Come One, Come All: Making Your Tours More Accessible
One of the main tenets of the tourism industry is to give people the opportunity to experience different places and cultures. When we fail to consider tourists with different accessibility needs, we ignore a huge part of our customer base. By taking the needs of all of your potential customers into consideration, you can increase your bookings and help a whole new segment of people explore the world.
True accessibility begins with universal design — a design concept that focuses on creating an environment that can be accessed and used by everyone, regardless of age, size, or ability. This guide answers your questions about how accessibility will benefit your business and the steps you can take to make your experiences more accessible.
What Does Accessibility Mean?
Accessibility means that everyone feels welcome and able to participate, regardless of their unique needs and limitations.
People usually think of accessibility in terms of accommodating people with physical disabilities, such as:
- Mobility impairment
- Visual impairment
- Hearing impairment
- Some forms of neurodivergence
However, accessibility also includes invisible disabilities and other needs that would not typically be considered disabilities, such as:
- Chronic illness and other medical conditions
- Traveling with small children
- Not being fluent in the dominant language of the location
- Other forms of neurodivergence
Why Is Accessibility Important to Your Tourism Business?
Accessibility is important, first and foremost, because it creates an inclusive environment that is welcoming to all. It’s simply the right thing to do, and it also has economic benefits for your business:
- People with different accessibility needs represent a large segment of the tourism industry.
- In the E.U. and U.S. alone, the accessible tourism market represents a $70 billion opportunity (Amadeus).
- There are 1 billion people with disabilities worldwide according to the U.N. — and as we mentioned in the previous section, this is one just segment of people with accessibility needs.
- There is an aging population that wants to travel, and they will be looking for tours that can accommodate their needs.
- When your tours are not accessible, you’re not just losing out on one person’s booking. People tend to travel in groups, whether it’s with family or friends, and if one group member cannot participate in your tour or activity, you’ll likely lose the entire group’s booking.
- Improving accessibility increases bookings, builds customer loyalty, and is likely to lead to better reviews and word-of-mouth referrals.
- A good review on a forum or Facebook group for people with specific needs saying that you did a great job of accommodating an individual or group could lead to many more bookings from people with similar needs.
Why Does Universal Design Matter?
As we mentioned earlier, true accessibility begins with universal and inclusive solutions. Piecemeal solutions that only address a specific need can introduce further complications and draw arbitrary distinctions between people with accessibility needs and those without. Universal design isn’t about catering to a specific need, but rather designing environments that benefit everyone.
It’s crucial to remember that people with different abilities have the same desire to have a memorable, enjoyable tour as anyone else. Every traveler wants to feel like they were included rather than sidelined as a person with different needs.
For example, if you offer a city walking tour, and you create a separate tour for people with mobility impairments, guests who take this tour might feel like they didn’t get the same experience as others. Instead of holding a separate tour, consider how you can make your existing tours more inclusive to all — like ensuring all the streets you take are accessible for wheelchairs and other mobility aids, and that there are plenty of planned stops to rest along the way. This would not only benefit people with mobility impairments, but also senior travelers, travelers with children, your tour guides, and pretty much everyone who takes your tour.
Universal design also applies to virtual experiences. For example, by adding closed captions to a virtual tour, you not only make it possible for people who are hard of hearing to participate, but you’re also helping people who are not fluent in the language to learn at their own pace, as well as appealing to guests who enjoy reading along to better understand and immerse themselves in the experience.
This kind of fundamental, universal approach is a more robust solution that can continue to evolve as you better understand your guests’ needs and experiences, and these solutions make everyone feel included.
What Steps Can You Take to Make Your Tours More Accessible?
Now that you better understand why you should work to make your tours more accessible, you’re probably wondering how to do that. This is an evolving process that is different for every business, but here are some places where you can start:
- Consider your whole experience from beginning to end. This means from the moment someone starts searching for an experience to the moment they complete the experience to identify what barriers exist and what you can do to remove them.
- As you do this, think about the different kinds of accessibility needs your guests might have and how you can make your experiences as universally accessible as possible.
- Make your website accessible. This is where your customers’ experience begins, and if it’s not accessible, it’s also where you could lose customers whose needs aren’t met.
- Learn more in our guide to accessible websites.
- Make information about accessibility easy to find during the booking process. Lack of information is one of the biggest barriers to booking for people with specific accessibility concerns. If the information is not available, people will often search for reviews to find that information, and they tend to focus on negative reviews (Amadeus). Alternatively, they will just leave without booking and find a competitor who does have that information readily available.
- Include accessibility information in your activity description and FAQ page. For example, for a food tour, call out how you accommodate food allergies and sensitivities and what information you need from guests to do this.
- Update your marketing materials. Review your marketing materials and make sure your marketing materials reflect the accessibility and inclusivity of your experience.
- Learn more about how to do this in our guide to inclusive marketing.
- Listen to feedback from customers with limitations and accessibility needs. If someone leaves you a negative review regarding the accessibility of the experience, consider how you can improve your tours in the future (and be sure to respond to that review).
- If a potential customer calls or emails you with an accessibility question, think about how you can make that information easier to find on your website.
- Educate yourself and your employees on how to accommodate different needs. Tourism is a customer service industry and making every guests’ experience a positive one is paramount. Excellent, personalized customer service = positive reviews, return business, and good vibes all around.
- Employ people with different accessibility needs than your own. Inclusivity is not just for your customers. Having a diverse employee base brings a variety of perspectives to your business, and your employees can provide insight that you otherwise wouldn’t have. A truly accessible business considers the needs of both customers and employees.
Better Business, Good Ethics
Our world is becoming more accessible, both through advances in mobility aids and increased accessibility of information online. People who haven’t been able to travel in the past have more opportunities to do so now. Making your tours and activities accessible not only opens up a new market for your business but also opens up your part of the world to new groups of people, and that’s what our industry is all about.
Accessible tourism is both good business and good ethics, so there’s really no reason not to strive for increased accessibility. Start by reading reviews and thinking about how to make your business more accessible, both online and in person, and remember that universal accessibility is an ongoing process. Continue your journey by reading our guide to inclusive marketing.