Inclusive Tourism: Management perceptions are key

Three zebras are drinking from the edge of the water. Their reflections are easy to see.Management perceptions of disability are key to encouraging inclusive tourism. A study comparing national parks in two countries highlighted this and other factors that impact universal accessibility. A legal perspective and no penalties imposed for lack of accessibility means the status quo remains. Taking an economic perspective and an inclusive attitude is more helpful. 

National parks within South Africa and Zimbabwe were the subject of a study comparing them for universal design and accessibility. The attitude and perceptions of national park management was found to be a contributing factor for accessibility.

In South Africa there was an understanding that people with disability wanted to experience nature as much as anyone else. There was also a recognition that there was a good economic argument for being inclusive. In Zimbabwe, management considered disability to be a legal issue and did not believe that tourists with disability wanted to visit national parks.

The study revealed that, generally, the management of parks in both countries appreciate the plight of people with disabilities who want to visit their parks. However, the managers from South Africa seemed more willing and prepared to make their parks universally accessible compared to their counterparts in Zimbabwe. 

This study was the subject of a doctoral thesis which takes a holistic approach to the issues. The conclusions and recommendations beginning page 184 are relevant to all national parks. Staff training, an understanding of the economic benefits and community consultation are just three of the recommendations. It’s an easy read and the conclusions and recommendations easy to follow. 

The findings are also published in a journal article which requires institutional access for a free read. The title is, Universal Accessibility of National Parks in South Africa and Zimbabwe: Park Management Perceptions.  

The doctoral thesis is titled, The development of a universal accessibility
framework for National Parks in South Africa and Zimbabwe.  

Accessible tourism: From charity to business

Hotel bedroom with polished floors, orange and red pillows on a couch and textured wallpaperHotels in Australia are required to have a percentage of rooms that offer accessible accommodation. Hotel managers generally refer to these rooms as “disabled rooms” and think the job of access is done and dusted. Little thought is given to other hotel facilities. This is where legislation brings compliance but not inclusion. It is still a matter of non-disabled people doing “special” things for disabled people. A charity approach is no longer good business. 

A book chapter explores the issues reflecting on equity in terms of sustainable development. The aim of sustainable development is to meet the needs of the present generation without compromising the needs of future generations. 

The author considers different approaches to the issue of social participation. Charities began the “special” recreational activities and social enterprises developed them further. The commercial uptake of these activities still has a way to go. The concept of “reverse integration” is introduced and discussed.

The title of the book chapter is, Accessible and equitable tourism services for travelers with disabilities: From a charitable to a commercial footing. It is free to download from ResearchGate.


Until recently, charities and nonprofits have been the primary providers of recreational services for persons with disabilities (PwD). Increased pressure for a self-sustaining financial existence, as well as the acknowledgment of the value that the market of PwD has, have led to such services increasingly finding their way in competitive commercial environments as well. The chapter traces the development of inclusive holidays for persons with and without visual impairment based on sighted guiding from the historical changes in the understanding of the concept of disability as well as the provision of recreational and tourism services for PwD. The author argues that reverse integration  –  the approach that these holidays follow  –  is a viable and efficient way of offering equitable tourism services, particularly when businesses embrace social entrepreneurship. The chapter is built on the assumption that offering accessible and equitable tourism products for PwD is an integral element of corporate sustainability and responsibility in the tourism industry.
Citation: Tomej, K. (2019). Accessible and equitable tourism services for travelers with disabilities: From a charitable to a commercial footing. In D. Lund-Durlacher, V. Dinica, D. Reiser, & M. Fifka (Eds.), Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility in Tourism: A Transformative Concept (pp. 65-78). Springer Nature

Make flying less miserable

Inside the cabin of an aircraft, people are queuing in the aisle to take their seatsWhat brings repeat business to an airline? Improving snack selection, smiling staff, warm welcome messages on video screens? None of these. Anyone who has travelled by air, even those who do it regularly, will know that the aircraft itself is rarely the issue. The issue is anxiety. And you can double that for anyone with a cognitive or physical condition which makes it more difficult. So what can be done to make flying less miserable?

An interesting article in FastCompany explains how the anxiety begins before leaving home. Will I miss my flight? Is my baggage under the weight limit and will it arrive safely? Will there be room for my carry-on? And in the current situation, will I catch COVID? The anxiety continues with queues for passport control, waiting for baggage and finally getting to the destination. No wonder travel is tiring.

So the answer to improving customer satisfaction and repeat business is finding ways to reduce anxiety and smooth the the travel experience. The article makes no mention of travellers who need additional supports, but the content of the article has some good points. It is basically about designing the travel experience to be more convenient and easy to use – aligning with universal design concepts. 

There are lessons here for any business selling an experience. The title of the FastCompany article is, Three shockingly obvious ways to make flying less miserable

There is a related article about the future of air travel and how problems might be solved with AI. The article covers  boarding processes, linking ground transport with air transport, and minimising poor passenger behaviour.


Customers talk: Tourist businesses listen?

A woman in a yellow jacket is being assisted onto the tour bus by two men up a ramp.Word of mouth is a powerful marketing tool. So what customers talk about when they share their tourist activities is important information. But what do they talk about and how can destination businesses listen to this information? 

A study published in Current Issues in Tourism looks at customer to customer (C2C) co-creation of inclusive tourism. The study was carried out in a heritage context. The perceptions of customers with disability were interviewed and observed. The aim was to identify what was of value in terms of inclusion or exclusion. The bottom line, as is almost always the case, is to involve users in designing the visitor experience. It’s a basic tenet of universal design.

The title of the paper is, C2C co-creation of inclusive tourism experiences for customers with disability in a shared heritage context experience. You can ask the authors for a copy on ResearchGate. If you have institutional access, it is available online from Taylor & Francis.

Abstract:  This study explores customer-to-customer (C2C) social co-creation practices in tourism when customers with and without disability share a heritage service environment. Despite a growing prevalence of heritage- and disability-related research in the tourism literature, few scholars have examined the phenomena from the emergent customer-dominant logic (CDL) perspective. This study makes empirical use of the perceptions of customers with disabilities (CwD) in a recent process of co-creation of CDL within the context of heritage sites through qualitative ethnographic techniques, interviews and observation methods. A sample of 125 individuals with and without disabilities participated in the fieldwork. The objective was to identify C2C social practices that occur among CwD and their related value, leading to either inclusion or exclusion. The results reveal the importance of focusing on C2C co-creation opportunities which create a value outcome. This paper provides heritage managers with clear guidance for creating inclusive and enabling servicescapes.

Tourism promotion: representing people with disability

two people stand in front of racks of tourism brochures.Promotional material continues to under-represent the diversity of the population. We’ve been so used to seeing white faces in advertisements that to see anything other is a surprise. But is that the response marketing experts want? Then there are the stereotypical images, especially related to older people and people with disability. People with disability also like to travel, often within a family group. So how well are these, and other groups, represented in promotional material?  

A recent research project in the US critically assessed promotional materials: brochures, rack cards, websites and online booking platforms. They found that fifty per cent mentioned disability in some form. This included “disabled” and “handicapped”, “wheelchair” and “special needs”. They found that outdated language remained the norm. Indeed, some language was considered harmful for people with disability. 

The title of the article is, Beyond accessibility: exploring the representation of people with disabilities in tourism promotional materials

The article covers some important ground in the area of inclusive tourism. Promotional material gives an impression of a destination or venue. Visual and textural representations were either absent or stereotypical. Industry as a whole has been slow to respond to what is estimated to be 25% of the prospective market. Their promotional material reinforces their lack of interest in this market.


Globally, over one billion people experience some form of disability.
The number of people with disabilities (PWDs) continues to rise due to
an ageing population, the spread of chronic diseases, and improvements in measuring disabilities. However, tourism promotional materials continue to perpetuate a homogenous gaze catering to non-disabled audiences. Thus, informed by critical disability theory, and an inclusive tourism approach, this study explores how PWDs are represented in tourism promotional materials, specifically tourism brochures, from the American Southeast. Through a content analysis of over 200 county level brochures from nine south eastern states and interviews with state level tourism marketing directors, three emergent themes were identified: ADA compliant is ‘good enough’; ‘Diversity’ means including more people of color or ‘ethnic’ groups; and Pets are welcomed but how about PWDs? The findings offer insights for inclusive tourism and breaking down the physical and psychological barriers that hinder PWD participation in travel and tourism.

Accessible Acropolis: Heritage meets Access

A wide and level pathway leads to the Parthenon on the Acropolis.If Greece can make one of their most ancient heritage sites accessible then there are no excuses for others. Besides, everyone should have the opportunity to share in a nation’s culture and heritage. Smooth surfaces and lots of free space makes a visit to the famous Acropolis enjoyable for everyone. 

The project was not approached from a maintenance perspective; that is, upgrading paths built at least fifty years ago. The pathways follow archaeological findings over the years, restoring the ancient route of the Panathinaion Way. 

The brief article in the Greek Reporter provides a little more information with two videos.

An explanatory video is in Greek and without English subtitles. However, the four minute video gives a good idea of the access improvements regardless of language. 

A new lift replaces the one installed for the Paralympic and Olympic Games in 2004. Good news for those who visited Athens for the Games. 

Accessible holiday accommodation

A view of the cabin showing the ramped entry and the accessible parking space.Lake Macquarie City Council is taking accessible holiday accommodation seriously. Last year they began a project to install four accessible cabins in their holiday parks. Council tested the market for the new design and the feedback was integrated into the design. Some of the elements that were considered important, especially for wheelchair users and their families were: 

    • Swipe card access
    • Wheelchair access to both bedrooms
    • Larger switches
    • Swing top bins
    • Fridge above the freezer
    • Variable height clothesline 
    • Larger decks and accessible barbeque area. 

Garry Ellem from Lake Macquarie City Council is one of the speakers at the next Universal Design Conference in May next year.  His abstract gives more information about the project. More work on making the whole Park more accessible means that these cabins won’t be islands of accessibility. The cabins were completed this year and the pictures on the Council website show the result. This is also a good example of how information should be presented for wheelchair users to know just what is, and what is not, included. Saying something is “fully accessible” is of little use – it might only have a ramp and nothing else.

It should be noted that these are bespoke designs specifically for wheelchair users. However, there is no reason why non-wheelchair users can’t use them. 

A view of the deck with a barbeque and outdoor seating. The deck overlooks the Lake.


Come-In! Guidelines for Museums

The graphic depicts the service chain that begins at arrival, all the elements and amenities at the museum to the shop and the exit.Not all museums are grand institutions such as the British Museum. Many small museums are run on the efforts of volunteers, donations and entry fees. So, upgrading premises, exhibits and interpretive signage to be accessible to all poses challenges. But legal obligations require adjustments to provide accessibility. It also means that people with disability can join as volunteers more easily. The Come-In! Guidelines from Europe tackles some of the issues for small and medium-sized museums. 

Come-in! Guidelines provide a practical way forward for small and medium-sized museums. It lays down some principles to guide processes and to meet legal obligations. Language, the “service chain” and staff training are the key aspects of the guidance. The principles include:

    • Disabled people have a right to be included in all the activities of museums and galleries.
    • Museums and galleries should engage in a dialogue with people with disabilities to find out what they need and wish, and how to deliver it.
    • Barriers to access for people with disabilities should be identified and dismantled to enable and empower them to participate. 
    • Universal design principles should be the basis for inclusive practice in museums and galleries.
    • The implementation of best, inclusive, practice should be adopted to ensure that disability issues are included in all areas of a museum or gallery’s activities.
    • This process must be ongoing, long-term, achievable and sustainable. It should be reflected in the museum’s policies and strategic planning, and implementation should be led by senior management.

The European Union acknowledges its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Consequently, the document is framed with this in mind. The information in this guideline is good for any attraction or tourist destination. The Come-In! Guidelines are detailed and practical, and not just policy words. 

If you have difficulty downloading the document from Academia, you can download the PDF directly

The graphic is from the Guidelines. 

Social Tourism is inclusive tourism

A group of colourfully dressed children sit around the edge of the classroom. There are posters on the wall with Spanish writing.Getting away from it all is something we all need for our health and wellbeing. But not everyone has the means of doing this. Being excluded as a tourist goes beyond physical and other levels of capability. It extends to people without the money to have a holiday. But it goes further than that. In developed countries the concept is applied to people looking for low cost tourism. In developing countries the focus is on the visited community rather than the visitor.

An article on social tourism discusses how the concept of social tourism has changed over time. It can help both the visitor and the visited community under the banner of Tourism for All. Socially sustainable tourism, community-based tourism and volunteering tourism have also fallen under the banner of social tourism. Consequently, in the literature, social tourism is not clearly expressed as tourism for people who are disadvantaged. 

The title of the article is, Inclusions and Exclusions of Social Tourism.  Also available from ResearchGate where you can find related articles.

Abstract: The term ‘social tourism’ has been ambiguously interpreted since its inception in the early 20th century, when the focus of tourism was mainly for the financially disadvantaged and socially excluded travellers. Such concept was indeed important to increase social participation in tourism through social and political interventions. Tourism today has transformed with several innovative business ideas, diverse stakeholder participation, new forms of tourism involving the ageing population and people with disability, decreased cost of travelling that allows the inclusion of more middle income groups in leisure trips, rapid growth of tourism in emerging economies, and the recognition of tourism as more than a luxury phenomenon. Literature rarely discusses the inclusive aspects of social tourism when new forms of tourism arise. This study attempts to describe three aspects of social tourism: (a) how social tourism is perceived in different socio-cultural and geographical settings; (b) what are the excluded elements of social tourism; and (c) change in demography of potential socially excluded groups. The study also explains the trends of special forms of tourism and its relevance to social tourism inclusion. The paper offers a wider theoretical engagement and understanding of a growing shift in patterns of social tourism and touristic experience in the present and future.

See also the book, Handbook of Social Tourism. The synopsis reads, “This thought-provoking Handbook considers the impact and challenges that social tourism has on people’s lives, integrating case studies from around the world. Showcasing the latest research on the topic and its role in tackling the challenges of tourism development, chapters explore the opportunities presented by social tourism and illustrate the social imperative of tourism as a force for good”.

Restart tourism by being inclusive and accessible

The legs and feet of six older women are shown sitting on a stone wall. They are holding their handbags in their laps. They are wearing sensible shoes.Without overseas visitors we have to make the most of the domestic market. The COVID downtime is an opportunity for tourism operators to make the most of domestic travellers. One area where gains can be made is making the business more inclusive. Whether it’s accommodation, dining, parks, gardens, or attractions, there is a market ready, willing – they just need to be able. The Travability website has an article that lists some of the steps businesses can take to be more inclusive and accessible. It’s the way to increase profits.

1. Use the downtime to review the current facilities on offer that are accessible, both at individual operator and destination wide.
2. Prepared detailed accessibility guides and publish them on both operator and destination websites. Saying something is accessible means nothing – people need detail. Say what is actually there and provide good photographs and let a potential visitor make up their own mind. 
3. Co-design experiences with local disability groups. Don’t assume adventure activities are out of the question. Many are not. Don’t think limitations, think how to include.
4. Look closely at community infrastructure: good footpaths, beach matting or beach wheelchairs can open a market for the whole region.
5. Look at marketing opportunities and include people with a disability in mainstream marketing material. Remember many disabilities are invisible and also think about children. So it doesn’t have to be all about wheelchairs. 
6. Seek professional advice from organisations recognised as accessible tourism specialists.
7. Don’t be scared to play in the accessible tourism market. Co-design, and learn from feedback. As with all tourism activities the greatest joy comes from seeing visitors enjoying their experiences and leaving changed in some way.

A woman in a yellow jacket is being assisted onto the tour bus by two men up a ramp. The title of the article is, How does Accessible Tourism aid with the tourism restart.  The article has more information about the inclusive tourism market and the economic arguments for being more accessible and inclusive. 

Editor’s note: One area not covered in the article is working across the whole destination by joining up businesses such as accommodation with attractions. A whole place needs to be accessible. Businesses working together is also a good strategy.

There are many more articles on accessible and inclusive tourism on this website, including guides and toolkits.