conjunction with the Open Doors Organization and the American Travel Industry Association, 50 million people with disabilities in our country have a gross income of more than $ 175 billion. In 2002, these people made 32 million trips and spent more than $ 13.6 billion on travel ($ 4.2 billion on hotels, $ 3.3 billion on airline tickets, $ 2.7 billion on food and beverages, and $ 3.4 billion on retail, transportation, and other activities) . This study suggested that these travelers would double their spending if some simple amenities were provided. At the top of the list are airport pick-up and greeting programs, preferred seating on airplanes, hotel rooms closest to amenities, and staff who try their best to accommodate guests with existing special needs.

Current trends in adaptive travel show that most of these travelers are taking advantage of destinations that they already know are available as cruise ships, Florida and Las Vegas. Visitors’ offices and companies in these destinations have made great efforts to ensure that their visitors will not have any access problems during their stay. From personal experience and years of wheelchair travel, I can guarantee that these sites have built and will continue to build strong relationships with travelers with disabilities. This group is very loyal, which will often return to the same city, hotel or activity provider year after year if they have a good experience. If everyone can catch up, we will see growth in the tourism industry like we have never seen before!

With this in mind, it is surprising that more business owners have not taken steps to make their accommodations easier and even start marketing to these travelers. If the astonishing numbers mentioned above are not enough evidence, the US Census recently stated that nearly 16.5% of all people with disabilities in the U.S. leave their home two days a week or less. This makes nearly 11 million people not traveling at all. Also, keep in mind that there are millions of people in their golden years looking for accessible accommodation. Many of these people use walking sticks or walkers, travel with oxygen tanks, or have other motor disabilities, and are not included in the disability statistics.

With millions of people in need of accessible travel options, and with our baby booms beginning (about 25% of our population), it’s time to start thinking about improving marketing efforts to include people with disabilities and about the best overall access in general. By educating business owners about the benefits of marketing for people with disabilities and educating travel agents who are fighting a losing battle with the Internet, we can start focusing on this new target market.

If you want to take advantage of the rapidly growing adaptive travel market, start now! I recommend hiring an expert to evaluate your work and start removing barriers to accessing it as soon as possible. Think about accessibility anytime you plan to redesign or add. These improvements will benefit everyone, not just people with disabilities. For those of you who have already taken steps to improve accessibility, start bragging about it.

Craig Kennedy is a published adaptive travel travel author, accessibility consultant, and motivational speaker with nearly ten years of adaptive travel experience and over 15 years of experience in the tourism and service industry. He specializes in growing the resort business and attracting customers by improving overall access, education and marketing and works with companies that want to become a leader in the travel and residence field.

Craig Kennedy, Steamboat Springs, Colorado,

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