Expert insight

Five things to take on board about accessible travel

8 November 2017

Travellers with accessibility needs could be better served by the travel industry, according to new research by Amadeus.

More than two billion people worldwide have special accessibility needs due to disabilities or age. And despite undoubted improvements in the travel and events industry, many continue to face challenges with accessing travel services. That’s the finding of new research on accessible travel by our partner, travel technology specialists Amadeus.

Their report last month (Oct 2017), Voyage of Discovery: working towards inclusive and accessible travel for all, highlighted some of the biggest problems faced by disabled travellers – and the results make for interesting reading. Here are five key findings from the report to take on board.

1. Lack of accurate information about accessible travel is a big problem

Overall, one of the most common challenges travellers face was a lack of accurate information about accessibility. As many as 46% had experienced a lack of information about a destination. And frustratingly, 37% had found that information provided about a destination was actually inaccurate.

Other common challenges were a lack of skilled customer service – 46% had experienced this – along with the physical environment at their destination (37%).

2. The hotel industry needs to live up to its promises on accessible travel

Travellers found that the accommodation sector was the area of the travel industry doing best when it came to catering for their needs. Even so, they only scored it 6.2 out of 10.

The biggest barriers (often literally) to travellers in the hotel world were elements of the built environment, such as inadequate accessible toilets. Worryingly, many travellers found there was a mismatch between hotels’ statements about accessibility, and the real experience of staying there.

Other significant issues reported included problems with accessible parking spaces, easy-to-use lifts and public address systems.

What’s more, if disabled travellers had experienced issues at a hotel, complaining about it was not necessarily an easy matter. Some reported that only hard copies of complaint forms were provided – which can be less convenient for many with accessibility needs than providing feedback online.

While the hotel industry is making progress on accessible travel, clearly some properties could still do more to cater for disabled and less-mobile guests.

3. Air travel was popular with disabled travellers…

Planes were the preferred mode of transport for travellers with accessibility needs. Over a third (35.9%) of those surveyed said that air travel was their favourite way of reaching their destination, compared to 25.9% who favoured rail, and 18.2% who preferred a private car.

The findings followed a recent report by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which assessed 30 UK airports on how well they supported passengers with a disability or reduced mobility. It found that most UK airports were generally rated positively by these travellers. In fact, more than 80% were satisfied with the assistance they had received.

In particular, Birmingham, Glasgow Prestwick, Glasgow, Humberside, Norwich and Inverness airports were all rated ‘very good’ by the CAA.

4. But there is still room for improvement in the air industry

On the other hand, both the Amadeus research and the CAA report highlighted continuing challenges for air passengers with accessibility needs.

Key problems experienced by travellers in the Amadeus survey included inadequate provision of assistance services for those with accessibility needs, inadequate signage and difficulty in moving through airport terminals.

The CAA research, meanwhile, found there was significant room for improvement at London Heathrow, Manchester, East Midlands and Exeter airports, which were all rated ‘poor’.

Despite (or perhaps because of) recent booming passenger numbers at Heathrow, the CAA identified instances where customer service at the airport had not been acceptable. For example, some passengers with mobility issues had been forced to wait up to two hours for help with disembarking from their plane.

East Midlands Airport passengers also experienced unacceptably long waiting times, according to the report. One wheelchair user had been left stranded when a flight took off before he had been helped onto the plane.

All the airports highlighted as poor have vowed to improve on their performance over the year ahead.

5. Disabled travellers gave railway stations less than half marks

Although rail was the second most popular method of transport with those surveyed, railway stations were the least satisfactory areas as far as accessibility was concerned. They scored just 4.9 out of 10 on average among disabled travellers.

Common issues included problems with the accessibility of signage at the station, and digital panels and screens both in stations and on trains. Meanwhile coordination problems between departure and destination stations were also reported, along with a lack of understanding of travellers’ diverse requirements. For example, “wheelchair accessible” appears to mean different things at different stations.

Also frustrating for disabled travellers was the prevalence of ticket vending machines. These can be difficult to access physically, as well as impractical for those with sight problems.

What’s next for accessible travel?

So what should the travel industry be doing to address the diverse needs of its travellers – in addition to getting the basics right? According to Amadeus, the wider trend towards greater personalisation in the industry will benefit travellers with accessibility needs, as will evolving technology.

For example, the report cited keyless hotel rooms, and greater use of virtual reality technology to accurately preview accommodation and services, as useful developments for disabled travellers.

“Improving accessibility in travel means enhancing usability for all customers,” commented Alex Luzárraga, vice president of corporate strategy for Amadeus. “Lifting barriers to travel, personalising the travel offer, using technology to further facilitate travellers’ experiences and creating more accessible infrastructure where people can navigate autonomously will benefit everybody.”

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