In August, Travel Oregon staff and DMO partners traveled to Savannah, Georgia to gain a deeper understanding of the emerging market of accessibility in tourism at the 2023 TravelAbility Summit. Oregon had the strongest state presence at the conference—a clear sign of how highly the tourism industry in Oregon values accessibility and inclusion. We want all visitors to be able to experience our state’s diverse tourism offerings—from outdoor recreation to sightseeing, wine-tasting, arts and history, agritourism and more.
It’s the right thing to do economically as well. 26 percent of the U.S. population—over 61 million adults—lives with a functional disability. People living with mobility disabilities represent a substantial part of the tourism market already and spend $58.2 billion per year on travel—and those numbers are only expected to grow as baby boomers age.
Over the course of three days, staff took part in panels, discussion and workshops focused on topics such as able-izing visitor centers, creating accessible content, partnering with local disability organizations, developing strategic accessibility plans and more.
“You can think about approaching accessibility in terms of physical applications such as hearing loops and Mobi-Mats, for example, or in terms of training for awareness, which is specifically important for neurodivergent disabilities like autism,” said Kevin Wright, VP of Marketing for Travel Oregon. “It can be overwhelming, but it’s important to start somewhere—that was a big takeaway for me from the summit.”
Another key takeaway was regarding the destination assessment space. Vendors such as Wheel the World offer contracts to assess destinations and offer roadmaps to accessibility, including what products might be needed or upgraded, training for frontline employees, marketing and even booking based on accessibility. There are myriad new technologies and entrepreneurs offering accessibility products and features.
Other staff learnings included the fact that the key to accessibility isn’t about ADA compliance. While that is important, of course, summit presenters encouraged the industry to think beyond ADA. As tourism professionals, we must ensure that our destinations will work for visitors with mobility and other disabilities. Everyone, even able-bodied visitors, will rely on accessibility to some extent at some point in time as they age. Investments now in accessibility will ensure visitors can travel, or keep traveling, no matter their level of mobility or the disabilities they live with.