Tourism is one of the sectors that has been most affected by the crisis caused by the fight against COVID-19, with a sharp drop in visitors and turnover. For this reason, it will also be favored by the Tourism Modernization Plan, one of the main axes of European funds Next Generation. This great opportunity involves 3.4 billion euros of investment, which aims to rethink the sector towards a more digitized, competitive and sustainable activity.
It is appropriate in this context, in which we have to strive to look long-term, to reflect on one of the biggest challenges in the sector: inclusive and accessible tourism for all people. In the European Union alone there is a potential market of 80 million people with disabilities, a figure that rises to 130 million if it is considered that people with disabilities travel with someone; a reality that should not be underestimated. To this figure, we should add the elderly and others who also have mobility difficulties.
According to our studies, people with disabilities travel almost as often as those without disabilities and on average spend 30% more than tourists without special needs. In addition, it must be taken into account that 70% of these people have financial means to travel.
The population continues to age, one more incentive to consider when analyzing this market. Between 10 and 15% of people in the world live with some type of disability, a trend that will continue to increase, at least in Spain, where 20% of the inhabitants are over 65 years of age.
Although the perception of the accessibility of Spanish tourist destinations is acceptable, there is a lack of knowledge in the sector about the needs of disabled people. What’s more, the greatest risk for tourists lies in the lack of reliable information on accessibility.
The obstacles it faces are of a double nature: on the one hand, those that correspond to infrastructures and built environments; on the other, those that refer to the training of tourism companies and the lack of awareness about accessibility. Therefore, it is urgent to improve the training of professionals in the sector and to have tools that help guarantee tourism of this nature.
In this sense, the search for global standards and norms that help develop the sector is one of the key objectives to strengthen accessible tourism. From Spain (ONCE Foundation and Spanish Association for Standardization, UNE), together with the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the UNE-ISO 21902 standard has been developed and promoted, the first international standard on accessible tourism.
It is an unprecedented milestone in the sector, a world reference and guide with the best practices accepted by all to guide companies in the development of accessibility and meet the needs of this type of tourists. This standard is a key tool that will make the right of all people to enjoy tourism and leisure a reality.
But it is not the only case in which our country leads accessibility standards. At the beginning of the year it was published the European standard for accessibility of the built environment.
The crisis in the sector already shows clear signs of recovery and it is a good time to analyze what situation it is in and what deficiencies it presents and how it can improve its services, which enjoy a great reputation and are a reference at an international level. The investment of recovery funds and the potential shown by the accessibility market invite us to direct our efforts towards a more inclusive, open, competitive and sustainable tourism.