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The leisure and travel industry is currently experiencing a historic surge in demand, in a global post-pandemic economy. Many are looking to itch their urge to get out of the house, and many others are looking to finally take the vacation they’ve postponed during lockdowns and travel restrictions. As millions of these travelers are members of the disabled community, this vacation boom should beckon companies to seize upon a vital opportunity to expand and overhaul accessibility features for their digital touch-points.

Let’s review the strong relationship the disabled community has with leisure and hospitality, what barriers these customers may face when attempting to utilize online services in these industries, and actionable steps to create a more inclusive experience for your digital platform.

The Connection Between Disabilities and Travel & Hospitality

Travel and hospitality is a high-impact industry for the disabled community. However, despite the millions of travelers with some form of disability, these companies have tended to view accessibility as a requirement and not an asset.

As an industry that engages directly with the public, U.S. hotels, restaurants, and travel companies are bound under the Americans for Disability Act (ADA) to provide equal accommodations for guests with motor, visual, hearing, and motor impairments. However, problems arise when considering digital services offered by these same companies as there is significant ambiguity in accessibility laws when it comes to websites.

There is a significant connection between the large population of retired-aged travelers and certain types of age-related disabilities and impairments. Baby Boomers (ages 57 and up) represent the largest demographic when it comes to spending on travel and leisure. Incidentally, this age group makes up the bulk of those with disabilities. More than 41% of the disabled community consists just of individuals ages 65 and older. This represents a significant population who require special accommodations when interacting with and patronizing hospitality companies.

According to a 2020 report by the Open Doors Organization (ODO) between 2018 and 2019 more than 27 million travelers with disabilities took a total of 81 million trips, spending $58.7 billion on their own travel alone (up from $34.6 billion in 2015).

Thanks to cost-efficient products like UserWay’s AI-Powered Accessibility Solutions, compliance with the ADA’s and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)’s digital accessibility standards is more affordable than ever. This begs the question: how can hospitality companies continue to afford to operate websites that disenfranchise such a large consumer base?

Different Standards for Digital Services?

While there is little room to question the legal obligation for the travel and hospitality industry to be ADA-compliant for their physical services, the lines quickly become blurry when considering online spaces.

Hotels, restaurants, and transportation companies are all required to offer disability accommodations, such as braille signage, ramps, wheel-chair lifts, and elevators for their brick-and-mortar establishments. However, as the ADA was passed in 1990 before the dot-com explosion, many of its statutes are left up to varying court interpretation on how they apply to digital services.

For instance, in a 2017 case involving Busch Gardens and SeaWorld, a Florida district court ruled that online websites are not places of “public accommodation” and do not require compliance with the ADA. But in 2015, a settlement between Carnival Cruise Lines and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in an ADA litigation case required the travel company to make its website inclusive for the disabled community.

As lines are blurred when it comes to the ADA and online accommodations, companies in hospitality and travel should consider an investment in digital accessibility as a hedge from potential liability. The number of lawsuits over inaccessible websites has increased significantly as regulations have remained vague, growing from 57 in 2015 to 262 in 2016 to 751 filed in 2017.

Accessibility is a Win-Win in Leisure Industry

These gaps in clarity with the ADA leave customers with disabilities susceptible to barriers and friction when attempting to use websites to book hotels, purchase travel tickets or make reservations and order meals. The irony is if these customers were to appear in person to patronize these same establishments, such treatment would be considered a violation of their civil rights.

However, while legal obligations can be debated, there are very clear financial incentives for travel and hospitality companies to provide comprehensive accessibility accommodations. One study in the U.K. found that tourism websites that publish their accessibility information online get 27% more booking conversions when using an accessible booking engine.

These accessibility features also reduce friction in sales funnels and drive down churn rates. For example, hotel websites can boost their point-of-sale conversions by including simple accessibility features on their websites to help their disabled guests plan trips, book a room, and make online payments. This could include providing vivid and detailed descriptions of room images and specifications. Offering an accessibility overlay can also enhance user experience, by providing screen reader capability, adjusting font size and orientation, and adjusting color contrasts on the page.

It’s All About Equality

Apart from profits and liability, the significant demographic of individuals with disabilities patronizing the travel and hospitality industry ultimately represents a moral and ethical obligation for companies to meet non-binding trade standards, such as WCAG. The individuals represent a key portion of a business’s consumer base and the least they deserve is equal treatment.

The good news for the travel and hospitality industry is that compliance with ADA and WCAG standards has never been easier or more efficient.

Leading hospitality businesses, from hotels to restaurants, trust UserWay to optimize their website’s accessibility for their customers with disabilities and to keep them in compliance with the ADA and WCAG. This allows these brands to continue to focus on the core of their business of providing unique experiences that exceed their customers’ expectations.

UserWay is also eliminating barriers in the travel and transportation industry, assisting leading automobile and air travel companies in accommodating their guests in the disabled community.