If you get your business up to accessibility standards, you can tap into a sector with a spending power of £80b a year, says Carrie-Ann Lightley
The market for accessible tourism is a sizeable one. There are 11 million disabled people in the UK with a combined spending power of an estimated £80b a year. There are also 10 million people over 65 in the UK.
Since the Equality Act 2010 came into effect, it is no longer acceptable for a business to do nothing to make itself accessible to its customers. Being accessible is not about protection against the law, or even how to avoid problems, but an opportunity to raise standards.
The following is a step-by-step guide to becoming an inclusive and accessible business.
Write an access statement
An access statement is a clear and accurate statement that is, above all, an honest description of your current facilities and the services you offer. It enables a potential visitor to make an informed decision as to whether your business meets their particular access needs.
Do a self-assessment
A self-assessment is a useful starting point. Information can be found on the VisitEngland website about the National Accessible Scheme, as well as useful guidance about assessments so you are able to inform guests about what access is like at your establishment.
Get professional advice
An access audit, an assessment or an advisory visit will help you decide what adjustments you need to make.
A number of training courses are available, including VisitBritain's Welcome All and a number of courses from People First and Tourism for All.
Create an action plan, covering planned changes to the physical environment and to your policies and practices, including information distribution. Detail the costs incurred and set a realistic timescale for the changes. Keep a record too, as this could be crucial if you were ever challenged over the reasonableness of your response to the Equality Act 2010.
Acquire an access standard
Once your plans are in place, you can apply for a grading in the National Accessible Scheme. The scheme has a rating system which can show would-be holidaymakers at a glance what accessible facilities to expect. Independent assessment means that there is a consistent standard, which is a useful way of giving a level of assurance to the customer.
Marketing your accessible business
Once you have spent time, effort and resources on improving your accessibility, make sure your potential guests know about it. Ensure your marketing materials and website are themselves accessible. You could also consider joining an organisation, such as Tourism for All and the National Accessible Scheme.
Employing disabled people can be a major help in gaining disability awareness in a business, as well as opening up new sources of recruitment.
Evaluate your efforts by getting feedback from your visitors. Make sure you keep a record of their comments and build their suggestions into the next phase of your action plan.
Carrie-Ann Lightley runs Tourism for All's information servicewww.tourismforall.org.uk