Promoting travel for disabled vacationers


Travel offers for disabled vacationers are still a rarity. However, some will be featured under the heading of “Travel for All“ as a new travel segment in Hall 1.1 at the International Tourism Exchange ITB Berlin 2005.

“What is on offer here is by no means restricted just to travel for the disabled, and these arrangements are also suitable for families and for older travelers,” as Friederike Hansen, ITB project organiser, points out. Many studies have shown that travel “for all” represents a large but often under-estimated market.
Messe Berlin has acquired the services of a powerful partner in organising this new section at the ITB, in the form of Wolfgang Grabowski and his company “Grabo-Tours”. This highly professional tour operator and his team have been providing travel around the world for disabled tourists for the past 25 years: from romantic Mediterranean cruises on the “AIDAvita” to jeep safaris across the Serengeti and diving on the Great Barrier Reef.
He will be joining many other providers of tourism services to present travel offers for the disabled at the ITB Berlin. Information and work tables will be placed around a forum at which prominent speakers will provide papers each day on this subject. Among those who have been invited to attend is the well known photo-reporter Andreas Pröve. Despite being a quadriplegic this world traveller has made a name for himself with his brilliant slide shows and lectures, which have encouraged many other disabled people to go travelling too.
For the ITB Berlin this new segment is by no means an “exotic” subject, as project manager David Ruetz emphasises: “Travel for All is an economic factor whose full potential has not yet been realised.” This was made plain in a report by the Federal Ministry of Economics and Labour in 2003 entitled ‘The economic impetus deriving from obstacle-free travel for all’. Although people whose mobility and scope for activity is restricted tend to travel less than their able fellow-citizens.
It is worth noting that disabled people have a travel intensity of 54.3 per cent (compared with 75.3 for the population as a whole). Almost half of all disabled people would like to travel more often if additional, obstacle-free opportunities were available. When they do travel, the disabled do so almost as often and for as long as the population as a whole. In 2002 they undertook 1.3 vacation trips with an average length of 13.9 days and 2.3 short trips lasting an average of 3.6 days. The expenditure by disabled travellers of 945 euros is significantly higher than the national average of 818 euros. Two thirds of them would even accept higher costs if this enabled them to enjoy additional, obstacle-free holiday offers and services.
Disabled travellers represent a considerable market force that should not be under-estimated. According to the report ‘The economic impetus...’, obstacle-free tourism already generates net sales of 2.5 billion euros, thereby safeguarding 65,000 jobs. This figure does not take into account day trips, short breaks or business travel, or the expenditure by accompanying persons, who are required by 52 per cent of disabled people when travelling.
“For financial reasons such findings should encourage the travel sector to set about developing this market,” says Ruetz. The travel industry is only slowly coming to realise that investments in obstacle-free travel and experiences will improve the service provided and the quality, for the benefit of all vacationers. Among the beneficiaries, for example, are travellers with small children and baby buggies, those with heavy baggage, the sick, those whose ability to walk is temporarily restricted as a result of sporting injuries, and above all, the elderly.
The tourism industry has already tailored its offers to meet the needs of the senior citizens market. Tour operators have also responded to the trend for more grandparents to travel with their grandchildren. However, in most cases, with the exception of specialist tour operators, only the requirements of young people or those senior citizens who are still fit and able are met, and only rarely is any consideration given to older people with restricted mobility.