According to the World Health Organization (WHO, 2011) 15% of the world’s population have special needs or some kind of disability. This global estimate for disability is on the rise due to population ageing and the rapid spread of chronic diseases.

Most of this collective will never have the privilege of enjoying the simple fact of embarking on a journey, immersing into other cultures, and exploring new destinations. This is in great part due to barriers and a lack of facilities that cover everyone’s needs.

These barriers that can be categorized into two blocks (ONCE, 2017).

First, the environmental barriers:

1. Architecture

A Universal Design meets the requirements of every individual, creating a space that is accessible in all aspects. A lot of factors need to be studied while designing a detailed and accessible structure, from the selection of colors to the arrangement of rooms.

2. Infrastructure

Some examples of inclusive infrastructure in a hotel are: ceiling hoists, electronic curtains, beds that can be automatically raised or reclined, adjustable height sinks and accessible toilets. In the swimming pool, a  wide private bathing jetty  and  an accessible ramp are good choices to make that space more inclusive.

3. Technology

Assistive technology (AT) is used in order to adapt and rehabilitate devices for disabled people or the elderly population.

Some examples of inclusive technology are: an adaptive keyboard, adding a voice recognition system to the website,  eye gaze technology  and  installing switching Interfaces to hotel’s computers.

and then the social barriers:

1. Lack of involvement from tourism companies.

Operators do the bare minimum to meet legislative requirements and governments are largely reactive rather than proactive (O’Neill, 2000).

Within the industry, a pervasive assumption is that people with disabilities constitute a minority market that requires considerable investment for low return and profitability (Gillovic, 2015).

“In contrast, accessibility contributes to tourism activity and occupancy. It increases the customer base and market share, reduces effects of seasonality, exploits competitive advantages, improves profitability, and enhances destination competitiveness”

(N. Pegg, 2005)

2. Lack of knowledge about accessibility and discrimination by hoteliers.

Carrying out disability awareness training programs can erase discriminating attitudes and stigma. Inclusive attitudes and approaches are essential to ensure people with disabilities are treated equitably, respectfully and with dignity.


In 2016, World Tourism Day was dedicated to accessibility, under the name of “Tourism for All”.  Taleb Rifai, who was the General Secretary of UNWTO at the time, noted that: 

‘“Accessibility for all should be at the heart of tourism policy and business strategy. Not only because of human rights issues, but also because it is a potential market with a great business opportunity.”

Taleb Rifai

Evolution towards the future

According to the report “Perspectives of the world population 2019” (ONU, 2019), in 2050 one in six people in the world will be 65 years old, i.e. 16% of the population. To be more exact, between 2015 and 2030 the world population will increase to 56% of people aged 60 or over, and the percentage of people over 80 will grow faster. To get an idea, in 2015 the population over 80 years reached 125 million and is projected to triple to 434 million by 2050.

After seeing those figures, the world is expected to develop more sanitary and quality infrastructures. Therefore, hoteliers should think about incorporating inclusive experiences and accessible facilities, and combine that with the integration of technology. The question that arises is:

Will these emerging hotels be able to offer experiences to the elderly and people of special needs? Will they be able to fulfill their needs and their accessibility?

If you like this post and you want to know more about what makes an experience inclusive, I recommend you to read the 5 keys of inclusive experiences

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