For most able-bodied people, tourism may look accessible and they can take for granted the ability to move around freely while on holiday, but that is not always true for people with disabilities.
Seeing a need within the travel and tourism industry for better services for persons with disabilities, Tarryn Tomlinson, has been advocating for change through her access consultancy company, Liveable, and its accessible-tourism division, Able2Travel. The latter is focused on establishing a formalised accessible-tourism market in South Africa.
During the month of November, which is also National Disability Rights Awareness Month, Ms Tomlinson and her team will be going to the United Arab Emirates to attend the AccessAbilities Expo and the Dubai Accessible Travel and Tourism International Summit to learn, raise awareness, make partnerships and bring home best practices.
According to the World Health Organization, 15% of the world’s population is living with some sort of disability, that is over 1.2 billion people.
“There is a large demographic of people living with disabilities. Persons with disabilities and their families have a total global economic spending power of $2.81 trillion,” says Ms Tomlinson.
Catering to those with disabilities makes good business sense and yet only a small percentage of companies globally have a plan in place to capture this market, she says. “We are leaving a lot of money on the table.”
According to Ms Tomlinson, accessible tourism is one of the fastest expanding tourism markets, growing, on average, 22% per annum prior to Covid, and the numbers are increasing.
From 2019 to 2020, Americans with disabilities spent $58.7 billion on travel, and if South Africa got just 0.1% of the American market, that would generate an extra $587 million in revenue, she says.
“Now this information is important to us because we have three more direct routes coming in from the USA and it could become our main source market in tourism.”
But South Africa needs to catch up, she says, to compete in the market.
“While America has a 26% disability prevalence rate, meaning that one in four people have a disability, it also has high standards for access in the building environment and within the media. So in SA we are not even close to being equipped to handle this demand.”
The UAE, she says, has made great strides in inclusive accessibility, hosting not only the largest accessibility and accessible-tourism expos in the world but it has reframed its thinking and changed its terminology when referring to people with disabilities as people of determination.
“It is my belief that South Africa can become leaders in accessible tourism within Africa. We have enough ingenuity and money to make it work. But what needs to change however is our thinking.”