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ADA Changes present the Tourism Industry with a Market Opportunity not a Compliance Issue

From the 15th of March changes to the ADA in the United States will require hotel and resort operators to provide information on their accessible facilities and provide the ability to book, within the normal reservation systems an accessible room. A summary of those requirements, prepared by Michael Carrasco, DC Disney Travel Examiner, is as follows:

  • Lobby Liftallow accessible rooms to be booked in the same ways for people with disabilities as for people without disabilities
  • have access to information available about those rooms that are descriptive enough for the person to decide whether the room will meet their needs (including photos or other images)
  • include information about which features which rooms have, including which are accessible with roll in showers and which have tubs with grab bars
  • reserve and hold a specific room for that specific guest with a disability. Those specific rooms must be actually removed from the reservation system (to avoid double booking and ensure that when the guest arrives the room they needed was available for them)
  • hold accessible rooms back for reservation by people with disabilities until all non-accessible rooms of that type/class have been rented.

The travel industry has two choices:

  1. It can continue to regard the new requirements as a compliance issue and produce material and reservations system to do exactly what the ADA requires or
  2. It can take a step back and look at it as an opportunity to engage a new market of travelers and understand the underlying reasons for the change in the regulations.

The travel industry has evolved to service its market. Hotels and resorts offer a wide range of products and services, from standard hotel rooms, king size rooms, rooms with different views and prices tags, business suites, family suites and self catering rooms. The list goes on. These rooms have been developed to service market demand or at least perceived market demand. Because their existence is customer driven the industry has developed very specialised and detailed ways to present such information. Each feature is listed in detail as a selling point for the product. Often rooms further up the price line has its additional features listed only to entice the upsell.

Further each type of room is clearly delineated in the booking systems to ensure that a customer gets exactly what they have seen on the advertising material whether that be through a brochure or web site.

The travel industry is adept at promoting and selling a complex array of product types.

Why then do we see a lack of information on the "accessible" or "disabled" room, seldom the ability to book it online and often the requirement to phone reservations for both information and bookings. Is it not just another room type with just another set of facilities for another group of customers?

Inclusive Tourism is not seen as a market

Unfortunately the tourism industry does not view inclusive tourism as a market otherwise the accessible rooms would have long been seen as an asset and received the same marketing treatment as every other room type. Instead they have been built as a result of legislation compelling industry players to provide a set of facilities. There has been no market basis behind the decision to built accessible infrastructure and its roots lie in the worldwide adoption of Article 30 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The demographics of the world are changing as the populations of all western countries age.

"Of everyone who has ever reached the age of 65
since the beginning of recorded history,
Two thirds are alive today"

Generation Bold

Access resort poolThe current estimates for the Inclusive Tourism market put its value at 11% of the total market.
US research by McKinsey & Company predicts that by 2015, the baby boomer generation will command almost 60 percent of net U.S. wealth and 40 percent of spending. In many categories, like travel, boomers will represent over 50 percent of consumption. The impact on the Inclusive Travel sector is significant as over 40% of them will be retiring with some form of disability, raising the total value of direct expenditure to the Inclusive Tourism sector to over 25% of the market by 2020.

25% of the total market will place its value at more than any other of the niche segments including sustainable, adventure and cultural tourism. Unlike any of those Inclusive tourism is not a separate sector but will be spread across all facets of the interest range, including the lucrative luxury market. A simple "accessible" room won't satisfy the demands of this sector and those in the industry that persist with a "non market" approach to travelers with a disability and the retiring baby boomers will put themselves at a substantial competitive disadvantage.

Get to Know the Market

The 15th of March 2012 is not just another compliance date. It should be viewed as the catalyst to reexamine the preconceptions about accessibility. It is time for the tourism industry to realise that the aging population and the retirement of the baby boomers is going to change the tourism product needs. Instead of just putting a new set of compliance data on a web site resort and hotel owners need to look carefully at the ageing market and start understanding what their complete needs are and start tailoring products and information to suit. The new ADA requirements are not about disability rights and equality but rather they reflect a changing market demand that in the main has caught the tourism industry napping. How well products are developed, promoted and sold will determine who gains the market competitive advantage over the next few years

The tourism industry has to ask itself what each ADA compliance item actually means to the customers that rely on them and then ask how can we do more to ensure we are their destination of choice.

For a more detailed review of the Economic Drivers read our article "The Economic Model of Inclusive Travel
Changing the demand drivers for the provision of products and services in Inclusive Tourism. The Why and How."