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The Economic Model of Inclusive Travel

Deb on Rye BeachEconomic model of disability extends the social concept to one of customer and needs as opposed to social justice. The social model takes the model of disability from the concept of an individual problem to one of social context in that the disability is actually a function of the environmental and social constraints. A disability would not be a disability if the barriers of the society in which we live did not exist. The paradigm however relies on a social conscious to implement the necessary structural changes to remove the barriers. The drivers are still based on a rights issue philosophy, one that has been enshrined in legislation and building codes to drive a social change. The shortcomings of the social model is that the change has been driven as a rights issue and one of compliance that has been seen as a cost that society demands of a business. The implications are that it is all about access and not the person. The social model did shift the issue away from the individual to a broader context but did not actually change the focus or the culture into valuing a person with a disability as a valued customer. In other words society simply recognized that the barriers were a broader social issue but the issue was still a problem to be solved.
Further the social model of disability by definition is prescriptive. It lays down a set of rules at a given point in time. Those rules define minimum requirements on both technical levels, for example ramp slopes, door widths, signage etc and in percentages for example the percentage of total cap spaces needed for people with a disability and the percentage of hotel rooms, picnic facilities etc.
It is driven by social expectations and translated by rule makers. At that point it ceases to be inclusive and just becomes another problem for organisations to deal with and is handed across to their risk management departments. What started as a model to change the issue of disability away from the individual has only succeeded in transferring into a problem to be dealt with for a group of individuals.

The Economic Model of Disability
We need to redefine disability in terms of an economic model and realize that any disability is simply a different level of ability. We are not all equal in a number if ways. Physical ability is just one set in the total capability set of the human being. If we do take physical ability as the cornerstone of the push for greater accessibility then we need to put it into context. Travellers vary enormously in their physical capabilities and their holiday patterns reflect that that diversity. Whether that holiday is climbing a Himalayan peak, walking New Zealand’s, Milford Track, visiting the wine region of the Napa Valley or relaxing on a Caribbean Island that is a personal choice. The tourism industry is adept at discerning and catering for those wide ranges of choices. We have categorized a disability, through the medical and now social models as something different and around that build a set of preconceptions that shields it from a market view. Research, which is expanded on in our article Managing the Transition of Inclusive Tourism from a Disability Rights Issue to an Economic Market Segment, shows that the preferences for holidays of a diverse nature are the same as for the general population. Evolution from the medical to social model of disability saw a major shift in attitude from one that concentrated on teaching an individual how to cope with a disability in an otherwise hostile environment to changing social attitudes to manipulate the environment to be more accessible to a person with a disability. It was a rights issue and based on the premise that society had an obligation to assist those with a disability. The final evolution is to stop concentrating on the “disability” but rather the needs and abilities in a customer focused environment.

Medical Social Economic
Medical care Social integration Economic Integration
Individual Treatment Social action Product development
Professional help Individual and collective responsibility Innovation in design and function
Personal adjustment Environmental manipulation Universal design
Behaviour Attitude Culture
Care Human rights Competitive advantage
Health care policy Politics Market forces
Individual Adaptation Social change Inclusion

An economic model of disability changes the basic driver from a rights and compliance issue to a market demand driver. We have seen a major growth in eco, cultural and adventure tourism in recent years as the demand has driven new product offerings. The same applies to Inclusive Tourism once the size of the market is understood. Operators will strive for competitive advantage by ensuring their resort plans incorporate accessibility and universal design from the start of the concept stage and are not added later by the engineers and access auditors ensuring compliance.
Bill and Deb in the EvergladesUnlike other sectors of the travel industry the Inclusive travel market does not exist as a separate interest group. People with a disability are present in all sectors in roughly the same proportion as the general population. They are not like the backpackers, adventure tourists, luxury travelers or the Gay and Lesbian sector and the common misconception is that the needs of all people with a disability are the same. In one sense that conception has been reinforced by the social model of disability which in defining the social barriers has concentrated on a narrow sub set of physical access requirements largely limited to car parks, toilets and hotel rooms. The broader aspects of outdoor and activity spaces were ignored by most codes as were the needs for interconnecting barrier free paths of travel. By concentrating on the narrow access requirements the social model of disability effectively created an artificial sector of people with a disability that ignored their actual travel aspirations. It didn't change the culture away from looking at a person through their disability it actually reinforced it.
Using the same argument, even with hotel rooms, there was an implicit assumption made by the industry and their designers that the disabled traveller was of the lower social economic group and therefore where accessible rooms were they provided they were invariably of the lowest room type. Again the codes and compliance standards did not encourage resort owners or suppliers to think about the disabled traveller as a consumer with varying tastes demands and spending power.
The key to the economic model is to ensure the tourism industry releases the strength of the demand and shear size of the market, knows how to market to the Inclusive ravel market and takes the time to understand their key needs and wants.

Corporate Social Responsibility and the Triple Bottom Line
CSR is often sited as a major driver of social inclusion. CSR is perhaps more misunderstood than environmental sustainability was 10 years ago. CSR does generate significant amounts of funds for social activities but does not always result in fundamental cultural change. Philanthropy does not equate to CSR. True social inclusion only comes from acting in a totally inclusive way to an organization's customers and employees. Giving or supporting a local community group or running a charitable foundation is not the same. It may look good on the annual report or make the directors feel good about their organization but if it is being discriminatory in the way it treats it’s customers or employees then the motives do not lead to a change in corporate behaviour. A case in point incurred last year with Delta Airlines and it’s record fine for consistent breaches of the American Air Carriers Access Act. Part of their defence was their donations and work with the Shepherd Foundation. While that work no doubt improved facilities that CSR initiative had not changed the basic culture within Delta in regards to the way it treated it’s own disabled customers. Read the full details of the Delta decision and our analysis
The fundamental question is why. CSR perpetuates the social model and the basic rights issues surrounding it. When change is driven by rights, government legislation and compliance then the outcome will always be procedures to ensure those obligations are met. Seldom is the associated expenditure on infrastructure, manuals and training seen as an asset that will lead to an economic return or a competitive advantage. When it comes to accessible infrastructure we see time and time again great infrastructure with little or no marketing to inform people of it’s existence. The disabled community complain about the lack of infrastructure and the tourism industry bemoan the poor utilization and over regulation.
At it’s most fundamental the basic mistake is that the tourism industry does not see the disabled community as a market nor does it see individuals as customers. As a result it does recognize the fundamental need of that group of customers being information. That information doesn't stop in the car park or the motel room either. People with a disability desire the same experiences as the rest of the population and the same association patterns. They travel with their friends and family and if that includes an afternoon around the pool, sitting at the pool bar, strolling through the garden or raging the night away in the night club that is the information they will expect to have.

The economic model will change that focus by changing how access is looked upon. Once any industry appreciates that the disabled traveller and their friends are large market they will start to research their interests. The focus will change away from the car park and the hotel room to those other activities and making them more accessible. Bill and Deb in MelbourneThe reason being, that those activities drive the incremental revenue and create the demand for room nights in the first place. The development of a business case is only the first step in a cultural change process and still has its roots in the CSR approach. Business cases serve to justify expenditure still and the focus is on justifying accessible infrastructure. The economic model is suggesting that the market already exists and is growing rapidly with the retiring baby boomers. The real issue is attracting them to a resort by providing the facilities that they need. This group will not identify with the disability sector but will simple want to keep doing those things that they have always done and even relive their in their retirement. Their abilities will not be what they were in their 20’s but they will still expect be able to fulfil their aspirations. This impetus of new demand for more accessible facilities and service will change the paradigm for all disabled travelers. The business case is about making the industry aware of the market size and redefining accessible tourism away from the concept that it is an homogenous group to regarding it as significant group of people with differing levels of ability desires and needs across all areas of the tourism product spectrum. Read Deb's article The Spirit of Inclusive Travel - A personal story by Deborah Davis