Researching Inclusive Travel at the Bay Area Travel Show

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Today I attended the Bay Area Travel Show with one goal in mind – to learn from professionals in the tourism and hospitality industry.

I was especially interested to interview those working to promote or develop specific destinations. I posed questions such as:

  • “What would make inclusive travel economically sustainable in your region?

  • Why does it make economic sense for you to serve travelers with disabilities and seniors?

  • What, in your experience, are the best business augments, or the best business models, for accommodating this market segment?”
  • The answers were instructive.

    Kristin from Amadeus Waterways communicates with a contagious passion for her product. Even before I asked, she walked me through the design constraints imposed by the European canal routes they navigate. Then she explained the solutions they considered and had to reject. Kristin volunteered that serving those with ambulatory disabilities would make good business sense if the design problems could be overcome (Universal design specialists take note – here is a niche market to take on right now! Develop design solutions to meet Kristin's specs and you have opened canal travel to the senior and disabled market.)

    Angela from Cruise-Med , specializing in the Greek Isles, caught on to my line of questioning right away and made referrals to help answer the questions.

    Bill at Bike & Barge Holland Tours placed responsibility squarely at the feet of national governments. Then, as a tour operator who has mastered his destination, modes of transportation, hospitality venues, and itinerary, proceeded to design an accessible-as-possible tour within the existing limitations for a handcyclist.

    Derek from Paradise Development Holdings, SA was the only developer of private residences that I spoke to. His company is building custom beachfront homes in Nicaragua. Derek is one of those folks who can take a main idea and follow simultaneous leads radiating out from it. Bottom line - the first enterprising architect with expertise in trans-generational housing or universal design who impresses them with their portfolio of design solutions might just find an interested audience here.

    Marilyn at the Barbados Tourism Authority loves her country. She gets back to Barbados from here in California even on long weekends. Her thinking is, “Life’s too short to consider the trip home to be too long!” She is referring my questions to the Authority’s Business Development Manager.

    I had already encountered the attentive, knowledgeable service offered by Sandal’s Caribbean Resorts for people with disabilities. I am looking forward to hearing more from Dave at the Jamaica Tourist Board on the model that the Island uses to integrate universal design into the tourist trade.

    Yolandei from Enchanted France was another tour operator who could ad lib an accessible tour from her experience of France. She was quick to point out the notable barriers – Paris’ Metro – and observe that the Louvre Museum has only recently begun making wheelchairs available to guests. There’s a business case to pursue. What economic incentive made the Louvre administration make that outreach to this market? Is there something that other museums can learn from their experience?

    Gilbert from Pacific Asia Travel Association was a hoot! Still carrying himself as the rugby pro he once was he offered frank, penetrating insights into the Asian tourism industry’s progress – or lack thereof – in accommodating senior and disabled travelers. Look for China to make some great leaps forward.

    Winsome at Icelandair knew exactly who to send me to at the airlines for more information. I'm looking forward to reviewing it.

    Jane from the Tourism Authority of Thailand, like everyone else I spoke to, had no statistics on the economic impact of senior and disabled tourists. Even that information was helpful. Analysis of these gaps in market information is a step toward determining how to create inclusive travel and how to make it economically viable.

    Mark at the Singapore Tourism Board seemed to be making about as many mental calculations as a Cray supercomputer while I laid out the background and posed my questions. If his interest-level is typical of the Singapore tour and hospitality industry then I can’t wait to get there and evaluate the results myself.

    Chen at the China National Tourist Office agreed to pursue the question via e-mail after the conference.

    I was unable to connect with the representative of Malaysia. That is unfortunate. Their campaign "Holiday in Malaysia" would benefit from a thorough grasp of universal design and allow them to meet their goal "to see more than 15 million tourists, 12 million excursionists" by the end of the campaign.

    Mari at the Tahiti Tourism Board observed that the international class hotels like the Intercontinental and the Stanwood, as they cater to the Island’s predominantly older, wealthy, US tourists, have established accessibility as a baseline. Tahiti would be an interesting case study on the diffusion of universal design without government mandate.

    Perla at the British Virgin Islands Tourist Board had apparently already given the question some prior thought. She quickly pointed out that the size of the island allows only smaller jets to land. This, of course, means visitors must make do with their less-than-accommodating seats and amenities. So BVI is a case where an inclusive solution calls for airline collaboration with the four accessible hotels on the island. Perla observed that those hotels who made the commitment to access have captured the market and are making a profit with satisfied, loyal, repeat customers. That strategy recur in several other conversations

    Ludvig at the United States Virgin Islands noted that geography is a major obstacle to making reasonable accommodations. We’ll continue our conversation.

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    Statisticians in Queensland, Australia, have been doing some work in compiling data for the tourism industry (it being one of the major sources of income in this state). You can view these on a fact sheet "Disability Tourism" available online through
    This sheet also provides some other leads. The conclusion I came to was that it is up to individuals like me who have some background in what "accessible" really means, to publish their findings. We cannot wait for local government authorities or local tour operators to grab the bull by the horn, because the bull's horns are a bit of an unknown, even taboo. The generation that is responsible for decision making has not had much personal experience with wheelies etc. because they were still locked up during their formative years. Hence the speedy & well-designed tourist facilities found at many places that ARE accessible, have been the result of a really pushy wheelie or two who had political clout. A couple of examples are Alice Springs in the Northern Territory and Noosa - both had wheelchair users in local government!

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