The tourism industry is waking up to the potential of travel for the disabled, and exhibitions are also getting involved as the issue of “access for all” comes to the top of the agenda.
European Commission directives have been passed into law by most EU countries protecting the rights of disabled people in areas including employment and access to facilities. The definition of disability usually extends beyond wheelchair users to include people with long-term medical conditions, those who are deaf, blind or with restricted hearing or sight, and those with mental impairment.
Like all businesses, the travel and tourism industry must make buildings accessible to visitors. Wheelchair access to aircraft and tourist attractions can be problematic, while hotels must provide some rooms including bathroom accessible by the disabled. Even a website should be readable by people with poor eyesight.
The needs of the disabled are being recognised in the UK where World Travel Market staged a debate this year. The first-ever Accessible Holiday Show – though not an ITTFA member – was also held in 2005, with exhibitors including hotels, cruise lines, specialist travel companies and suppliers of equipment.
UK-based charity Tourism for All participated in a seminar at WTM and will also take part in TUR 2006, the leading tourism exhibition in Sweden.
TUR exhibition manager Johan Lundberg says: “The government has announced that Sweden should be accessible for all at by 2010 at the latest, so hotels, public authorities, tourism destinations, arenas and lot more should prepare during the next few years.
“The Swedish Exhibition Centre is “certified” as accessible and all our exhibitions are working on this. Most tourism companies are waking up to this target group and in the near future, between 2007 and 2009, it is possible that the theme at TUR will be accessible holidays.”
Klara Tihanyi, director of the UTAZAS tourism exhibition in Hungary, adds: “We are planning a section for disabled tourists at UTAZAS next year because we think it could be an interesting programme, and good business for exhibitors to show their product to these visitors. “In the EU more than 40 million people are disabled of which eight million live with a wheelchair. They have the same rights and wishes as others, and it could be also good business to serve disabled tourists. “Considering that 25% of Europeans will be over 60 years old by 2020, everyone must prepare to serve disabled people on a higher level.”
Frederique Maurell, senior events and sales manager of ITE Exhibitions shows MITT and UITT in Moscow and Kiev, says the disabled market has yet to develop in Russia and Ukraine. But she adds: “Developments have been made and a lot of improvements can be seen already. At the Expocentre Kresnaya Presnaya in Moscow where MITT is held, there are several accesses for coaches and lifts are available in Pavilion 1. Nonetheless, it still appears that disabled delegates would rather stay at home, restricting business networking opportunities. It is our responsibility as exhibition organisers to achieve complete accessibility and educate all partners about this issue, encouraging more specialised companies to join events and workshops to be organised on that subject.”