For travellers with disabilities, accessibility is key when it comes choosing hotels, motels or other travel accommodations. Of course, the features of the guest rooms themselves are important. But long before checking in – long before making their hotel selection, in fact – these prospective guests are online. That’s why the accessibility of the hotel websites they’re visiting is also crucial.
For the hospitality industry, providing accessible service can be lucrative. According to Open Doors Organization1 (ODO), 53% of adults with disabilities report staying in a hotel or motel within the past two years. That’s 16.3 million travellers who are spending money – $100 per night, on average – at a place of accommodation. Here’s the bad news: almost half of these travellers with disabilities (46%) say they’ve encountered major accessibility barriers associated with a hotel stay. That can include barriers or incomplete information online.
The odds you’ll gain satisfied customers and loyal future business can be magnified, or reduced, depending on one very important component of your public outreach: your website. In the hospitality industry, your website reflects your caliber as a host.
Is the website inviting? Is it free of barriers? Does it welcome all guests, whether or not they have disabilities? Is there an integrated network of relevant digital information in an accessible format, enabling the visitor to seamlessly find suitable accommodations, search for the information they need, and make online reservations?
Let’s take a closer look at how all of these digital features interconnect. Consider three vital ways you can ensure that you’re meeting the needs of travellers with disabilities on your website:
1. Accessibility-Related Online Information
When prospective travellers with disabilities are viewing hotel websites and making their trip plans, they likely want a lot of the same general information as everyone else. Is the hotel in a convenient location? What attractions are close by?
Often, though, they’re also seeking disability-related information about the accommodations. Do the rooms have wheel-in showers or grab bars for guests with restricted mobility? Are there auxiliary visual alarms (flashing-light emergency alert systems) for guests who can’t hear? ODO’s survey found that most travellers with disabilities turn to the Internet as their primary method of gathering this information.
If those details are incomplete, there’s a very real possibility that the room someone thought would meet their needs, based on what limited information they could find online, turns out to be inaccessible. For the guest with a disability, it means disappointment and dismay, and a scramble to find other, more suitable accommodations on very short notice. For the hotel, it means lost business. The room sits empty, while the customer relocates to other lodgings.
In a Financial Post article2, the president of Kéroul, an organization promoting accessible tourism, noted that not all hotels and rooms are the same: “Right now, I might have to call six or seven hotels to find the right one for me because each of them has a different definition of accessibility,” Isabelle Ducharme said in the article. It’s a frustrating waste of time for a potential guest, and it depletes hotel resources as well if staff are fielding phone calls and inspecting or measuring room details.
On the other hand, when this information is readily available on a hotel website, customers with disabilities can make their hotel reservations with confidence… and without making a series of phone calls.
The website of Omni Hotels and Resorts, for example, provides specific room accessibility details like “grab bars near toilet and shower,” and “visual notification for hotel alarm system and phone system.” Similarly, the information provided by Marriott includes these notes: “accessible guest rooms have a 32 inch wide opening” and “roll in showers.”
Not so incidentally, hotels in the U.S. are obligated to comply with a series of regulations listed under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These include identifying and describing, in detail, the accessible features of both the guest rooms and the hotel itself – so that people with disabilities can establish for themselves whether or not their needs will be accommodated.
2) Accessibility of the Online Information
Not only should online hotel information be about accessibility, it should itself be accessible. This is known as digital or web accessibility. It means the website itself, no matter what information or functions it contains, is completely barrier-free for people who have disabilities. It meets the technical requirements of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which have been developed by the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Accessibility Initiative and are used globally as the gold standard for web accessibility. As examples, standards included in WCAG include having text alternatives to images, and online forms that can be filled out using different input devices (not just a mouse).
Back when the ADA was first written, the Internet wasn’t an integral part of the way companies do business. At that time, hotel information might have been primarily supplied through travel agencies, tourism groups or mainstream advertising. Now, of course, your customers with and without disabilities are going online.
An eMarketer forecast3 expects 70 million adults to book one or more trips using a mobile device in 2017. Many more are booking and conducting research using other digital devices. An eMarketer analyst notes the importance of optimizing a website for ease of use on a variety of devices. What better time to become more inclusive of people with disabilities who visit your website?
The Department of Justice has consistently ruled that, under Title III of the ADA, websites of public accommodations must be accessible (unless, of course, you’re prepared to provide a fully accessible “alternative” that gives customers with disabilities the same level of service as everyone else and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week – which still sounds a whole lot like a website!).
Return on Disability Group analyst Rich Donovan, in his 2016 Annual Report on the Global Economics of Disability, notes that “visible evidence of an accessible website” unquestionably pays off. “Making websites accessible is a well-known, extremely capital-efficient endeavor that has observable results,” he writes in the report, which is entitled Translate Different into Value4. Donovan also points out that the high-profile litigation that often results when websites aren’t accessible can cost organizations millions in settlements – and much, much more in negative publicity.
3. Accessible Online Reservations System
The third component of this accessible digital network is the process of making bookings. The ADA specifically mentions that the hotel reservations system must be usable by people with disabilities. Guests with disabilities must be able to book rooms the same way as other travellers, around the clock and with no restrictions.
The truth is, people with disabilities are twice as likely to make hotel reservations online as they are by phone. So it’s essential that web accessibility is considered in your online booking system. If you’re offering 24/7 online reservations, you must make sure it is equally available to people with disabilities who need accessible rooms.
Accessibility is a Selling Point
A 2015 paper in Journal of Tourism Futures5 notes that “an existing problem in facility design is the tendency for accommodation designers to provide the minimum features for an accessible room, instead of designing the best possible disabled room. On top of this, only a fraction of the total number of rooms in a hotel are accessible.”
The hospitality industry needs to think of accessibility as a selling point to be vigorously promoted toward a lucrative market. A 2014 report on accessible tourism commissioned by the European Commission, DG Enterprise and Industry6 found that although a majority of the tourism websites surveyed did include accessibility information, “accessible features are almost never used to promote a destination.”
Those who are doing just that are winning. The Return on Disability Group report includes this statement about a Canadian resort company, Whistler Blackcomb Holdings Inc.: “The firm… goes out of its way to provoke an experience for PWD [people with disabilities] that is equal to or better than that of the core customer. The messaging employed makes it clear that PWD form a strong contingent of Whistler’s core customers.”
North Americans with disabilities are collectively spending about $19 billion on travel every year. If your hotel meets and exceeds expectations for accessibility, you have a competitive advantage. It’s in your best interests to let travellers with disabilities know all about it.
An Innovative Solution
eSSENTIAL ACCESSIBILITY has developed a comprehensive accessibility solution to help organizations follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and achieve and maintain compliance with standards and regulations. This includes integrating web compliance evaluation services with assistive technology to deliver a transformative experience for people with disabilities. Learn more about eSSENTIAL ACCESSIBILITY’s innovative solution.
- Open Doors Organization. Open Doors Organization, 2017.
- Financial Post Article Financial Post, 2014.
- eMarketer Forceast eMarketer, 2016.
- Translate Different Into Value Return on Disability, 2016.
- Journal of Tourism Futures Emerald Insight, 2015.
- European Commission, DG Enterprise and Industry European Commission, 2014.