Published: 02 July 2014

"Lack of accessible tourism costing economy billions," new research finds

New research from the University of Surrey and commissioned by  the European Commission, has found that the European tourism sector is missing out on up to 142 billion Euros every year due to poor infrastructure, services and attitudes towards travellers with special access needs.

According to the research, travellers within the EU who required special access, whether through disability or age, undertook 783 million trips within the region in 2012, contributing 394 billion Euros and 8.7 million jobs to the European economy. The UK was among the top three contributors, generating over 86 million Euros and 1.7 million jobs to the market – 20% of the EU total.

However, researchers believe that if European destinations were fully accessible, this demand could increase up to 44% a year, which would result in an additional 142 billion Euros GDP and 3.4 million jobs for the European economy.

Following the research, the European Commission identified seven key recommendations for improving accessibility in the sector, including:

  1. Accessibility and Design for All should be an integrative feature of a destination’s long-term planning and investments in modernisation of infrastructure;
  2. The industry needs to improve its coordination efforts, particularly through public-private partnerships and professional networks at both local and European regional levels;
  3. All members of staff of a service provider need to acquire a solid knowledge base on accessibility through good knowledge management and regular training.

“This is a golden opportunity for the European travel sector.” said Professor Graham Miller from the University of Surrey.

“The worry of many small and medium-sized businesses has been recouping the cost of adapting for special access needs. This research shows that this cost will not only be recovered, but will result in market growth. In the long-term, commitment is required from both the public and private sectors. However, even small changes in the meantime will reap massive rewards.”

“Not only do these recommendations make a valid business case, but having full access to tourist activities, services and facilities is a right enshrined in Article 9 of the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. It is imperative that all European countries demonstrate commitment to enacting change.”

Antonella Correra, policy officer from the European Commission, Enterprise and Industry commented: “This is the most comprehensive research on Accessible Tourism carried out so far in Europe. The parallel analysis of the demographics, the behavioural patterns and the economic contribution demonstrate very clearly that accessibility is the new frontier for the EU tourism sector.   Far from being a niche sector, accessible tourism is a huge market opportunity. The research provides clear evidence that accessible tourism services are also better services, that increase the visibility and reputation of tourism destinations, and give a competitive edge to operators.”

The research published within the European Commission’s report Economic impact and travel patterns of accessible tourism in Europe is the first of its kind to study the economic impact of accessible tourism within Europe.

The study assessed special access provisions for disabled tourists aged between 15 and 64 and elderly people over the age of 65 across 27 European countries. It assessed the quality of public and private services, infrastructure and attitudes.

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