Figures from Cornell University’s DisabilityStatistics.org show that around 12.8% of the US population has a disability. That adds up to over 42 million people who may experience issues when it comes to travel.
The travel industry is slowly but surely waking up to the growing need for more accessible travel options. However, there is still a lot of work to be done.
“Plenty of opportunities exist for property managers to appeal to this underserved market, such as incorporating braille, installing strobing fire alarms for the hearing-impaired, and having someone on staff available to assist the families of guests with Alzheimer’s,” said Alexa Nota, vice president of VRM Intel.
Even big travel websites such as Airbnb have begun to realize the importance of addressing the travel needs of more kinds of customers. Back in 2017, Airbnb acquired Accomable – an accommodation startup founded by Srin Madipalli which focused on disabled-friendly travel listings. The addition of Accomable’s accessible property listings to Airbnb’s platform means that a wider scope of travelers now has the possibility of finding an option that’s suitable for their trip.
What are the advantages of accessible vacation rentals?
Now working as product manager for Airbnb’s in-home accessibility work, wheelchair user Srin Madipalli has many recommendations for why it’s a smart move for vacation rental owners to adapt their property for disabled travelers.
1. The purple pound is strong (as is the disabled dollar, for that matter!)
Statistics show that over one billion people (or over 15% of the world’s population) experience some form of disability.
“Everyone, no matter what their needs are, deserves to have an amazing experience when they travel and to have peace of mind that they will be welcomed and accommodated,” said Myron Pincomb, IBCCES Board Chairman.
Whether you upgrade your vacation rental to be more suitable for wheelchair users or simply make it clear on your website that service animals are welcome in your home, you could potentially tap into a huge market of travelers with disabilities.
2. Get the edge over the competition
There are thousands and thousands of vacation rentals worldwide, but surprisingly few offer accessible rooms and a bathroom that are suitable for disabled and elderly people.
“It’s one of the reasons I set up the website Accomable [which was acquired by Airbnb in 2017] – because it was so difficult to find accessible accommodation online I could trust,” said Madipalli.
With this in mind, if you could adapt one or two rooms in your rental, you’d be able to offer something your rivals can’t – you’d have a new unique selling point.
3. Accessible rooms can be super stylish
For anybody who has ever used an accessible bathroom at the airport or a shopping mall, you’ll know that disabled adaptations can look boring and clinical. But it doesn’t have to be this way!
For bathrooms, many rental owners already offer stylish, spacious wet rooms which a wheelchair can roll into. Specialist equipment like bathroom ‘grab rails’ can be attached and removed as and when you need them. That means if one guest is disabled but the next is not, then you can simply remove the equipment when not in use.
Besides this, a number of alternative accommodation types such as eco-lodges and yurts for glamping are already, by their very nature, accessible. What’s more, they can be inspiringly comfortable, modern and stylish.
Of course, it’s not possible for everyone. But if you have step-free access to your main entrance, at least one accessible bedroom and bathroom, plus wide enough doorways – you might be pleasantly surprised by how easy it is to adapt your rental, welcome a disabled traveler and fill your rooms.
4. Accessible gadgets are awesome, too!
“I am a tech geek and learned how to code to build the original Accomable website. It’s no surprise that I love the extra tech/gadgets you sometimes see on offer with property owners who cater specifically for travelers with disabilities,” said Madipalli.
“We’ve seen properties in the Peak District offering Boma 7 off-road wheelchairs, for example, which can enable you to get off the tarmac and explore the rugged dales. We’ve seen timber cabins with accessible hot tubs and cleverly integrated track hoists. We’ve even seen canal barges which have special adaptations for up to three wheelchair users,” he adds.
The mere existence of these high-tech home additions shows there is a real need for the accommodation industry to take accessible travel seriously. By offering such features in your home, you can help guests with disabilities have the best possible experience on vacation.
About the Author:
Srin Madipalli is the former CEO of Accomable, which was acquired by Airbnb in 2017. He is now product manager at Airbnb, leading efforts to ensure that travel is made accessible to millions of people around the world.