Why accessibility is the hotel industry’s most overlooked asset
Stephen Cluskey (CEO Mobility Mojo) speaking at the recent Skift Global Forum in New York
Accessible tourism – problem or opportunity?
Accessibility will eventually affect us all. Imagine an elderly traveler with a bad hip or knee who needs to know if there is a walk-in shower in their hotel room, a wheelchair user looking to find out if the elevator doors are wide enough, a parent with a stroller who wants to know how many steps there are at the hotel entrance, or a menu in larger print for someone who forgot their eye glasses in a restaurant. That’s accessibility.
According to the World Health Organization, there are over 1 billion people around the world with some form of a disability.
AARP research shows that over the next 20 years, 75 million Baby Boomers will be aging into disability. This demographic has amassed the largest accumulation of wealth in history and has the time and desire to travel.
But, there’s a hiccup – more than half of those worldwide with a disability choose not to travel because of insufficient information and uncertainty around accessibility.
Lots of people with accessibility needs still believe that doors are closed to them. I know this is not the case. We just need to inform people properly.
It is a market crying out for solutions – last year accessible bedrooms were the second most searched for amenity (after Wi-Fi of course!). Adapting to this under-served market will be crucial for hotels.
We’ve found that hotels view accessibility as a compliance or regulatory requirement, rather than an asset. In fact, it can be one of the most underutilized assets a hotel has. They spend so much money on their accessibility, but then neglect to advertise it!
Hotels are waking up to the fact that guests with accessible needs consistently account for a higher than average per-person spend and a longer than average stay. Guests with accessible needs stay 3.3 nights, compared to an industry average of 2.9, and spend 9.9% more per stay.
Around 14% of hotel owners in Britain noticed an increase in turnover after improving their accessibility provision.
Rolling with the times
In fact, many believe this wave of aging and accessibility-dependent tourism is already upon us. In Britain, older generations have overtaken the country’s youngsters as the most prolific travelers and now account for 58% of travel and tourism expenditure.
Seniors and people with disabilities are more likely to travel with friends or family, and what’s more, group and business reservations are often decided on the accessibility needs of just one member of the group. This could mean a booking for a wedding or a conference for more than 500 people based on one individual with accessibility needs. The massive potential for additional revenue from accompanying guests’ bookings is often completely overlooked.
So, not only is the tourism market aging, but so too is the number of those traveling with accessibility needs.
When most hotels think of accessibility, they think of wheelchair users. However, a 2015 UK study found that only 6% of those we need to consider when addressing accessibility concerns are wheelchair users. In fact, the largest cohort was those with a long-term illness – 46%, followed by those with a mobility impairment, and those who are deaf/have a hearing impairment, at 24% each.
Clearly the demographics of tourism are shifting radically. But equally, the way in which consumers are engaging as tourists is changing. The principal reason is of course, technology.
Online booking platforms and increasingly sophisticated technology have revolutionized how we approach travel. Last year, 82% of travel bookings were made via a website or mobile app, without any human interaction at all. As consumers place more faith in their digital devices, so too must hotels ensure that the information users seek is readily available, as they will have increasingly few opportunities to inform potential guests otherwise!
The biggest priority among modern travelers, however, is personalization. A customized experience is now considered an expectation rather than extraordinary. For example, in 2015 Virgin Hotels launched Lucy, their free app that acts as a personal hotel assistant by fulfilling requests for services and amenities, functioning as the room thermostat, streaming personal content and more. Hotels are increasingly using technology to offer guests a bespoke experience such as this is.
Doug Carrillo, Vice President of Sales & Marketing at Virgin Hotels, explains: “Our mobile app Lucy, will put guests in the captain’s chair. The technology will be smart and intuitive, and light the way to a more immersive experience within the hotel.”
Significant investment in accessibility is beyond what many hotels can resource, but there are a broad range of technological solutions that hotels are employing to improve their accessibility provisions. For example, major hotel brands are working on technology that delivers smart, hyper-personalized hotel rooms using the Internet of Things (IoT) to transform the hotel guest experience by anticipating guests’ needs during their stay.
VR is also trending among hotels to enrich the customer experience. Best Western hotels were among the first to use this and have gone on to rely heavily on video tours of their properties and as they are proven to generate higher engagement than traditional static imagery.
Another disruptive technology with obvious accessibility benefits is facial recognition. A hotel chain in China has introduced facial recognition booths that members can use to check in seamlessly, enhance security, and can be used in conjunction with electronic payments. With platforms like Airbnb gaining ground on traditional accommodation types, innovations such as these ensure that hotels provide the quality of experience to stay competitive.
Mobility Mojo, proves that there are simple, straightforward steps that can be taken to offer customers the precise accessibility information they require and enhance their experience. With technological innovation, a whole new world will open up for millions of people. And companies like AWS make it easier than ever to provide this innovation. Proactively using technology to improve accessibility within travel and hospitality can transform both your business and the lives of millions of people.
We all get old, many of us develop impairments, but few of us ever lose the love of travel. This simple, but compelling reason is central to successfully catering to the needs of the modern tourist. Accessibility does not have to be the awkward appendage of hotel accommodation. Instead it can be a powerful tool to unlock a growing, valuable market segment.