Jake Steinman, also the founder of eTourism Summit in 2000, writes: “It’s been over three years since we started TravelAbility, and in that time, I’ve learned a great deal from the DMOs that have embraced accessibility to become more inclusive and welcoming to everyone. It inspired our tagline: ‘All Means All’ and resulted in many unintended consequences that have surprised destination leaders.”
In this lighthearted guest post, Jake runs through seven things — all positive and some unexpected — that will happen when a destination embraces accessibility for everyone…and acts on it. >>> Read on for the wedding story.
1. The DMOs who are accessible for people who are disabled today, will also be accessible for baby boomers tomorrow. According to available research from Open Doors Organization and Harris Research, the number of people traveling with disabilities will triple to 33.8 million by 2028. Why? Because, according to Health Day 40% of those over 65—a.k.a.boomers— self-identify as having a disability; they have an average net worth of $1 mn and control over 70% of all discretional spending in the U.S. Additionally, 73.4% are retired with the time to travel.
2. Destinations will have found a way to address what some refer to as “DE&I fatigue.” “I” is for inclusive. Destinations that began their DE&I journey with racial diversity are now reporting pushback from board members—and even some elected officials—about their DE&I advocacy becoming too political; several are turning to accessibility, which is inherently non-political, as one way to turn down the controversy temperature and reframe the initiative with a more expansive approach.
3. DMOs will be part of a growing movement that is becoming more mainstream. Need some evidence? The movie “CODA,” about a deaf family in a New England fishing town, won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2022; Tommy Hilfiger, as well as eight other apparel lines have developed adaptive apparel, while Unilever introduced the world’s first inclusive deodorant, “Degree Inclusive,” so models on the Runway of Dreams fashion show, several of whom were recruited from a new pool of talent agencies such as the Outlyer Group, that have sprung up representing models and actors with a variety of disabilities, could avoid embarrassing perspiration. Meanwhile, both Pottery Barn and Ikea have launched adaptive furniture collections while Nike, Reebok, and Zappos have released adaptive footwear. Target even introduced HIDE and EEK, adaptive costumes for kids with sensory needs.
4. Becoming accessible for visitors with disabilities also has the unintended consequence of benefitting locals. Uncovering accessibility assets and organizing them all in one place on the destination’s website serves the local community as well as visitors and makes the DMO more relevant to both. It even aids the hotel community which have accessible rooms to accommodate those locals whose homes are not accessible to friends and family members with a disability when they visit.
5. Destinations find they are developing new product without knowing it. Compared with developing new attractions, hotels and convention centers, product development around accessibility is simple. The assets are already there waiting to be found by stitching together the major attractions, museums, zoos and restaurants that are already accessible into an itinerary, add hotels from accessible booking engines such as Wheel the World or AccessibleGO, and you have a marketable product that can be sold through travel agents.
6. Destinations may experience reduced staff turnover. In a survey of TravelAbility attendees, 74.3% stated they felt “much better” (34.4%) or “better” (39.7%)about their work. During a follow up call with several DMOs, nearly all commented that their work now included the purpose of helping people as a new way to promote their destinations.
7. Destination Leaders may be receiving kudos from board members and elected officials instead of criticism. Accessibility is appealing to elected officials, who see it as a safe and non-controversial asset with economic benefits for visitors as well as local voters, especially in an election year.
And then there was the wedding. At least that’s what happened to me. Last year I attended a wedding and during the reception dinner we were seated with strangers. The person on my right was an accidental philanthropist—he owned a pool cleaning company and had inherited $10 million with the stipulation that he could keep $3 million if he donated the remaining $7 million. The next person was an entrepreneur who had founded four companies and his wife was head of wealth management at Morgan Stanley. And the person to my right was a world-renowned National Geographic photographer.
When it was my turn, I told them I produce a conference that helps the travel industry become more inclusive for people with disabilities. Suddenly, while I felt like the least accomplished person at the table, I was the most interesting to the other guests. They showered me with questions. Two of them commented that accessibility was “cool.” It dawned on me that there is an inherent attraction to people who are perceived as doing good work in the world. I’ve spoken with DMO executives who have related that they have also experienced this same unexpected cachet.
While many destination leaders consider accessibility a “nice to have” but not a “must have,” in between nice to have and must have lives “cool to have,” which no destination should miss out on. Unexpected consequences? It’s more like unexpected benefits that can help everyone.
Jake Steinman is the founder of TravelAbility. Contact him at [email protected].