The ‘accessible’ travel market has been called the largest last consumer niche in the industry with a market share worth billions. But James Price, founder of the Access All Rooms website wonders whether hotels are missing a trick.
The American disabled travel market is worth over $13 billion - that’s just disabled people spending money on travel and excludes the care givers, support workers, family or friends that often have to travel with them. Regulations the world over have forced and encouraged accessibility change, and thousands of hotels globally now have accessible facilities and bedrooms. But why are so many hotels reluctant to make those rooms available in real time, like any other bedroom?
This market can be described as the TIME travel market – the Tourism Industry Market in Equality. This market group in Europe was valued by OSSATE 2005 as contributing €80 billion to the economy. In the UK alone, this market accounts for 12% of all overnight domestic trips equating to a total of £1 billion in six months.
150 million travel bookings are made via the internet each year, so with a market so vast why are some hotels still refusing to make accessible rooms easily bookable in real time to those that need them?
European and US laws often require hotels to have a specific number of accessible rooms. Individual hotels and chains spend thousands complying with the legislation, but why would they not want to make these rooms readily available and return yield on their investment?
We’ve found that in practice hotels are not listing their accessible rooms separately, making them available for guests who don’t require the special features, but this ignores the needs of their potentially profitable disabled market.
The online booking procedure for customers with disabilities can be strikingly different from a non-disabled guest who can book the first room they find that meets their needs.
But the disabled customer often cannot see the accessible room option in the booking engine and therefore will have no idea if an accessible room is available or not. This guest either has to book a standard room and make a separate request for an accessible room, or they have to call the hotel to confirm availability. Not always convenient if the hotel is in a country with foreign language.
Hotels could be fully catering for disabled guests booking online, and in the USA the Americans with Disabilities Act  (ADA) now requires hotels to make their accessible rooms available online.
While developing the hotel booking website Access All Rooms which is designed to provide real time access to accessible rooms and accessible hotel information, I have found hotel chains failing to deliver the room information guests with disabilities need and deciding not to work with us, whilst making accessible rooms bookable online in the USA only. It’s a mystery to me why hotels which often have brilliant accessible rooms are not making it easy for guests to find them or book them online.
Fortunately I am now finding a greater number of forward thinking hotels and chains that are making these rooms available including Ilunion , H10, GLH, Preferred Hotels and Indeed. By using rate codes unique to our company we are finding ways of making accessible rooms available for real time booking too.
If as an industry we are truly to cater for the ‘last consumer niche’ then the next step has to be to make online global booking legislation a reality, not just in the USA. Without it hotels and chains and the booking industry itself are failing their customers with disabilities.
Some hotels argue it’s better to hold accessible rooms back, not showing the rooms separately on the system and ensuring their availability for when a guest with disabilities needs them, but I feel this practice is disabling guests, not enabling them. It’s not offering them the same service that is available to non-disabled customers. If the accessible rooms are included with all rooms of the same category, the risk that they will be booked by a disability-free guest is just as high.
In our booking engine each customer provides additional information to their personal need of the accessible room, enabling the hotel to properly cater for the guest. We hope this also dissuades non-disabled guests from booking the room, keeping them available to those who need them. Hiding the rooms means disabled customers often have no idea those rooms even exist and may look elsewhere.
There are currently no global hotel rating schemes for accessible access and booking, and this is why Access All Rooms is developing one. And there are no global organisations that can create change like the ADA  or Disability Discrimination Act , so every country’s interpretation of access is different. The reality is that we live in an age of an ever changing, ever ageing and more frequently travelling world. Surely hotel accessibility information and real time room booking for guests with disabilities should be as easy and common place as standard room booking; how else can your hotel take advantage of a market worth billions? The TIME travel market shouldn’t be feared, it should be encouraged and nurtured.