Travelers with disabilities are attracting more interest among tourism marketers.
That message was part of the buzz at the 37th annual Governor's Conference on Tourism in Orlando, three days of speeches, workshops and tradeshow exhibits in early August that ended just hours before Hurricane Charley arrived.
Nationally, travelers with disabilities spent about $13.6 billion in 2002 on 31.7 million leisure trips, according to a study by Open Doors, a Chicago-based non-profit that helps businesses work with consumers who have disabilities. The study suggests travelers with disabilities would double their spending if their needs were better met. Measures could include greeters at airports, hotel rooms close to amenities and telephones with TTY capability and flashing lights in addition to ringers.
Unlike other groups of travelers targeted through specialized marketing efforts -- including African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans and gays and lesbians -- anyone could become disabled.
About 20% of all Americans have some type of disability, says Roberta Schwartz, director of education at the Society for Accessible Travel and Hospitality (sath.org) in Boca Raton. And they're not all using wheelchairs. Most people, she says, are surprised to learn that the No. 1 form of disability, which affects about 27 million Americans, is hearing impairment. Vision impairments number about 14 million; mobility concerns, between 8 million and 9 million; and cognitive and learning impairments such as autism or dyslexia, 4 million. Then there's a category that's harder to quantify because it crosses many of the others: Medical dependence -- people who have diabetes or use dialysis or oxygen machines.
"What people don't realize when they focus on the disability market is it's not strictly the elderly population or those with mobility issues," Schwartz says. "And it's getting bigger because you have a market of 70 million Baby Boomers turning 60."
So where are people with disabilities traveling? On cruise lines, including Holland America and Royal Caribbean, Schwartz says. Holland America created a DVD last year showing how this group of consumers can enjoy a cruise, and travel agents have been showing it to their customers.
It seems to be working. About 12% of people with disabilities who travel have taken a cruise, compared with 8% to 9% of the general population, Schwartz says. "They're spending money. Cruise ship companies realize the value of the market."
As Baby Boomers become too elderly for leisure travel, watch for a new trend: "Virtual travel" -- taking sentimental journeys without leaving your living room. Other industry buzzwords and expected trends from trendsetting.com, according to Suzanne Cook at the Travel Industry Association of America, who spoke at the Governor's Conference:
Planned spontaneity, waiting until the last minute to plan a vacation.
Maturialism, older consumers' pursuit of top-shelf items.
Junior Matures, people between ages 55 and 64.
Older women who live alone as a key market segment.
Trips combining business and leisure for self-actualization.
Transumers, who gift-shop "in transit" in airports and hotels.
Hometrotters, immigrants who go back home frequently.
Specialized medical treatment centers as tourist destinations.
Space tourism and underwater tourism for fun and not just science.
Legacy travel, vacations centered around philanthropy work.