Urban Journalism Institute

Tourism sector as an accelerator of accessibility

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), as of December 2022, 16 per cent of the world’s population (1.3 billion people) have a significant disability. It means 1 in 6 people worldwide is disabled. The World Bank calculated in 2021 that around 80 per cent of the population with disabilities lives in developing countries. 

While some cities have increased their investments in accessible public buildings and transportation systems, there are still many challenges to overcome, including inadequate health facilities, technological infrastructure and the empowerment of people with disabilities as part of urban and territorial planning. Organizations such as World Enabled and the World Blind Union have been working on inclusive and accessible urban development through several programmes and campaigns, such as Cities for All. As part of these efforts, for example, the city of Amsterdam launched Amsterdam for All initiative in 2022. 

One of the main economic sectors which can accelerate inclusiveness and benefit from it is the hospitality and tourism industry. Accessible tourism facilities, products, and services for all should be a central part of any responsible and sustainable tourism policy.

Accessibility is a human right, and destinations and companies should embrace all visitors, which would ultimately enhance their revenues. 

The United Nations World Tourism Organization, Fundación ONCE, and the Spanish Association for Standardization (UNE) recently launched a user guide to apply international standards targeting accommodation, food & beverage and meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions companies. This new guidance tool should serve as a starting point for cities in assessing their levels of accessibility, as well as for developing or adapting accessible services and experiences offered by these sectors. 

Within a collaboration framework between UNWTO and Disabled People’s Organizations (DPOs), several Manuals on Accessible Tourism for All have been published to assist tourism stakeholders in improving the accessibility of tourism destinations, facilities, and services worldwide. Examples include Gondolas for All, an initiative that makes gondolas accessible to all, or Wesemann Travel, which caters for deaf travellers from Europe visiting deaf communities in developing countries.

One of the online portals that make travel possible for all is: Ruta Accessible. The website provides information about several countries for travellers with reduced mobility. In addition, as part of the project European Capital of Culture 2022, Novi Sad assessed the accessibility of all culture-related infrastructure in the city and implemented the recommended adjustments to allow access to culture programmes to all. 

The Queensland government declared 2023 the “Year of Accessible Tourism” and created the Australian Accessible Tourism Alliance in partnership with a non-profit organization, Spinal Life Australia. The Welsh Government also announced a capital fund for 2023-2025 for local authorities to improve small-scale tourism infrastructures, including accessibility.  

The tourism sector’s contribution to the SDGs and its inclusive agenda is one of the most critical. Tourism represented 6.1 per cent of the global GDP in 2021, a COVID-19 year. International tourism arrivals are expected to increase by 30 per cent in 2023. It is vital that governments and businesses in the travel sector work towards meeting accessibility needs globally.