Travel businesses failing to take into account the disabled market are missing out on up to £80 billion of potential spending from that market. The headline figure was discussed at the fourth and final roundtable conversation which was organized by The Travel Tech Show at WTM and Amadeus and focused on disabled and responsible travel.
The event featured an in-depth and informed discussion as eight experts from both business arenas gathered to discuss the markets. But it was the figure from the UK Government’s 2012 Legacy for Disabled People, Inclusive and Accessible Business which provoked much discussion.
Ataxia South Wales Chairman Alan Thomas said the report showed the UK’s estimated 10.6 million disabled people have a combined annual spend on goods and services of up to £80 billion, adding: “It is a big market out there. What’s the travel industry doing about it? In a word, nothing.”
Thomas said the problems start as soon as he tries to book a holiday as many people in the industry see his wheelchair rather than the human being using it, leaving agents too embarrassed to deal with.
Enable Holidays Managing Director Lynne Kirby said such problems are endemic in a trade which has failed to educate staff how best to handle disabled people. She said: “Disabled customers have gone in to a shop and everybody disappears and I have to say hand on heart it is still happening.”
But Kirby believes the solution is simple, adding: “It is about getting the right information, but the travel industry doesn’t know the questions to ask.”
Amadeus Director of Marketing Rob Sinclair-Barnes added if the market is to be adequately served, it must be all encompassing: “Accessible travel is the only type of travel that has implications from the moment of departure from home to the moment of return.”
However, Virgin Atlantic Passenger Disability Adviser Geraldine Lundy said the trade would need to go even further to meet the market’s needs, adding: “It is even before they (disabled travelers) leave home. It is when they’re thinking about the holiday and booking it. It is about getting the information about where they want to go.”
Lundy said the information needs to be accurate to allow disabled people to make informed decisions. She added it must also take into account that some disabled people are blind or have learning difficulties and will need the information presented in a different way.
Sinclair-Barnes added as the Baby Boomers enter old age and face increasing health problems, the industry must take action. “It [accessible travel] is a growing market. I’ve found it quite astonishing how little [product] there is.”
Meanwhile the group discussed how responsible travel is facing its own problems, largely thanks to the market being so fractured.
Responsible Tourism Writer and Communications Strategist Jeremy Smith said: “There are too many people who are regulating responsible tourism and that’s one of the great problems. You have no idea who to trust.”
World Travel Market Head of Marketing and Communications Micaela Juarez agreed the system was Byzantine as it stands currently. She added: “Someone should form a body that comes up with a system that’s impartial. It is too vital an issue to be left to chance.”
Responsibletravel.com Head of Destination Partnerships Trudi Pearce added it is almost impossible to define responsible travel as its meaning shifts depending on where you are trying to implement the correct measures. Nor can it be simply marketed as green travel, she said, which can put off consumers, adding: “We have the slogan ‘travel like a local’ and that’s a lot more marketable.”
EcoGo.org Founder Pamela Lanier said in an ideal world responsible travel will penetrate people’s general consciousness so all holidays ultimately are responsible.
Meanwhile, Kirby said small genuine responsible travel companies are facing problems marketing themselves as larger companies use the phrase to market themselves, whether or not they meet the criteria.
She added: “If you Google ‘responsible travel’ you get 400 companies that have just added the word responsible. How can a consumer realize what’s responsible? They’re all jumping on the bandwagon without spending the money that needs to be invested to help.”
However, Pearce argued this may be less of a problem after revealing only 2.7% of traffic arrives at her site via a search for responsible travel. She added: “They just type in ‘holidays’, and what happens is they are then offered something different, something enriching. What we think the consumers want is an enriching experience, if that’s then labeled responsible tourism then so be it.”
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