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Despite the millions of people around the world living with disabilities, the hospitality sector has largely overlooked the importance of promoting accessible features to travelers.
Stephen Cluskey, CEO of accessibility solution provider Mobility Mojo, highlighted this message while speaking Wednesday at Skift Global Forum 2019 in New York City. By treating accessibility as mainly a legal issue, many companies miss out on how much it can actually grow their business.
“We’ve found that hotels view accessibility as a compliance thing rather than an asset,” he said. “In fact, it is one of the most underutilized assets a hotel has. They will spend so much money on these things, but then they barely mention it.”
In part, he said, this is because people often have a narrow view of what accessibility really means.
“Accessibility affects all of us.” he said. “Imagine planning a trip with your elderly mother. Or imagine a woman who just had a baby, who needs to know if her stroller can fit through the door of a coffee shop or if she will have to fold it up. I see people with eyeglasses in here. Going to a restaurant and forgetting them at home can be difficult. Some restaurants will print a menu in large type.”
There are 14 million people in U.S. living with a disability, and this number is only set to grow, due to an aging population. By 2020, roughly a quarter of the total tourism market will be made up of those with higher-access needs.
“There’s a silver tsunami coming,” he said.
He added that people with disabilities are more likely to travel with friends or family, and whether or not a hotel is accessible will often be the deciding factor over where the entire group stays. Plus, they are more likely to stay longer, and to spend more while they are there.
Cluskey, who uses a wheelchair, gave an example of a recent trip he took with friends to Hamburg, Germany. While searching for hotels online, he found very limited information about accessibility, but ended up calling a hotel that indicated it might be able to accommodate him. After asking several questions about accessibility features, he decided to book the room. In turn, this meant that all of his friends booked rooms at the hotel.
“On the surface, that was just one booking for the hotel. There was some friction in the process, but that’s just the way it is,” he said, referring to the need to reach out to the hotel to confirm. “The reality is — because that hotel had one accessible bedroom, not only did they get my business, but they got the business of 22 other people in the group with me.”
While Cluskey has devoted his life to improving the spread of information around accessibility features, many people with disabilities are unaware of what is available to them, leading them to avoid travel.
“Studies show that more than 50 percent of people with access needs choose not to travel because of a lack of info or a fear of something going on,” he said. “The scariest thing isn’t the organizing. It’s the uncertainty. It’s the black hole of not knowing what they’ll get.”
“Lots of people with disabilities still believe doors are closed to them,” he added. “I know this is not the case. We just need to inform people properly.”