Accessibility: Levelling the Playing Field for Senior Tourists
At the World Travel Market in London a panel discussion on accessible tourism included panellists from around the world, among them Paralympian Ade Adepitan. The participants expressed their frustration at the slow pace of change in levelling accessibility in the playing field for travellers with disabilities, starting with those with physical limitations or consigned to a wheelchair. What was striking, however, was the way in which this segment of the market was seen as still requiring exceptional treatment by operators of holiday or tourism businesses catering for the ‘general’ (read, non-disabled) public. In contrast, experienced operators of solutions in the senior space deal with guests with special requirements, whatever they may be, in a consistently personalised way.
A focus on the senior market equips a business to deal with the individuality that the demographic requires: clients with specific medical requirements, habits and preferences acquired over a lifetime, dietary special needs, a greater likelihood of allergies and skin ailments, medicines management needs, and accessibility needs, among others. Just as making available professionals, to ensure that seniors are not taking medicines which may be in conflict with one another, is a basic medical service for visitors or residents, so too providing appropriate infrastructure and facilities for disabled or wheelchair users forms part of a sensible solution to broaden inclusion.
The interesting thing, as the owner of a completely adapted site in Brazil pointed out, is that accessible facilities have broadened the appeal of his site and much more revenue has been generated by the families and friends of disabled guests, than by any wheelchair user.
When Algarve Senior Living added a third location to its business model via a partnership with a beautiful river-side site near Portimão in the Algarve, the response and interest from the market was high. For a business focussed on the 50+ market, simple single-floor or accessible multi-floor accommodation is the logical choice. As the general market begins to understand the benefits of accessible accommodation to the general public, it will be interesting to observe whether owners and developers opt for a retrofit of existing (unsuitable, typically double-storey) accommodation or the development of fit-for purpose accommodation.
The site’s accessibility credentials include 60 rooms prepared for disabled or wheelchair access, with elevators and ramps (including to indoor and outdoor pools, terraces and all public areas), wide doors, fully prepared bathrooms and showers with rails and support bars, sensor activated sliding doors and lighting, and accessibility equipment rental. The immediate challenge was to create a network of services which covered the ground between the location and the guests’ point of arrival or departure, and extended beyond into the accessibility supply chain.
While airlines already provide support in the form of wheelchairs and assistance to disabled users, often the support ends as soon as the traveller enters the airport terminal. In the Algarve, the support network is now much broader. A specialist accessible transportation company, Cultur’Friends, makes available adapted VW Caddie Active vehicles with manual ramps and hydraulic suspension. A network of accessibility partners, integrated into the European Network for Accessible Tourism (ENAT), points travellers with mobility or accessibility to partners or suppliers.
Service-based solutions such as those run by www.algarveseniorliving.com, are revolutionising the way in which travellers with accessibility needs find appropriate solutions. This includes increased focus on ensuring that accessibility information, including any limitations, is more readily available. Accessibility statements, better designed web sites, and in-situ signage, all help to make the experience of guests with disabilities as similar as possible to visitors who are not disabled.
Luis da Silva, Founder and Managing Director of Algarve Senior Living, comments that “we have always had an inclusive vision. While we have been realistic about the current infrastructural constraints, we are constantly striving to seek broad-based solutions. It just makes sense because the quality goes up for all concerned.”
To paraphrase Paralympian Ade Adepitan: “There is an £8.5 billion market out there. Catering for the accessibility segment of the market is not simply a question of ensuring all travellers are treated fairly, but it makes sound business sense. Foolish is the business which ignores the potential of this vast market, avid for travel and for new experiences!”