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Is Your Front Door Wide Enough for 4 Million Customers?


OK now here is a truly interesting set of facts (yes, statistics, so bear with me): about one third of Australia’s population are directly affected by disability, either personally or through a family member.* In Australia the total tourism expenditure attributable to people with disabilities is about $8 billion per year or 11% of the total market.** So what’s wrong with this picture?

Now obviously there is a lot more detail that needs to be studied in this area but it really got me thinking – just how many tourism venues or attractions had I been to in the last year that were truly accessible? And more than this, how many tourism operators can successfully and honestly set out to market and attract this sector? Clearly if33% of people are affected by disability but they make up only 11% of the market spend I start to wonder if the difference is because of the type of holiday and leisure activities or are we just not providing enough tourism and leisure options that are properly inclusive or specifically created to be accessible.

Money and Desire
The stats also say 88% of people with a disability take a holiday each year accounting for about 8.2 million overnights trips in Australia alone. The average group size which includes a person with a disability is 2.8 for domestic overnight trips and 3.4 for day trips. So clearly there is money and motivation. And it means more than 4 million people in Australia population are seeking, or at least have their radars alert to, suitable activities and leisure options for people with disabilities. Four million people in the domestic market alone! If that’s not an invitation to ensure our tourism venues are well set up to cater for persons with disabilities then I’m not sure what is.

Tourism Australia acknowledges that“…many hotels, restaurants, cinemas, theatres, museums, stadiums, shops, public transport and public open space areas have excellent provisions for all dimensions of access. These environments are complemented by arts, recreation, sporting and outdoor recreation activities that have had a long history of having inclusions for people with disabilities.”

While I would agree that many of these types of venues do pretty well at the most obvious wheelchair accessible attributes such as ramps and toilets, is this enough? (Wheelchair users actually represent a fairly small proportion of overall people with disabilities.) And I’m also going to say that, by observation, relatively straight forward facilities like those listed above may be well on their way, but facilities with a slightly more complex pattern of use such as theme parks, smaller attractions, swimming pools, water parks and many other unique and location based destinations have greater challenges and have a lot further to go.

Complementary Markets
So despite a number of initiatives established by state and federal bodies I don’t think we are there yet. The industry seems to me to be in need of more active planning for people with disabilities both in facilities and services. Wheelchair accessibility does seem to be the most obvious and is also a good place to start because design and planning that incorporates the needs of this group will be good design and planning not only for other types of disabilities but also for other market sectors.

Think about this -  the millions of potential customers we are talking about here are justthe numbers for people with disabilities, not the even broader designation of those requiring more consideration of “Accessible Tourism” or “Universal Design” which will also include seniors, parents with children and prams and people with limited English language (look out for a future article on Accessible Tourism). Much of the planning and design that can be done to provide facilities for persons with disabilities is also complementary to broader accessible tourism sectors.

Good Business
As disability expert Dr Scott Rains says: “Creating accessible cruise ships, accessible terminals, accessible ground transportation, and accessible tourist destinations is not charity. It is just good business.”.   So perhaps all tourism operators should take a hard look and see if you can do more to cater to persons with disabilities (including, but well beyond simply providing wheelchair ramps) and then think about how just a little more effort can really broaden that to the total accessible tourism market. And when you do – why not wave that flag a little bit and let everyone know that what you did – there are at least 4 million people in the domestic Australian market alone that are looking out for those flags.

And just finally, 3 really good reasons why visitor attractions and any operator seeking to build growth in the tourism mark should be taking a hard look at their facilities and setting some goals toward not ONLY best practice in this area but SPECIFIC services and facilities to attract this market:

  1. It’s a large, under supported sector so you can become highly visible and distinguishable.
  2. Many actions taken here are also complementary to the needs of Seniors – the fasted growing sector in the market.
  3. Apart from making good business sense this last one is a no-brainier: anyone providing services to the public has a “legal obligation to remove barriers to accessibility”.

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*    Source: United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
**  Source: National Visitor Survey 2003 as analysed by Darcy and Dwyer (2008)


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