Is tourism ignoring this market at their peril?

man in a wheelchair enjoying the beach

Could travel improve the lives of people with chronic conditions and disabilities, and is the tourism industry doing enough to cater to their needs?

Well, yes and no, according to a study from Edith Cowan University.

Researchers found that people suffering from chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, or mental disorders found travel difficult and many avoided taking holidays altogether.

The university explored the impacts of these barriers to travel and suggested the concept of ‘travel therapy’ to improve mental and general health.

And tourism operators may be ignoring this sector at the expense of their bottom line as the World Health Organization estimates 20 per cent of the world’s population suffer from non-communicable chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, or mental disorders. That’s a lot of potential customers who are not being catered for.

Important market

Researcher Dr Jun Wen says it is vital that the tourism industry caters more to vulnerable people with physical or psychological disorders, a market he described as important but too often overlooked.

“Most are able to travel but remain vulnerable during trips and need intensive services,” Dr Wen says.

“The world has an ageing population, so there will be more and more people dealing with the challenges that brings, such as dementia, physical limitations and so on.

“There are also more people being diagnosed with mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety.

“Tourism needs to be able to accommodate vulnerable travellers such as these for the industry’s survival – but also because health is important and as our previous work has shown, tourism can help support health.”

Dr Wen suggests the industry can do more to improve the lives of vulnerable people through the entire tourism industry chain including food, accommodation, transport, shopping and entertainment.

Education the key

Dr Wen says the key to unlocking access is education.

“Staff and stakeholders need training to be made aware of vulnerable travellers’ needs and demands,” he said.

“This can include developing manuals to standardise services for vulnerable travellers, enhancing accessible infrastructure and equipping professional emergency and care facilities appropriately, such as with first-aid tools.

“The industry can also customise services for different traveller segments, such as people with dementia, depression or anxiety.”

Dr Wen says technology is another untapped resource that could be tailored to entice people to travel.

“Not everyone can take physical trips,” he said.

“The tourism industry should develop virtual products that enable all travellers to be present in a destination and to enjoy fun and health-related benefits.”

Have you found travelling difficult because of your physical health or medical condition? Did it put you off travel? Why not share your experience in the comments section below?

Also read: Travel an unlikely cure for dementia

Written by Jan Fisher

Accomplished journalist, feature writer and sub-editor with impressive knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income, issues that affect Australians planning and living in retirement, and answering YLC members' Age Pension and Centrelink questions. She has also developed a passion for travel and lifestyle writing and is fast becoming a supermarket savings 'guru'.

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