Travelers with Disabilities: The Untapped Market

When most people think about accommodating people with disabilities in their business they get a scared feeling in their gut and their mind scrambles to search for that all-important date when the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) went into effect. It doesn’t have to be that way! When business owners open their eyes and start to realize that there are literally billions of dollars to be made in the accessible travel market, I believe we will start to remove the fear associated with the ADA.

There are currently more than 50 million people with disabilities in the United States and 180 million worldwide, representing the single largest untapped tourist market in the world. According to a recent Harris Poll conducted in conjunction with the Open Doors Organization and the Travel Industry Association of America, the 50 million people with disabilities in our country have a combined income of more than $175 billion. In 2002, these people took 32 million trips and spent more than $13.6 billion on travel ($4.2 billion on hotels, $3.3 billion on airfare, $2.7 billion on food and beverage, and $3.4 billion on retail, transportation, and other activities). This study suggested that these travelers would double their spending if some minor amenities were made available. Meet and greet programs at airports, preferred seating on airplanes, hotel rooms closer to amenities, and employees who go out of their way to accommodate guests with disabilities topped the list.

The current trends in adaptive travel show most of these travelers taking advantage of destinations that they know are already accessible such as cruise ships, Florida, and Las Vegas. The visitors bureaus and businesses at these destinations that have gone to great lengths to ensure their visitors that there will not be any accessibility issues during their stay. From personal experience and years of traveling in a wheelchair, I can guarantee that these locations have built and will continue to build strong relationships with travelers with disabilities. This group is a very loyal one, who will often return to the same city, hotel, or activity provider year after year if they have a good experience. If everyone were to catch on to this we would see growth in the tourism industry like we have never seen!

With this in mind, it is a wonder that more business owners have not taken steps to make their accommodations more accessible and even start marketing to these travelers. If the staggering numbers listed above aren’t proof enough, the U.S. Census Bureau recently stated that nearly 16.5% of all people with disabilities in the U.S. leave their home two days per week or less. That constitutes nearly 11 million people that are not traveling at all. Also keep in mind that there are millions of people in their golden years that are looking for accessible travel accommodations. Many of these people use canes or walkers, travel with oxygen tanks, or have other mobility impairments, and are not included in disability statistics.

With millions of people in need of accessible travel options, and with our Baby Boomers (almost 25% of our population) starting to reach retirement age as well now is the time to start thinking about improving marketing efforts to include people with disabilities and about better overall accessibility in general. By educating business owners on the benefits of marketing to people with disabilities and educating travel agents who are fighting a losing battle with the internet, we can begin to focus on this new target market.

If you want to take advantage of the rapidly growing adaptive travel market, get started now! I recommend hiring an expert to get your business rated and start removing barriers to access as soon as possible. Think about accessibility anytime you’re planning a remodel or addition. These improvements will benefit everyone, not just people with disabilities. For those of you who have already taken steps to improve accessibility, start bragging about it.

Craig Kennedy is a published adaptive travel author, accessibility consultant, and motivational speaker with almost ten years of adaptive travel experience and more than 15 years of tourism and service industry expertise. He specializes in resort business growth and customer attraction through better overall accessibility, education, and marketing, and works with businesses who wish to become leaders in accessible travel and accommodation.

Trailing the Tiger

So there are destinations and destinations, each offering their distinct USPs. Hot attractions that draw tourists seeking an ‘experience’ to carry home – a trophy to substantiate a battery of travel yarns. But in this craze for acquiring the best seller, our jetsetter often overlooks the finer details – colours that give a place meaning and significance. After all isn’t the great thing about travel, the joy of savouring an authentic experience in its entirety… like the succulent slice of a fruit, stones, rind and all?

The tiger is undoubtedly India’s most charismatic export and the twenty seven odd tiger reserves dotting the country cope with a steady file of tourists descending with the single-minded determination of encountering the big cat – an encounter resourcefully ‘arranged’ by guides and rangers with persistence to match.

Make no mistake. To a wildlife freak – and I belong to the species – a tiger sighting is the climax of the safari, the delectable icing on the cake. Often however the obsessed tiger chaser, fanatically pursuing his quarry, remains obdurately blind to the countless other wonders that make up the typical Indian jungle experience, a realization that sank its teeth in during our first trip to the Kanha Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh.

Kanha is beautiful; a glimpse of its ancient forest giving way to open meadows and again erupting into thick sal or bamboo, suffices to counter any residual hangover of braving the hazards of Indian state transport travel. And queuing for entry to the safari, even the jeeps seem to purr in suppressed expectation.

Kanha has often been described as the best place in the world to see a tiger; alas during our visit it did not turn up even an apology of a pugmark, let alone a whisker. And we were not alone. “Seen any?” “No, you?” None” was the common refrain between jeeps. “It seems to be one of those days when for some unexplainable reason no tigers are spotted any where in the park,” consoled the guide. It was true. During the three days we were there not a single self-respecting tiger chose to disclose itself, not even as far as the Mukki range on the other side of the park.

A wasted trip then? Sure, if you discount the sambar, herds of gaur, and hundreds of chital and langurs and peafowl. Any rare sightings? Not unless you include the barasinghas (Kanha is the only place in the world where you find the hard ground variety of this species). At the very beginning we impressed upon our guide that besides the top cat, we were also interested in the other lesser creatures that constituted the food chain. Luckily he took our request to heart so that we were amply rewarded: a black necked stork wading in a stream, a collared scops owl simulating a dry tree stump, a crested serpent eagle surveying the terrain, nothing missed his trained eye. Suddenly he would motion the driver to stop and point. Only after following his frantic gestures and urgent whispers would we see it. A barking deer, outline barely discernable, crouching in a bush. A monitor lizard clumsily scampering over a rocky slope. Or a woodpecker excavating its larder.

Today, many wild excursions later, nostalgia relives golden memories of that first trip. Like the herd of gaur, calves and all, which grazed on unconcernedly letting us approach close. The glory of the evening light on their backs as they ambled away followed by a flock of cattle egrets. The unexpected sighting of a lone old bull foraging down at a waterhole, magnificent even in the past of his prime.

On our last evening in Kanha we waited by a stream, praying for the tiger our guide suspected was around, to appear. After a certain point it did not matter any longer and we simply surrendered to the electrifying atmosphere, jungle silence broken only by the repeated calling of a jungle fowl, as darkness quickly descended and our driver rushed to get back before the gates closed. The next morning Kanha saw an unexpected drizzle of rain. The temperature dropped sharply and an uncanny hush pervaded in the jungle. Few animals were about and on this last safari we saw a different side of the forest, eerie almost forbidding.

Ten Tips for Planning Your Vacation

I hope that by sharing my personal experiences, you will avoid learning similar lessons the hard way. And it goes to show that those little details in the planning of a vacation can make a huge difference in the outcome. You can make your next vacation relaxing and enjoyable by following these simple vacation planning tips.

1. Keep your vacation planning information in one place. Create a labeled file folder (“Hawaii Vacation”) and use it to keep your airline, hotel, car rental information, as well as maps or AAA guide books, tourist information, contact information for people you know in that city, etc. You can find all this information at Holidays, Vacations and Traveling

2. Plan ahead for your wardrobe. Think about all of the activities you might do, and imagine what you’d want to wear for each activity. For example, on the beach you might want a swimsuit, cover-up, slip-on footwear or water shoes, a sun hat, sunglasses… maybe even a face mask, snorkel, and some flippers. Will the kids want shovels and buckets to build a sand castle? Do you need to supply your own beach towel, or will you be staying somewhere that supplies this for you? What about waterproof sunscreen? The more you can visualize yourself on the beach, the better prepared you will be.

3. Use a travel checklist. I’ve created a Packing List to get you started. Once you’ve tailored this to your needs, keep it in the travel file you’ve created. This will help you remember to pack both the basic necessities, as well as some of the more obscure things you might not remember but would want to take with you.

4. Let children pack their own travel bags, and make sure their bag is small enough that they can carry it themselves. Help them select things they can do on the road or in the air: Walkman and cassettes or CDs, books, handheld video games, portable crafts, card games. Talk about seating arrangements ahead of time to avoid conflict among siblings about who will sit where.

5. Pack a carry-on that is small enough to stay with you at all times. Include necessities that you must have, in the event that you get separated from your other luggage for a day. If you need to take medication on a regular basis, be sure this is with you, and not in your checked luggage. If you are combining a business and vacation trip and need something for a presentation the next day, take it in your carry-on rather than checking it.

6. Plan early to get the best selection and to get early booking discounts. If you’re really adventuresome and are not particular about where you want to go, you can also book reservations last-minute. There is some risk involved in doing this, but you can also get some great deals this way. Find some great bargains at airline tickets.

7. If you’re driving, you may wish to map out your trip ahead of time and make hotel reservations along the way if you are traveling during peak vacation time. Mapquest offers a helpful Website for mapping out your route and estimating travel time under normal driving conditions.

8. If you’re traveling to another country, check out the Currency Converter for International Exchange Rates.

If you’d like to master a few useful phrases in a foreign language, visit the Foreign Language Assistance Website. It even contains some sound clips so you can pronounce words properly.

9. If your vacation plans include staying home rather than traveling, plan how you will spend your vacation to rejuvenate yourself. Perhaps there are some local attractions that you’ve been wanting to experience but have not had the time to experience. Are there people you want to connect with? Get clear about what you want to do and who you want to do it with, and then plan to make it happen. If your vacation includes having a friend or relative flying in to visit you, you can check the status of a flight to see if they will arrive on time.

10. This is the most important tip of all: pack the right attitude. Let go of the “what if” and enjoy the moment. Remind yourself what matters most, and focus on that. If this is a vacation to get away and relax, then focus on activities and thoughts that will be relaxing. If your goal is to reconnect with family and build memories together, that can be done regardless of circumstances (missing a flight, not getting tickets to an event you wanted to attend, etc.). If your goal is to sight-see and take in some special attractions or shows, then plan ahead and make the reservations necessary to ensure that you can do what you want to do when you get there.