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Accessible Tourism Emerges as a Vital Growth Opportunity for Africa’s Travel Industry

The untapped potential of inclusive tourism to drive the growth of Africa’s travel industry was in focus at this year’s Africa Travel Week 2024 part of WTM Africa. A diverse panel of advocates, experts, and tourism suppliers engaged in a discussion, highlighting the significant economic benefits that travellers with disabilities can bring to the continent. 

Inclusive travel is a billion-dollar industry that Africa can tap into, and the panellists emphasised the unique spending patterns of this market segment. Travellers with disabilities often spend more, travel with companions, and stay for longer periods, making them a lucrative target for the industry. 

According to the World Health Organisation, over 1 billion people worldwide, or 15% of the global population, live with disabilities. This vast demographic encompasses a range of visible and invisible conditions, from mobility issues to cognitive and sensory challenges. As the world’s population ages, with the number of people over 60 expected to double by 2050, the need for accessible travel is only expected to grow. 

“It’s not just a social imperative, it’s a financial one,” said Tarryn Tomlinson, CEO of LiveAble. “The onus is on property owners to make their facilities as accessible as possible.” 

Panellists highlighted the unique challenges faced by travellers with disabilities, from a lack of information about accessible amenities to physical barriers that limit their ability to fully enjoy their travel experiences. “Disability doesn’t mean the same for everyone,” said Lois Strachan, host of podcast A Different Way of Seeing. “Needs are different, and we need to engage with them to find out what they need. Information about how you can accommodate their needs is the most important thing for travellers with disabilities.” She stated that guesthouses and hotels should incorporate this into their marketing to attract differently abled travellers.  

Jabaar Mohamed, the Provincial Director for DeafSA Western Cape, shared the specific challenges faced by deaf travellers, such as being offered wheelchairs at airports despite their hearing impairment. “It’s important for all those that work in hospitality to be trained to ask individual travellers what their needs ae, rather than making assumptions,” he said.  

Panellists shared inspiring success stories and best practices from destinations and businesses that have embraced inclusive tourism. Briony Brookes, representing the City of Cape Town, highlighted the city’s “Limitless CT” initiative, which includes features like braille QR codes at street art and audio options on the tourism website. 

“We want to appeal to all travellers, not only those that are fully abled,” Brookes stated. “We’ve seen fantastic results since we made small changes to showcase how we are a welcoming and inclusive destination.” 

The session concluded with a call to action for the African tourism industry to recognise the significant opportunities presented by the accessible travel market and to work towards making the continent a more inclusive and welcoming destination for all. 

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