visits4u Inclusive Tourism

Logo of visits4u inclusive tourismWho is the customer of inclusive tourism? Everyone! This is the introduction to the visits4u Access Guide for tourism operators. The Guide is from Europe. It has a project guide and a short online training course. The good part of this training course is that it comes in text and audio voice-over. A PDF transcription for each module is available for download. The visits4U inclusive tourism training modules are:

      1. Hotels and Accommodation Providers, 15 minute video.
      2. D/deaf Awareness, 12 minute video.
      3. Information and Wayfinding, 12 minute video.

While the current pandemic conditions prevail, this is a good time to refresh tourism businesses to make them more inclusive. After all, people often travel in groups and if it’s inaccessible for one, the whole group goes elsewhere.

Case Studies

Front cover of publication. Blue background with a night time scene across a city. Design for All inclusive tourism.The European Concept for Accessibility Network tourist guide is based on their Design for All (Universal Design) principles. Each chapter is a case study, and each discusses the seven success factors, and drivers and obstacles. Cities featured in the EU tourist guide are located in Italy, Belgium, Sweden, Luxembourg, Germany, Spain and Australia.

Design for All in Tourist Destinations includes a section on Sydney’s “Cultural Ribbon”, which was written by Simon Darcy and Barbara Almond. Featured is the accessibility of the Sydney Harbour Foreshore precincts, Sydney Opera House, and Darling Harbour.

In the introduction it encourages a business approach rather than a compliance approach. In the past, it was expected that a person would give up their personal goals when it looked too difficult to be inclusive and accessible. But now, we have the technical and organisational means to overcome many barriers. Non-discrimination laws have helped people gain more freedom. 

Landscape view of Barangaroo Parkland showing a pedestrian, wheelchair user, cyclist and pram pusher. Mentioned in EU tourist guide.
Barangaroo Parkland on Sydney’s foreshore

Image source:

Heritage no barrier to accessibility

A street in medieval Chester, UK. Heritage no barrier to accessibility.
A street in Chester, UK

Medieval cities with cobblestones, castles and Roman city walls are not the most disability-friendly places. And they are not easy to make accessible either. However, heritage is no barrier to accessibility in five European cities. They’ve made accessibility a top priority thanks to technology, design and engineering.

The five cities are the Dutch towns of Breda and Rotterdam, Lyon in France, Slovenia’s Ljubljana, and Chester in the UK. The motivation is that these are popular tourist destinations. These examples show that where there is a will there is a way. 

Some of the solutions are:

    • lifting cobblestones, slicing them and re-laying them upside down
    • an app that lets you tell the council about paving issues and follows progress until the remedial work is completed
    • sound beacons that tell blind people when and what bus or tram is pulling into the stop
    • an app for the most accessible restaurants, hotels and hotspots
    • building cascading ramps to the upper walkways of ancient city walls 

Part of the motivation is the tourist trade, both nationally and internationally. However, the EU also takes inclusion seriously and gives access awards to cities that prioritise accessibility in urban planning. You can read more about each city in an article on the website of a Swiss wealth management company. 

The title of the article is Cities without barriers. Heritage is no longer an excuse for exclusion.


Inclusive tourism: Pets are more welcome

A cat sits in an armchair on the beach with a cool drink placed nearby. Pets are more welcome.
Pets are welcome

According to almost all tourism brochures, travellers and holiday-makers are white and have no disabilities. This was one of the findings from an analysis of brochures from 228 counties in the American southeast. So few publications had a person with a visible disability in promotional images, they were able to list them in a short table. It would appear pets are more welcome than people with disability.  

Interviews with tourism operators revealed that they thought complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was good enough. They also thought that ‘diversity’ means including more people of colour. 

After looking at 9427 images, there were twelve depicting a person with disability. Of the twelve they found, 7 portrayed older adults, who were in the background or out of focus. The images they found of people with disability were all white.

Two people stand in front of racks of tourism brochures. Few will incorporate inclusive tourism.Many brochures referred to people with disability in their text. However, the terms used were outdated and even harmful, especially ‘handicapped’. Although this is an American study, it is likely that other countries would find, or have found, similar results. 

Key points

ADA compliant is ‘good enough’. Brochures regularly stated they were ‘ADA accessible’ or ‘ADA compliant’. However, there was rarely an explanation of what that meant for a traveller.

Diversity means including more people of colour. People with disability are part of the diversity spectrum. Indeed they are also people of colour. Black/African Americans and Latinx people travel widely yet they are rarely shown in promotional materials. 

Pets are welcome. The welcoming of pets is an upward trend and some hotels actively welcome pets. There were more mentions of pets in brochures than people with disability. 

The authors argue that promotional images are not just about selling a product or service. They convey representations of social groups, including racial and age groupings. This reinforces stereotypes which further marginalise people and exclude others. The lack of people with disability in marketing materials further entrenches them as the invisible minority. 

Title of the article is, Beyond accessibility: exploring the representation of people with disabilities in tourism promotional materials. It’s also available from Taylor and Francis Online.  This study contributes important information for those advocating for inclusive tourism services. 

Editor’s note: Conversely, promotional material for “accessible holidays” regularly shows a wheelchair user. 


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.

ISO Standards for Tourism and Travel

A wheelchair user has access to the beach with the Council beach mat. Standards for tourism.
Photo courtesy Hobsons Bay City Council

Standards documents are rarely light reading. Similarly to legal documents they aren’t designed for skim reading. And they are rarely in plain language. However, if you can take the time to study standards and understand their structure, they are very helpful. The International Standards Organization (ISO) standards for tourism and travel are a case in point. 

Standard for Tourism and Related Services

Tourism is a global enterprise. It makes sense, therefore, for travellers to know what to expect when they go on holiday to any country. This is especially the case for people with disability. ISO recognises the economics of accessible and inclusive travel and consequently devised a standard. As an international standard it is possible to get some consistency across countries to support this growing industry. 

The title of the standard is, ISO Standard for Tourism and Related Services – Accessible tourism for all – requirements and recommendations. This document is based on the concept of ‘tourism for all”. The aim is to ensure equal access and enjoyment is experienced by everyone. It has key aspects of policy making, strategy, infrastructure, products and services in the tourism supply chain. A related standard is the Standard for Accessible Travel.

Standard for Accessible Travel

The ISO Standard for Accessible Travel has 5 key sections with sub-sections. 

    • The tourist office – When new to a city, often the first port of call is the tourist information office to make a plan of where to go and what to see. See the section on information offices and reception services
    • Accessibility every step of the journey – Most operators want people to enjoy their experiences. The guidelines for tourism and related services help operators with policy making, strategy, infrastructure, products and services. It’s about the whole tourism supply chain. It’s the overarching guide for tourism services.
    • Beaches for all –  the requirements and recommendations for beach operation is another subsection. It also outlines recommendations for the design of access ramps and boardwalks, toilets, showers and drinking fountains.
    • Tourism for all the senses – Braille is understood all over the world. There is a subsection on the application of Braille signage and for assistive products including tactile ground indicators. 
    • Accessibility in all standards – The Guide for addressing accessibility in standards is a standard for all other standards. Standards committees should be aware of this standard when they are devising a new standard or updating an old one.


Tactile or 3D?

A metal model showing a town layout in relief with Braille on buildings and streets. There is a church and lots of houses and a town square represented.Which type of map is best – tactile or 3D? Three researchers from Monash University carried out a study to see if 3D printed models offered more information than tactile graphics such as maps. There were some interesting findings that were presented in a conference paper. The abstract gives a good overview:


Tactile maps are widely used in Orientation and Mobility (O&M) training for people with blindness and severe vision impairment. Commodity 3D printers now offer an alternative way to present accessible graphics, however it is unclear if 3D models offer advantages over tactile equivalents for 2D graphics such as maps. In a controlled study with 16 touch readers, we found that 3D models were preferred, enabled the use of more easily understood icons, facilitated better short term recall and allowed relative height of map elements to be more easily understood.

Analysis of hand movements revealed the use of novel strategies for systematic scanning of the 3D model and gaining an overview of the map. Finally, we explored how 3D printed maps can be augmented with interactive audio labels, replacing less practical braille labels. Our findings suggest that 3D printed maps do indeed offer advantages for O&M training. 

The full title of the paper is, “Accessible Maps for the Blind: Comparing 3D Printed Models with Tactile Graphics“.  The article is also available on ResearchGate. 

Rough Guide to Accessible Britain

Front cover of the guide showing a large glasshouse in a garden.The Rough Guide to Accessible Britain is a good example of how to convey information in both online and PDF formats. The guide has a map at the beginning which divides up the country into counties. A click on a county takes you to the information for that area. With 262 pages this is a convenient way to get to the information quickly.

The first few pages give an introduction and helpful tips and an explanation on how to use the guide. However, it is unclear if the guide is accessible for people who use screen readers. The descriptions tell a story of the place with lots of words. There are no Easy Read or Plain English summaries. 

The level of accessibility and amenities are coded in icons for each attraction or venue. There are links to the websites of each attraction too. The guide has more than 200 reviews on places to go on a day out. So whether you are at home or travelling, you can find activities in the local area. There are more than 200 reviews 

The Rough Guide to Accessible Britain is a great guide for anyone regardless of being “accessible”. You can view the guide online or download the PDF version. I found the PDF version easier to manage and adjust the viewing size. 

This is an interesting format for an accessible tourism guide with lots of good photos. There are links to other Rough Guides for other countries and cities. 

Access Chain inclusive design tool

An intrepid adventurer wandering in the wilderness might want the excitement of the unknown. Most of us want to know what to expect before we leave home, even for a day. For people who find everyday places inaccessible, excitement comes from knowing exactly what to expect at a new destination. That’s why the journey begins at home with information. The Sensory Trust in the UK developed an Access Chain inclusive design tool to help businesses see things from a visitor perspective.

The graphic below shows four key elements: the decision to visit, journey and arrival, on-site experience and return home.  The tool is to the point, clearly written and easy to follow. Each of the four steps is explained further.

Graphic showing the four key parts of the visitor travel chain.

The last step is easy to forget, but a problem at this point can ruin a good day out. For example, a long walk back to the car or poorly signed routes aren’t great at the end of a tiring day. 

The Sensory Trust has more resources on their website. 


Tourism Australia’s resources for accessible tourism

Front cover of Queensland inclusive tourism guide showing a man in a red shirt with his arms outstreched
Front cover Queensland Inclusive Tourism Guide

Tourism Australia has a list of resources for accessible tourism on their website. These resources are useful for both businesses and travellers. They are: 

Accessible Victoria 

Accessible Holiday Accommodation 


Inclusive Tourism (online training)

Inclusive Tourism: Economic Opportunities


Push Adventures 

Queensland Inclusive Tourism Guide 

Studying in Australia 

Sydney for All 


Travel For All 

Travellers Aid Australia 

Vision Australia 

Logo of Tourism Australia - Colourful kangaroo shape with blue upper case textTourism Australia explains accessible tourism as:

“Accessible tourism is the ongoing endeavour to ensure tourist destinations, products and services are accessible to all people, regardless of their physical limitations, disabilities or age.”

Understanding the opportunity for Australia in Accessible Tourism is a research study conducted in 2017.

There is more information and research papers in the travel and tourism section of this website. 


Expedia Group steps into inclusive travel

Front cover of the Expedia report.Many tourism operators want to be more inclusive, but not sure how to go about it. Customer feedback tells you what’s missing, but doesn’t always tell you how to fix it. Some operators fear any change will be expensive, but sometimes it’s the little things that count. Online booking company Expedia Group has stepped into the inclusive travel market by commissioning some research.

Expedia Group partnered with the Leonard Cheshire organisation to set out a roadmap for inclusive travel. It includes case studies and stories of travellers. Interviews, surveys and focus groups highlight why the industry should be more inclusive. 

As with many other reports targeted to business, it covers the rate of disability in the community, and why inclusion matters. Economic arguments, size of the market, and customer retention are all featured. 

The title of the report is Breaking Down Barriers to Travel and calls on the travel industry to be inclusive post COVID. The report draws on the experiences of disabled travellers to form recommendations. Key sections of the report are:

      • Designing barrier-free travel experiences
      • Making information clear
      • Providing inclusive customer service
      • Involving people with disability
      • Taking action

Mountainous background with two walkers. A quote says "Tourism can be a force for good in our world playing a part in protecting our planet and its biodiversity.The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) has launched an Inclusive Recovery Guide. It has three sections: 

The quote on the picture says, “Tourism can be a force for good in our world, playing a part in protecting our planet and its biodiversity, and celebrating what makes us human: from discovering new places and cultures to connecting with new people and experiences. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

There’s more in the Travel and Tourism section of this website.

The potential of accessible tourism in Australia

Header slide on accessible tourism showing a woman in a wheelchair bending down to feed a wallaby.
Photo courtesy Travability Images.

There’s a lot of potential for accessible tourism in Australia, and everyone stands to win, both operators and travellers. The business case has been well researched over many years and in different countries.  However, the data are not convincing many tourism operators to re-think their business model. 

Nicole Healy’s presentation at UD2021 Conference covered the facts and figures. Tourism Research Australia commissioned a research project which involved Victorian and Queensland governments. Nicole listed the research objectives which included: 

      • The size of the market and drivers and barriers
      • Needs of travellers with disability and their companions
      • The best communication channels 
      • The best ways to support businesses and explore opportunities
The results

The results show the potential of accessible tourism to be in the billions of dollars representing 10% of the total domestic spend. And that’s only for those who are willing to travel. Many others say it is all too hard. 

Travellers with and without disability choose trips for the same reasons. Eating out and visiting family or friends are top of the list for both groups. Sightseeing, pubs, clubs, and shopping are all popular. Going to the beach was not high on the list for people with disability. 

Lack of awareness of what’s on offer and not knowing what to expect were barriers to travel. Attitudes of tourism operators and staff was not encouraging either. Higher costs for people with disability were an issue as well as not enough accessible rooms.

Travellers with disability want to see better staff training and more practical information. Better access to toilets, public transport and airports were also important. More detail is available in Nicole’s presentation slides and the data report. You can download the executive summary of the Victorian and Queensland report.

Victoria has a kit to help businesses, and Queensland has their own guide to inclusive tourism

A separate website, Accessible Victoria has specific information and more links. And one specifically for Melbourne also has brief information and more links. 

There is more about inclusive tourism in the travel and tourism section of this website.