The disability sector of the Australian Tourism market is significant,
but at the same time the most misunderstood tourism sector.
Significant research was undertaken as part of the CRC on Sustainable
The research indicates that the relationship between disability
and ageing is clearly evident and both present a challenge for the
Australian and global tourism industry. In Europe and America, this
has been recognised and the tourism industry has been seeking ways
to ensure that its infrastructure and products are accessible to all.
There has been recognition that the tourism industry needs to adopt
universal design principles as a foundation to achieving greater social
sustainability as part of the triple bottom line imperative for tourism
development. Understanding the broader issues of visitor accessibility
is paramount to developing positive tourism experiences and building capacity in the tourism industry to cater
for all levels of disability. The research has indicated that visitor accessibility encompasses all tourism markets
including seniors and people with disabilities who have been defined through accessible tourism.
Over the last 20 years following the introduction of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) there have
been tremendous strides made in general accessibility. While the tourism industry lagged behind general built
infrastructure, there are now accessible facilities on a worldwide basis. The issue, generally, is that the retail
travel industry and its wholesale suppliers have not incorporated those facilities into its general market offerings
and have failed to cater for this large sector of the travel market. The one notable exception is Flight Centre
Canada who established a centre of excellence for Accessible Travel through its Canadian Affiliate program.
That centre of excellence was established by Shauna Petrie and her agency “Wheels at Sea”.
The 2008 Australian National Visitor Survey estimated the following:
• Some 88% of people with disability take a holiday each year that accounted for some 8.2 million overnight
• The average travel group size for people with a disability is 2.8 people for a domestic overnight trip and
3.4 for a day trip.
• There is a myth that the accessible tourism market does not spend because of economic circumstance and
are a significant proportion of each travel market segment.
• They travel on a level comparable with the general population for domestic overnight and day trips.
• The total tourism expenditure attributable to the group is $8bn per year or 11% of overall tourism
In terms of future opportunity a recent Tourism Queensland study identified the following significant demographic
• We have an ageing population that is increasingly affected by
disabilities. These people are retiring at a younger age and living
• They are not necessarily wheelchair users and want to enjoy life to
the maximum despite their physical restriction.
• The majority of Australia’s inbound markets are sourced from
nations with ageing populations.
• Providing accessible tourism facilities and services opens the door
to a large and growing market.
• While wheelchair users appear to comprise of a small number
of the overall people with a disability, design and planning that
incorporates the needs of this group will be good design and
planning for other markets.
• Effectively many people will benefit from these provisions including the ageing population, parents with
prams, and employees as it incorporates good design practice for a range of occupational health and safety
• Queensland has a great range of accessible tourism product, but the problem has been getting information
about it to people who need it.
Travellers with disabilities do not just impact their family or friends circles. Weddings, multi-generational reunions,
or business conferences can be equally affected where one of the guests is a traveller with a disability.
Accessible Travel is Shunned by the Retail Industry and Tour Operators
The retail travel and tour operator are sectors of industry that have paid
little regard to the development of inclusive tourism. The retail sector
world wide has ignored PWDs and the bricks and mortar sector especially
have paid no heed to the recent Expedia decision. Apart from Flight
Centre Canada, who took an interest in inclusive travel in the lead up to
the Paralympic Games, I am not aware of any other major retail chain
that has developed any expertise in the Travellers with Disabilities sector.
Further, world wide the major Tour Operators like The Travel Corporation
(with its brands of Trafalgar and Insight) Taulk, Globus, APT etc have
and still shun the people with disabilities sector. This is despite more and
more accessible infrastructure being built and more on-ground equipment
It is incredulous really to think that all tour operators actually have access
to the facilities that have been built as a result of legislation like the ADA
but refuse to include it. If we take the Canada and Alaska Program as a
case in point, from the information presented here over the past couple
of years it will be seen that the entire “Rocky Mountain Tourist Circuit”
and the Alaskan cruise is accessible. There is accommodation, accessible
sightseeing and the three major coach operators have accessible coaches
as part of their fleets. The famed Rocky Mountaineer has a wheelchair lift
and accessible toilet facilities including its Golf Leaf carriages.
The infrastructure exists so why are there no tour programs?
It would seem that the statement from the Field of Dreams
“Build it and they will come”
does not hold true for accessible tourism.
Perhaps the quote should read:
“Build it, Understand it, Market it, and they will come”
While I might not agree that prescribing percentages, as most of the
worlds anti discrimination legislation does, leads to a cultural change
towards inclusion, it would appear that the mainstream retail and
wholesale industries need to be compelled to start providing inclusive
holiday experiences otherwise much of the built accessible infrastructure
will lie idle. Perhaps what is needed is a similar ADA or DDA type piece
of legislation that starts to require retailers and wholesalers to provide a
minimum percentage of inclusive tour product as part of their brochured offerings.
In terms of the retail sector consultants are already adept at learning destinations, accommodation standards,
adventure holidays, cruising and ship details, corporate travel and conferences, so why is there this blank when it
comes to accessible travel.
Each of the major chains could so easily establish a centre of excellence for accessible tourism so that instead of
shunning this valuable sector it provided a travel service for all customers.
Over the last four years, Travability has been developing accessible information on tourist destinations. We have
continually refined our presentation style and level of detail as a result of continual feedback. We are members of
SATH (Society for Accessible Travel and Hospitality), ENAT (European Network for Accessible Tourism) and Tour
Watch the world incubator for Accessible Tourism. We presented a panel session at the 13th SATH World Congress
in January 2009 and as previously stated have been invited to present at the 14th SATH World Congress on “How to
Present Accessible Tourism Information”
Over the past four years we have travelled extensively looking at best practice accessible tourism and prepared
numerous guides which have been presented on our web site http://travability.travel
We have developed a detailed assessment manual and criteria for the evaluation and presentation of accessible
information that can be used effectively for hotels, resorts and attractions. Using the criteria we can work with the
wholesale industry to develop a database of accessible destinations. We have the capability of conducting training
courses for wholesalers and resort operators who wish to cater for travellers with disabilities. We have an effective
working relationship with Qantas and special procedures we have developed with their operations staff to ensure a
smooth check in and boarding for people with wheelchairs and service dogs. We have over four years experience
now with the National Wheelchair Basketball League.
By its nature accessibility travel is more complex and requires an understanding of the capabilities and requirements
of travellers with disabilities. We have the first hand knowledge and international network to make the dreams of
those travellers become a reality and three existing travel agencies to process the bookings.
Some examples of our work:
South Island of New Zealand Wheelchair Users Guide
Phillip Island Koala Conservation Centre
Butchart Gardens, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
Travability recently hosted the German International Womens Basketball Team on a day trip to Phillip Island, Victoria
Bill was born and raised in Melbourne, Australia. As a child he was fortunate to travel
to many parts of the world and to learn and appreciate cultures other than his own.
That passion for learning and understanding has never left him. Bill spent most of his
working life in the corporate field in both financial and operation roles. He specialised
in corporate and cultural change. He has extensive experience in facility management,
major project delivery, stakeholder relations and corporate training programs. He
has worked in the private, mutual, and government sectors. Five years ago he left the
corporate world and bought three retail travel agencies in Melbourne to pursue his love
Recognising that there was a lack of information of accessible tourism facilities, three
years ago, Bill formed Travability with a mission to change the way the tourist industry
viewed travellers with disabilities and the way accessible information was made
Deborah has been a founding inspiration in the creation of Travability. She was born
and raised in Maryland and moved to Miami in 1984. She was involved in a car
accident at the age of 18 sustaining a C6/7 spinal cord injury resulting in incomplete
quadriplegia. Deborah has had a successful career in the medical sales field and was
the Director of Abilities Florida. She has extensive experience in developing and
conducting training programs on disability awareness and the seamless inclusion of
accessible facilities. She has a wealth of experience in marketing. She is well travelled
and enjoys the thrill of discovering new places. As an active and accomplished
individual she is passionate about our dream of making the world accessible to all.