Making Business Growth Accessible

With I billion people in the world (15% of the world’s population) with some form of disability and a growing aging population which by 2050 will represent 2 billion people over 60 (more than 20% of the population), what is the UK tourism industry actually doing about harnessing this largely untapped market?

27 September is World Tourism Day and the UN message is Tourism for All.

But what does this really mean in practise for our industry? To start with it means both recognition and a change of attitude.

This massive demographic change of a population that’s grown up with travel creates a market which as it grows so does its needs change which means both governments and the private sector need to respond. But how?

The UNWTO World Ethics Committee has been grappling with this issue seeing both a business opportunity but also an ethical issue that the industry needs to acknowledge and embrace.

It means that any tourism product should be designed irrespective of age, gender or ability. A 75 year old may not want to hurl down a ski slope but why shouldn’t they enjoy the benefits of clean mountain air, beautiful views and fine dining. It requires a joined up approach across the tourism supply chain i.e. transport, accommodation, leisure activities, hospitality and destinations, to ensure a positive tourism experience and it means designing this framework so that it is available to all without additional costs.

So how do we achieve this joined up approach?

Information on the nature of the accessible tourism offer is key and businesses need to start to state clearly and accurately what facilities are available and how to book these.

Governments and national administrations need to develop accessible tourism policies and regulations involving accessibility standards and technical guidelines. They need to support investments and benchmark achievements and provide information and training for service providers on how to enhance the travel experience for people with disabilities. Furthermore there should be job creation and entrepreneurship opportunities for people with disabilities within our industry.

As businesses we need to become more customer centred capable of catering for this growing tourism market. How many over 60s looking for a warm winter break can cope with the increasingly lengthy walks with luggage without walking escalators in airports? Dubai airport is a case in point. We need to invest in staff awareness and customer service skills and be prepared to attend to clients with disabilities and specialist requirements in normal day to day affairs not regard them “ as unique special cases”. They need as part of running an ethical business have a clear accessibility policy stated on their company website which also commits to employing people with disabilities.

The UK market has the benefit of ABTA which has already developed some very helpful guidelines and so there is little excuse for tourism businesses to at the very least not get to grips with the marketplace and understand what’s involved and develop future strategies to reflect the growth of this sector. There are also technical manuals published by the UNWTO which can be downloaded from their website at

This is NOT a niche market, yours customers today travelling as young families are the genervations travellers of tomorrow with grandparents accompanying.

World Tourism Day and Tourism for All provides a wakeup call to the industry to realise business growth- in both an ethical and accessible way. Please don’t dismiss or ignore it.

Fiona Jeffery OBE

Member of UN World Ethics Committee for Tourism