zavod in turistična agencija za dostopni turizem

About accessible tourism


The increasingly developed sector enables people who need greater accessibility the independent and dignified use of touristic services and products. It does not matter whether kind of special needs the tourist has. What matters is the final result – holidays, trips, and sightseeing adjusted to individual’s wishes and abilities. Thus accessible tourism encompasses people in wheelchairs or those who have difficulty walking, people with hearing and visual impairments, people with intellectual and psychological disabilities, those who travel with children in strollers, the elderly, and people to whom tourism is less accessible due to other medical reasons (diabetes, allergies etc.).

Accessible tourism today appears under different names and there also does not exist any unified definition of it. The indisputable fact remains that accessible tourism deals with enabling access to tourist offer available for persons who have special needs, regardless which special need that involves.

“Everyone should have the chance to travel to a country or within a country to any place, to any event and to visit those attractions they want.” (Nordiska Hanidkapplitiska Radet, 2002)

Today »accessible tourism« appears in scientific literature under various terms: »tourism for all«, »inclusive tourism«, »universal tourism«, »barrier-free tourism«. (Takayama Declaration, Appendix, UNESCAP, 2009). Different definitions appear hand in hand with different conceptions. In literature the most common definition is the one by Simon Darcy:

“Accessible tourism enables people with access requirements, including mobility, vision, hearing and cognitive dimensions of access, to function independently and with equity and dignity through the delivery of universally designed tourism products, services and environments. This definition is inclusive of all people including those travelling with children in prams, people with disabilities and seniors (Darcy & Dickson, 2009, p. 34).”



The basics of accessible tourism development can be sought in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was adopted on 10 December 1948. The Declaration in its introductory articles ensures freedom and equality regardless the race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status (articles 1, 2). In the continuation the freedom of movement (article 13), rest and leisure (article 24) is ensured. On the basis of the Declaration of Human Rights numerous documents regarding tourism and disabilities were adopted. The concept of accessible tourism or »tourism for all« appears for the first time in 1989, when this notion is used publicly by a group of British experts within the international year of the disabled. In Europe, tourism for all spread quickly and important changes in the fields of legislation, development, and perception of accessibility in the tourism sector soon followed.

In line with the development of documents at the world and European levels tourism on one side and equal integration of the disabled and other vulnerable groups into society on the other also separately developed in Slovenia. The first sources of accessible tourism in Slovenia are connected to spas where mostly rehabilitation of the disabled was carried out and which were less concerned with the tourist offer for the disabled. Accessible tourism also developed through individual vacation facilities owned by societies of the disabled which are primarily intended for vacations of their own members. In Slovenia we started dealing more extensively with the concept of accessible tourism in 2006, when the first project NETMEN, The Development of Tourist Offer for People with Special Needs was carried out (Kores, 2010).

Slovenian tourism has been familiarising itself with the concept of accessible tourism for quite some time. Non-governmental organisations dealing with people with special needs have done numerous research projects on the matter and have introduced accessible tourism into Slovenian tourism and thus to the Slovenian tourist providers who gradually recognise accessible tourism also as a market niche. Still a lot remains to be done, especially on the level of awareness, education, and also in the field of preparation and implementation of various programmes which will enable the execution of accessible tourism in Slovenia.



The accessibility of tourist offer needs to be managed on several levels. Due to extreme diversity of needs there exist no unified standards for the wider area at the moment. Most frequently each country strives to define and set the criteria as good as it can on various levels, the criteria which would ensure the largest accessibility of tourist offer possible. In Slovenia the project NETMEN, which was carried out by the non-profit organisation ŠENT – Slovenian association for mental health, defined the basic criteria of accessibility for the first time. These criteria have been gradually upgraded and are today known under the name of »Disability friendly certificate«. (Sirše, Kores, 2009) The main groups of criteria for accessible tourism are physical accessibility, accessibility of information, economic accessibility, and psycho-social accessibility. (Laura, 2010)

Physical accessibility refers primarily to built environment which is not represented solely by individual structures. It is not sufficient to ensure accessibility to individual facilities, connections between individual parts of accessible structures, paths, and other built environment are also of key importance. It needs to be especially emphasized that assurance of accessibility does not only include the target group of physically disabled people as is often perceived but that needs of other target groups also need to be considered when designing the accessibility of built environments.

The accessibility of information is of immense importance for the end consumer. Today we know different forms of delivering information, yet regardless of its form every information system should ensure accessibility to detailed information, which should be at the same time true and verified. It must also be ensured that all communication noise between the user and service provider be eliminated.  (Laura, 2010)

Economic accessibility. The belief that the disabled and people with specific needs have a lesser purchasing power is completely false. What needs to be considered is the fact that these people often have increased expenses connected to transport and dwelling. These expenses are increased primarily due to the inaccessibility of tourist offer. (Laura, 2010)

Psycho-social accessibility. Accessible tourism is faced with numerous prejudices and unpreparedness for the development and adjustment of tourist offer for all. Disabled people are often pitied by tourist workers, which thus perform their services with less quality than with ordinary guests. (Laura, 2010) Accessibility is frequently misunderstood as a special form of tourism for the disabled, while these adjustments are actually intended for everyone, including guests without any specific needs.



Various definitions of accessible tourism reveal that accessible tourism meets the needs of those people who have physical, seeing, hearing, cognitive, intellectual, and mental problems. Accessible tourism is not simply tourism for the disabled, as can be often heard, but includes everyone who has similar problems. This group includes the elderly, mothers with strollers, temporarily ill and others. (Kores, 2010)

According to the type of problem, which is dealt with by people with special needs, we can form 4 major groups of people:

  1. physical impairments,
  2. visual and hearing impairments,
  3. learning difficulties, mental disorders,
  4. other impairments (e.g. allergies, diabetes).

Here we must consider the fact that due to personal needs not everyone can be assigned into one of these categories. Various forms of impairment can also overlap or are invisible. (Laura, 2010) For the understanding of accessible tourism it is important that we primarily understand the needs of target groups thus hereon we briefly summarise these needs.



In accessible tourism the identification of the target group needs is extremely important since the adjustments of the existing tourism originate directly from the needs of target groups. For all target groups, regardless which type of impairment they face, the appropriate and truthful flow of information between a tourist provider and a person with specific needs has to be ensured. These information always have to be clearly stated, which involves the use of different communication techniques adjusted according to the type of tourist’s impairment. Information conveys the accessibility of built environment and the accessibility of services according to the needs of the impaired person. Frequently people with special needs have a greater need for personal assistance thus tourist workers should be prepared and well versed in their knowledge how to approach the impaired person. Accessible tourism is based on three important values: independence, equality, and respect, thus the approach to the person with special needs is especially important. Hereon basic needs of individual groups are described since the discussion of all needs of a target group and the implementation of solutions in the tourist sector demands independent debate.

Physically impaired include people who use wheelchairs or have walking difficulties. These people are the most visible among all groups since they often have to rely on aids such as wheelchairs, walking sticks or other. Thus their needs are also more visible. Their needs are closely connected to the built environment where they encounter the biggest problems. (Laura, 2010) Because the needs of this group are more noticeable accessible tourism in practice often ends with this target group.

Less visible problems are those of people with visual and hearing impairments, among which we assign the blind, the partially sighted, the deaf, and the hard-of-hearing. Problems of people with visual and hearing impairments can most frequently be solved by great adaptability of the tourist workers and certain technical aids. These are often problems dealt with by the elderly who present a big market share of accessible tourism. (Laura, 2010)

A greater group of impaired people, whose needs significantly differ from one another, are people with various learning difficulties and mental disorders. Here we must primarily distinguish between people with disorders in mental development and people with mental illnesses.

People with disorders in mental development have the reduced ability on the intellectual level and their mental age is less than their chronological age. According to the mental age we are dealing with children who are from the social perspective and according to their acquired experiences on the level of an adult. Increasing accessibility in tourism for this group primarily involves establishing personal contact, providing clear and simple information, and the use of pictograms. (Svetina, Jesih, Bizjak, Kovač, 2007)

The needs of people with mental illnesses are almost impossible to recognise unless the signs of the mental illness are very distinct. In any case it is to be remembered that politeness, accessibility, and attention are always the key to well being. (Laura, 2010)

The most mixed group of needs appears in the group »other impairments«, where we are primarily dealing with impairments caused by illnesses, such as: asthma, epilepsy, diabetes, allergies, and others. Their needs are very diverse thus with this group the transfer of information between tourist workers and tourists is of immense importance, and at the same time the preparedness of the tourist sector to quickly react to the expressed needs is very important, too.



Tourism belongs among the most promising branches of economy both in Europe and in Slovenia. In the time of the economic crisis, which is felt also in tourism, and in the time when the competition between tourist providers increases every day the tourist providers seek new target groups. In recent years the segment of specialised tourist offer for people with special needs shows rapid increase. This is the consequence of numerous measures for the equal integration of vulnerable groups into society which are implemented by the countries of the European union, among them also Slovenia, while at the same time tourism providers are increasingly aware of the needs of vulnerable target groups.

People with special needs are just as prepared to spend a greater part of their income for their vacation as other people. Social programmes of public authorities which financially encourage tourism can also be added and research shows that such investments generally reimburse. It is estimated that general demand for accessible tourism in Europe includes 127.5 million people or 80 billion Euros. (Buhalis, 2006)

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