How to own accom’s great untapped opportunity

There is an $8 billion market within accom that few operators have cottoned on to.

Described by specialist industry website as “perhaps the industry’s greatest untapped opportunity”, it is accessible travel.

Around $8 billion is spent by travellers with a disability each year in Australia, a figure set to grow exponentially, yet the accommodation industry has so far abjectly failed to rise to the challenge of making properties accessible to everyone.

Tim Knowles, sales manager of Pressalit for Australia and New Zealand, argues we lag well behind other developed nations when it comes to offering choice for accessible travellers.

“Most new Australian hotels and the architects that design them, as well as the operators that run them, stick to a very old script that hasn’t changed in decades,” he said.

“In Europe for example, many new hotels are pretty creative in the options they give people with a disability, which in turn makes that more attractive over their competitors.”

[pro_ad_display_adzone id=”37778″ align=”left” padding=”20″]Approximately 20 percent of the Australian population has a disability and 520,000 have a mobility disability, 480,000 are blind or vision impaired, and one million are deaf or hearing impaired. Globally there are over 600 million people with disabilities – that’s ten percent of the entire human race.

As our population continues to age, catering for guests with disabilities will become ever more important not just for humanity’s wellbeing, but for the health of our businesses.

As Bill Forrester from Travelability says: “Accessible tourism is no longer about building ramps and accessible bathrooms. It is about building products and services for a large and rapidly growing market.

“This is no longer a niche, but rather, a segment that is approaching 25 percent of the total tourism spend.”

The right approach

When looking to create an accessible environment for guests, physical facilities are just one part of the puzzle.

It’s also important to get the marketing right.

Accessibility travellers do a vast amount of research online and properties need to provide detailed, easy-to-find information.

Details such as door widths (ideally 80cm externally and 75cm internally), audio announcements, signage options, bed height and side space, under-desk clearance, level or ramped accesses, bathrooms fittings, and handle, switch and rail heights all count.

Customer service training also matters – being disability aware with the right attitude and confidence to serve all customers helps remove barriers and can make the guest experience far smoother for disabled clientele.

Accessibility training courses and workshops by specialist providers are a good place to start on this. The upcoming annual AHICE conference and exhibition held in Melbourne on 30 April, for example, features a workshop dedicated to inclusive tourism, with tickets to the session priced at $150 per person.

Checking in

Step-free access, either level or ramped, and/or lift access to the main entrance are major advantages for most accessibility guests.

According to Tourism Victoria, the following considerations are also important when welcoming check ins:

  • Make sure entrance and reception areas are clearly marked and well lit. Is someone always on hand to meet, greet and show people around?
  • Provide clear instructions for people using the intercom. Provide a mobile number for who are deaf, hearing impaired or have a communication disability.
  • Provide seating close to reception or fast track people who can’t stand for long.
  • Provide a clipboard and large diameter pen for people checking in.
  • Be prepared to write down information or complete forms on people’s behalf. Provide a magnifying glass for people with a vision impairment.
  • If you can’t lower the reception desk/table, offer to check in guests in common areas, bedrooms or from their car.
  • Welcome visitors who use assistance dogs (this is required by law).
  • Use contrasting colours for door frames, boards and edges of steps throughout the property.Provide clear signage with large text and high contrast throughout.


When it comes to bathrooms, Tim Knowles advocates a fresh approach which puts flexibility and design at its core.

He points to a growing number of Australian hotels which have deviated from the chapter and verse stipulations of the regulatory AS1428.1 safety standard, while retaining its legitimate requirements.

 “If you apply modern-day thinking, where much of what we interact with is adaptable and delivers an element of choice, then you are on the road to what an enlightened accessible ensuite bathroom consists of,” Knowles says.

“Fixtures like grab rails and shower seats can be added or removed, adjusted in height and their location in a disabled bathroom.

“The bathroom can be quickly modified in a matter of minutes to remove fixtures that often give little practical advantage to able-bodied guests.”

Restaurants and bars

Adapting social spaces for accessible travellers is about common sense, easy fixes.

Use pictogram signs, for example a knife and fork and a clock face showing meal times, to assist people with low literacy levels; and either read out or download menus onto an audio player for the sight-impaired.

Contrasting colours avoid the spectre of white crockery, white linen and clear glasses on a table setting (this also applies to coloured towels in white bathrooms).

And providing quieter, low background noise areas and well-lit area options, while being happy to move tables around and provide seats with or without arms, all help accommodate guests’ needs. 


When replacing old furniture, choose freestanding movable pieces which can be easily repositioned for better room circulation.

And make additional visual and hearing aids available – such as large clock faces, talking alarm clocks, portable hearing loops and captioned TVs.

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