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What is Accessible Tourism and Why is it So Important?

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Accessible tourism is an integral part of implementing sustainable tourism. When most people hear the term ‘accessible tourism’, they immediately think of disabled people and things such as audio devices for the blind and ramps for those in wheelchairs. Yes, this is an important part of accessible tourism, BUT accessible tourism is actually MUCH more than this!

Accessible tourism is about providing access to tourism for people from all walks of life and all kinds of backgrounds- provision for disabled people makes up just one fragment of this.

This article sets out to cover the broad spectrum of areas that are encompassed within the concept of accessible tourism. I will explain what accessible tourism is, provide some definitions of accessible tourism and then I will discuss at length the factors influencing accessible tourism.

What is accessible tourism?

Accessibility in tourism is a social right- everyone should have access regardless of where they come from, their age, their gender, any disabilities they may have, hope much money they earn etc.

Also sometimes referred to as ‘tourism for all‘, accessible tourism is closely aligned with the principles of sustainable tourism. In order for an organisation to be sustainable, it should provide access opportunities for all.

Accessible tourism
This diagram from the UNWTO shows the links between accessible, sustainable anfc social tourism.

Accessible tourism provides opportunities for all types of people to take part in tourism activities.

People’s needs vary considerably- while one person may have a physical disability, another person may be financially disadvantaged or may not have access to the technology required to organise their trip.

By ensuring there is accessible tourism, destinations are enhancing their business prospects by attracting a wider range of tourists than they may otherwise achieve.

Accessible tourism involves a collaborative process among all stakeholders in tourism including Governments, international agencies, tour-operators and tourists themselves.

There are many things to consider when planning for accessible tourism, such as accessing information, travel arrangements to the destination, local transportation, accommodation, shopping, and hospitality.

Definitions of accessible tourism

There is no universally agreed and approved definition of the term accessible tourism, which perhaps contributes to the lack of clarity that many people have in understanding what constitutes accessible tourism.

The concept of accessible tourism has evolved considerably throughout recent years. This is largely because society has become more aware and more inclusive. This has resulted in discussions about accessibility coming to the forefront amongst tourism stakeholders.

Below I have outlined some of the commonly noted definitions, however, it is important to remember that the concept is likely to continue to evolve further and that the term be need to be ‘redefined’ as necessary.

Accessible tourism (also known as access tourism, ‘universal tourism’, ‘inclusive tourism’ and in some countries such as in Japan ‘barrier-free tourism’) is tourism and travel that is accessible to all people, with disabilities or not, including those with mobility, hearing, sight, cognitive, or intellectual and psychosocial disabilities, older persons and those with temporary disabilities”  (Takayama Declaration – Appendix, UNESCAP, 2009). 

‘Accessible tourism refers to tourism that caters to the needs of a full range of consumers including persons with disabilities, older persons and cross-generational families. It entails removal of attitudinal and institutional barriers in society, and encompasses accessibility in the physical environment, in transportation, information and communications and other facilities and services. It encompasses publicly and privately owned tourist locations.’ (Takayama City and UNESCAP Conference – Press Release – Takayama, 2009)

‘Accessible tourism is a process of enabling people with disabilities and seniors to function independently and with equity and dignity through the delivery of universal tourism products, services and environments. The definition is inclusive of the mobility, vision, hearing and cognitive dimensions of access.’ (Darcy, 2006)

Accessible tourism enables people with access requirements, including mobility, vision, hearing and cognitive dimensions of access, to function independently and with equity and dignity through the delivery of universally designed tourism products, services and environments. This definition is inclusive of all people including those travelling with children in prams, people with disabilities and seniors’. (Darcy & Dickson, 2009)

Why is accessible tourism important?

Accessible tourism is not just about people with disabilities, it is about everyone.

Accessibility is a central element of any responsible and sustainable development policy, both in the context of tourism and in other areas.

Accessible tourism is important because accessibility is a human right and an important business opportunity. By ensuring that tourism is accessible, there is more scope for business development for individuals and from a top-down perspective.

In order to ensure that accessible tourism is developed in a sustainable manner, tourism stakeholders must develop policies and practices aimed at achieving inclusivity, avoiding practices that include preferential or segregated treatment.

Factors influencing access to tourism

There are many factors that may influence a person’s access to tourism. In order for tourism to be developed and managed in a sustainable way, these factors should be taken into consideration at the planning stage and throughout implementation.

Accessible tourism
A summary of the factors influencing accessibility in tourism

Accessible tourism: Economic factors

There are many economic reasons that tourism may not be accessible for some people. I will outline some of the major economic factors below.

Disposable income

Travel and tourism is considered a luxury in that it is not essential to maintain life. As a result, when a person does not have much disposable (or ‘extra’) income, the first thing to suffer is often their holidays.

During times of financial hardship, such as an economic recession, the tourism industry is one of the first areas to suffer.

Therefore, disposable income is a key contributor to the travel and tourism industry.

Cost of travel

A key contributor to accessible tourism is price. If the price of travel is too high, many people will not be able to access it.

The tourism industry really took off with the growth of the low cost carrier. Reductions in the price of flights, coupled with growing route networks, made travel and tourism more accessible.

Cost of tourism

But it’s not just about the cost of travelling to a destination. The price of tourism facilities in the destination is also a key factor in attaining accessible tourism.

If hotels and tourist attractions are very expensive, this will likely mean that many people will not be able to access the tourism industry in this area.

Cost of living

The cost of living in both the tourism traveller region and the tourism destination region (for more on this see my post on Leiper’s tourism system) can have a significant impact on accessible tourism.


If the cost of living is high in either area, tourists may not be able to financially access tourism.

Exchange rate

Exchange rates are particularly important in international tourism.

Tourists who are based in a country with a strong currency (such as the UK, the USA, Australia) are naturally at an economic advantage over tourists who live in countries with weaker countries.

This is because their money goes further when they travel abroad, particularly if they choose to travel to a destination with a currency that is weaker than the currency used in their home country.

Accessible tourism: Social factors

There are also many social factors that contribute to accessible tourism. I will introduce you to these below.

Available leisure time

Accessible tourism is dependant on whether a person has the free time to spend on tourism.

Many countries around the world now offer their employees paid leave each year. This has resulted in a growth in tourism because people have more available leisure time.

Nature of employment

Whether you have a lot of time to spend on travel and tourism or not can be dependant on the type of employment that you have.

For me, one of the reasons that I work in education is so that I have lots of free leisure time to travel!

However, some jobs do not offer such flexibility and may offer reduced leisure time.


A person’s physical ability to take part in tourism is a key contributor to accessible tourism.

This includes physical disabilities, illnesses and health that is effected by age.

There are many things that tourism stakeholders can do to ensure that tourism is accessible such as providing ramps for people who are in wheelchairs, brail cards for the blind and lifts for those who find stairs challenging.

Stage of life

Accessible tourism should enable people to access tourism no matter what stage of life they are in. This means that there should be facilities for young children, such as ramps of buggies, as well as facilities for the elderly.

Tourism destinations should try to differentiate the products that they have on offer to cater for people of all ages.


Education may have an impact on how accessible tourism is for a person.

For example, it has been a long debated topic about whether students should be allowed to take holidays during the school term. Prices invariably rise as soon as school breaks up, meaning that some families can no longer afford the tourism products that are on offer.

Social environment

Different people come from different social environments and this should not make tourism any more or less accessible.

A social environment could be centred around a particular culture or religion, for example.

It could also be related to particular hobbies and interests.

Access to transport 

Some people have more access to transport than others. This is commonly noted when comparing city living to rural living. In towns and cities there is typically a wider range of transport options than in rural areas.

In fact, transport accessibility is one of the greatest challenges that the rural tourism industry faces.

Psychological factors

Psychological factors also play a significant role in accessible tourism. Here is a summary:


If a person is not motivated to visit a certain area, they probably won’t- it’s as simple as that!

Cultural attitude

A person’s cultural attitude can be an important factor in accessible tourism.

For example, people want to feel that their culture will be treated with respect.

Some people think they are superior or inferior to others, and if this is the case then they may not wish to travel to a particular area in which they hold this view.

Images of destination

The image of a destination is a key factor in determining if a person may be likely to visit.

Many of us want to visit Thailand because of the many images of exotic beaches that we can see, for example.

Perception of destination

However, some people may not want to travel to Thailand because they perceive it to be a bad country because of the poverty levels or because of sex tourism in Thailand.

This demonstrates that perception also plays a key role in accessible tourism.

Familiarity with destination

Many people prefer to travel to a destination because they are familiar with it.

This may be because they have travelled to said destination before, or it may be because they have seen their favourite influencer talk about it on Instagram.

Familiarity with a destination can be a motivational factor.


Sometimes tourists feel that they have a ‘connection’ to a place.

In some instances this may be a physical connection- a family member may live there or the tourist may have a strong history in the area.

In other cases tourists may feel that they have a psychological connection with a place. They may affiliate with the culture or the ‘feel’ of the place.


Whilst for some people, distance is no issue, other people prefer to stay closer to home.


And some people prefer not to travel to particular areas or using particular modes of transport because of fear.

A person made be afraid of flying, for example.

Uncertainty over future

Another factor that can influence accessible tourism is uncertainty that a person may have in their future.

Many people may not want to go on holiday if they have worries over aspects such as their job security or money.

The 2020 Coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated more than ever that people are nervous to travel when there are political, economic and health uncertainties.

Broader factors (macro-determinants)

Alongside the environmental, social and economic factors that influence accessible tourism, there are also several macro-determinants which can play a key role. Some examples include:


Destinations that are experiencing or that have recently experience terrorist attacks are unlikely to be accessible tourism destinations.

e.g. New York after the 9/11 attacks, Tunisia after the shootings in 2015, Bali after the bombing in 2002.


Areas that have ongoing war are also unlikely to be accessible tourism destinations.

One exception is Israel. Israel continues to welcome tourists, despite ongoing feuds with Palestine. I watched rockets being shot out of then sky when I was there, it was pretty scary. You can read all about that here.

Political stability

Destinations that are experiencing political instability are not likely to welcome tourists with open arms.

They also often receive a lot of negative media attention, which can impact tourist motivations to travel to the area in the near future.

e.g. Thailand Bangkok riots in 2018, Egyptian revolution in 2011.


If a person does not feel safe and secure in a destination, they may not feel that it is accessible.

There are many parts of Africa and Central America that revive fewer visitors for this reason.


Many tourists will avoid travelling to areas that have disease.

This has never been more prevalent than the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic, which has a devastating impact on the tourism industry.

Natural disaster

Natural disasters often hit tourist destinations hard.

The 2001 tsunami, the Nepalese earthquake in 2015 and Hurricane Katrina in the USA in 2005 all had terrible consequences for the tourism sector.

Social conditions 

Many people do not want to be faced with particular social conditions when they go on holiday.

This may be things such as poverty, gun crime or smoking.

Economic conditions

Many tourists do not want to experience tourism in poor areas.

The economic conditions here mean that accessible tourism is not achieved.

Level of development

Other people are influenced by levels of development.

Many less economically developed countries do not experience the same levels of tourism is Western nations because of their inferior levels of development.

This include aspects such as an underdeveloped airport or road infrastructure.

Government attitude to tourism

In some parts of the world the Government may not have a favourable attitude towards tourism.

There could be a lot of corruption, for example. Or there could be high taxes on tourism activities.

Laws or restrictions

Some people choose not to travel to particular areas because of the laws or restrictions placed upon them.

A common example of this is people who are in same-sex relationships who wish to visit destinations in The Middle East. Rules and punishments for same-sex relationships shown in public can be severe; making tourism inaccessible for some.

Availability of resources for tourism

Some areas are not accessible destinations because they lack the sources required for tourism.

Perhaps the area does not have a well developed road infrastructure or enough water to fill the hotel swimming pool, for example.


Attractions can be a big draw to a destinations for tourists. Likewise, a lack of attractions may put tourists off.


Mega-events can often result in overtourism and congestion.

Mega-events could be the reason a person visits the area, but it could also put a person off visiting.

Marketing and promotion

In order for accessible tourism to be achieved, all types of visitors should be made aware of what is on offer.

This is where good marketing and promotion come in.


Lastly, technology can have a significant influence on whether accessible tourism is achieved or not.

Nowadays, many people will rely on technology for research purposes and to book the components of their holiday.

Therefore, those who do not have adequate access to such technology may be disadvantaged.

Startegies to implement accessible tourism

There are many strategies that tourism destinations and organisations can use to implement accessible tourism. This includes:

  • Encouraging policies and actions to support social tourism at all levels
  • Ensuring universal adherence to workers’ leave entitlement, safeguarding this aspect of social security guaranteed by the European social model 
  • Designing and adapting tourism facilities and sites to meet physical disability needs
  • Improving information relevant to disabled people and under-privileged groups 
  • Encouraging a broad price range in tourism facilities and experiences 
  • Pursuing specific schemes to facilitate and encourage holiday-taking by people on low incomes, such as the holiday voucher systems run in some countries based on tax incentives and involving governments and operators
  • Having effective marketing and promotion strategies

Accessible tourism: Conclusion

Accessible tourism is not a luxury, it is a right. Everybody should have access to tourism.

In order for tourism to be sustainable, it should do its upmost to development and implement accessible tourism where possible. This will inevitably have positive outcomes for the overall business development. As I have explained in this article, the three keys areas of the environment, economy and society should be considered when planning for accessible tourism.

To learn more about accessible tourism, I suggest that you consult the texts listed below.

Further reading on accessible tourism


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