The community of disabled travellers is enormous, yet largely overlooked as a tourism market. That may change once hospitality vendors realise that this market tends to spend up to three times more than the average tourist, even if they're booking budget accommodation. We explore this untapped market, bust some myths about what disabled tourists expect from hospitality providers, and applaud destinations and vendors who do this well, all through the life experiences and observations of disability travel advocate Yasmine Gray.
Yasmine Gray is a passionate globe-trotter living with progressive multiple sclerosis. She graciously opens up the dialog about the real challenges she's faced as a disabled traveller and how these experiences led to her founding GetAboutAble - a movement aimed at transforming the tourism industry into a more inclusive space.
Quotes from this episode:
"Most people who think about accessible tourism think about ramps, and wide doorways and measurements, but that's the compliance piece - inclusive travel is understanding people and asking what can I do to make your visit better?"
"Look at us as one in five travellers. Across the entire spectrum, it's 20% of the market most businesses are completely missing because they don't even think about it, much less work to cater to it."
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People with access needs are high-value travelers. On average, they spend only three times as much as the average traveler, even if they're staying in budget accommodation.Adelaine Ng:
Welcome to Upon Arrival, a show that uncovers stories and strategies that make up all the moving parts of business events tourism. I'm Adelaine Ng. The reason why I love doing this podcast is because I get to learn so much from my guests, and this interview was no exception. This episode goes back to the more business end of travel and hospitality to reveal a world I have sadly not known a whole lot about before, and it's about what disabled tourists can offer the tourism market. Now I know the way we talk about the disabled in our communities can be a pro-key subject and I might even be accused of treating this too clinically by speaking of our disabled friends as a market. Not. My guest, who has an autoimmune condition, has been waving her hands at the tourism industry, trying to get more attention to see disabled tourists as a powerfully lucrative market right under their noses that they've mostly overlooked. Yasmine Gray is the Canberra-based founder of Get Aboutable spelled Get About Able a movement of humans with varying degrees of disability that would love to see more inclusiveness at tourism in ways that can pay back big time. Here's my conversation with Yasmine, and you'll hear that her voice has been impacted by her condition. So if you have challenges listening. There is a written, shorter version of this interview that I'll link in the show notes. Yasmine, thank you so much for giving us your time and telling us your story. Where did your passion for accessibility issues in tourism begin, and how did you end up becoming a champion for its causes?Yasmine Gray:
Oh, that actually causes me to go back my whole life. I've been a lifelong traveler. I have been traveling long-haul flights since I was six months old. Until COVID, I hadn't gone a year without using my passport And, yeah, whether it be for family holidays or business or for whatever reason, just seeing different places, experiencing new cultures, has been part of my being. It's just something I'm very passionate about. So as my disability progressed, as my incapacity progressed, it became more and more difficult, And there is a lot in the travel and tourism industries that is not accessible. And basically I found myself retired and really wanting to still do something with my brain And finding that travel was something I still wanted to do. And so, because I'd been doing workarounds to keep traveling for myself, I thought surely there are other people like me who are finding it just as frustrating, and there's so little information out there that now we've got to solve this problem.Adelaine Ng:
What you have explained to people is that you have multiple sclerosis. Would that be right?Yasmine Gray:
Yes, so I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1996. I probably have had symptoms since about 1985. And for those who don't know, multiple sclerosis it's an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system And so basically my major nerves and my brain will short-circuit, which can cause all sorts of fun problems And in my case at the moment it's not being able to work and not being very weak arms. But it wasn't always like that. It started with a few twitches here and there, a few pins and needles. The reason why it took over 10 years to be diagnosed is because it was all these collection of really weird symptoms and could easily be explained by other things Like I had pins and needles in my legs, I was bike riding too much, I had pins and needles in my arms, or my arms went numb, I was leaning on my elbows too much when I was studying, Yeah, things like that. So for years it was like oh, this is weird, This is weird, But never quite getting in the situation. But then I moved to cities And when I went to a new doctor with the collection of all the weird things that have been happening, I was diagnosed with an op.Adelaine Ng:
So it sounds like that has meant you now need to get around in a little vehicle.Yasmine Gray:
A power wheelchair.Adelaine Ng:
A power wheelchair okay, but it does sound like that will be frustrating for someone who loved being able to travel freely without any constraints. And I'm just wondering is this something that you can fairly easily take on planes with you when you travel overseas? No, not at all. How does that work?Yasmine Gray:
No, and in fact, as Faraday mentioned, it's not quite limiting. Actually, i found more limiting the stage where I was still walking, but walking slowly and with a cane, because then I would tire very easily and I wouldn't be able to go on long walks the way I used to, and I wasn't yet requiring so much assistance that it was labeled assistance, but I still needed. It would have been very helpful to have more benches or different spots that I could stop and still enjoy myself and rest, but not actually being trusive. And so that's what we talk about at Get About a Roll, about inclusive travel How do you cater to everyone, regardless of what their physical needs are? And that physical need can include invisible disabilities, psycho-sensual disabilities, intellectual disabilities, can include other areas of neurodiversity, people who are hearing impaired, people who are visiting impaired. We did a review of an event and I just happened to be with the vision impaired reviewer who is classified as totally blind And I don't know if you know Enlightening Canberra, but it's a light Like they do projections on buildings, it's a bit like vivid in Sydney, and we were at one of the light installations and the woman who is classified as blind started saying, oh, are they changing color And we're like what are you talking about? And she's like there's something in front of us and it's changing color And it was so subtle, very subtle changes. But because her blindness, she can see light fluctuation, so she didn't know what she was seeing, but she could see some sort of a change, which is why she asked. And it's amazing, when you experience travel with all sorts of different water classified as disabilities We like to talk about them as access needs You experience those in completely different ways, and that's the joy of travel is experiencing from different perspectives. So, yeah, it's part of what makes me very passionate about what we do.Adelaine Ng:
That's actually quite beautiful what you just shared. I'm wondering how big is the community of people who love travel and have disabilities? I'm sure there's community bands together and shares notes. Can you tell us a bit about that community?Yasmine Gray:
Yeah, so I mean one in five, one in six people has some form of disability. And that doesn't even count, you know, the older population or others who might never classify themselves as having a disability. Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates those one in three households. So when we talk about travelers with access needs, we say don't look at us as a specific niche, Look at us as one in five travelers across the entire spectrum. It's 20% of the market and for most businesses it's 20% of the market that they are completely missing Because they don't even think about it, much less work to cater to it. And it's not that hard. Most people who think about accessible tourism think about ramps and wide doorways and measurements. But that's the compliance piece, That's for building standards. What we need for inclusive travel is understanding of people, to understand that we have needs and just ask what can I do to make your visit better?Adelaine Ng:
Is there monetary value that you've been able to place on the disability travel market?Yasmine Gray:
Absolutely I mean in Australia. We just heard from tourism Australia. A couple of months ago they came to speak at our annual conference And they added value to $13.5 billion annually in 2021. So we added value to just over $10 billion before the pandemic And in the year that it was measured it was just more than the Chinese tourism market. So if you think of how travel and tourism operators cater to the Chinese market and the efforts they put into that, this is the market that's at least that big and growing. We estimate it's going to be two or three times as big once people start looking at it, and that's what we're seeing. We're seeing this tidal wave of interest in accessible and inclusive tourism. It started in the pandemic because travel operators weren't looking for markets, and it really is. It's a hidden gem And I know I've got a vested interest in saying that, but I've been doing this for a long time And I'm just banging my head on the wall going. why don't people see how valuable this is? I mean, people with access needs are high value travelers. On average, they spend almost three times as much as the average traveler, even if they're staying in budget accommodation, and the reason is because they travel with more companions, they stay for longer and they're more loyal. So, yeah, i feel like it's just a big secret that's going to get out. And another presenter at our conference last year said the bus that's going and get on now, before it goes, because at the moment it's a differentiator. Anybody with access needs will pay attention.Adelaine Ng:
It sounds like you are still up against so much resistance in the tourism and hospitality industry. What do you think is the biggest misconception about accessible travel that you're encountering?Yasmine Gray:
First of all, i wouldn't call it resistance. I don't think it's active resistance, i think it's fear. The biggest hurdle is the preconception that it's too expensive or it's too difficult. Because, looking at it from the compliance viewpoint if you live it, not if you live it, if you work in an old heritage building the way to get it compliant and successful could be very expensive. But to get a customer service inclusive is quite a different conversation. So, yeah, i think the resistance is more about the fear and the fear of the unknown, the fear of what they've seen in the past. And one of the things that it's talked about quite a bit in the disability community is the media perception that we just don't have in our society. Many examples of people with disability getting out and experiencing life just like anyone else with their families and friends, and that again is part of that title wave that's really changed over the last year, year and a bit. There are more and more eye campaigns that very subtly include people with disabilities that most of the population would never even notice. But I'll tell you what somebody with that disability will notice and they feel included.Adelaine Ng:
You mentioned the pandemic a little bit earlier. Apart from it, i guess giving space to raise the issues that you've been trying to raise did the pandemic impact accessible travel. That was different to, i guess, how it impacted the rest of the tourism sector, which was the I was going to say, most of the impacts that I can think of are the same as the rest of the tourism sector.Yasmine Gray:
Everything got more expensive, everything got more limited. As I mentioned before the pandemic, i'd never gone a year without using my passport, usually multiple times. I haven't used my passport since the pandemic. Part of that is because through the pandemic, i have become more disabled, and that had to do with lack of access to rehab facilities during the lockdowns, and my disability has progressed substantially Over the last couple years, which is a deep frustration of mine. But I'm also enjoying more road trips. Yeah, my bucket list used to be around the world and during the pandemic I actually wrote up an Australian bucket list. I was like well, i've been living here more than 30 years, how have I still not gone to tell me? how have I still not gone to wa now? and so you know, as long as the airfares are very expensive, i think I'm going to enjoy traveling around here for a while. And the other thing is very exciting way There was a conference very recently in Hamburg, germany, which is aircraft interiors. They gave the prototype of a Stay in your wheelchair walking system on aircraft. So you probably don't know, but aircraft is the only form of transport Where will chair users cannot stand a wheelchair and for somebody like me who has quite a specialized wheelchair, long flight or any flights it's actually quite traumatic. I suffer quite literally, but during the flight and after the flight, because of what I have to do to take a flight And it's literally given me something to live for. I want to see the day when I can get on a plane on my wheelchair. Now they're saying as close as three years away. I'd probably say five to ten, but I'm really looking forward to it.Adelaine Ng:
Well, i'm keeping my fingers crossed for you, because you've traveled all over the world, and even with your wheelchair. In your opinion, which is the most disability friendly country in the world, and what did you love about it?Yasmine Gray:
If we go home country, i'll start in our region. In our region, singapore is incredibly accessible and inclusive Every step of the way, from when you land at the airport. Everything is designed to be all inclusive And the culture is such that people will help. People with disability are included in that society. It's I remember sitting at breakfast one day and I was like three wheelchairs, one cochlear implant to White canes, people who are busy and Whenever I ever seen that in a normal environment like yes, sure, disability conference. But like I was actually looking around saying is there a disability conference I don't know about here And I mean it wasn't, it wasn't everybody, so it was quite clearly not a disability conference. But we're certainly getting out that Singapore is a very inclusive society. The reason I put Singapore first is because there is a country in US made for our country. Barcelona is incredibly. There are a number of cities I can think of that are very inclusive. There are countries that are making efforts, but it tends to be more destinations that are inclusive. Yeah, i'd say Barcelona would be one of my topics.Adelaine Ng:
Well, i'm sure if we have a disability traveler listening now, they would be looking for your website in the hurry, just to see where all the different destinations that they might travel to. That would be a bit friendlier to some of the things that they dread coping with whenever they do travel, so it's such a valuable community that you're providing. If you're a tourism operator, though, what reliable resources can they turn to for advice and for imagining ways to create more accessible services? would that just be the get debatable website?Yasmine Gray:
Well, we're. We're putting more and more tip sheets on our website. We're actually going through the process of a re-bent at the moment. So we do work with a lot of businesses and I'd say the first thing is to contact us. I go through the website or a contact at getaboutablecom, and We certainly are happy to go through with the business and help them figure out where they are on the journey And and how to take the next step. In terms of other resources, i would say you can Google how my business be more accessible and inclusive there are lots of different resources and Talk to your local tourism body or the local yeah, traveling towards some Association and again, talk to us and we can definitely help navigate that journey as we're bringing this interview to a close, i have to ask you what are some of the most imaginative ways you've seen tourism operators incorporate services for the accessible and inclusive Market, ideas that you know.Adelaine Ng:
You thought that is amazing. That really excited you.Yasmine Gray:
Yes, there are so many. There is a hotel in the UK That has a ceiling hoist. You probably don't know what a ceiling hoist track is like, but think of it as an upside down monorail. Okay, okay, and that goes across the ceiling and They had done a ceiling, like molding, in such a way That if you did not know it was a ceiling hoist, because the ceiling hoist track then goes into a closet in the hoist. Well, get stored in the closet. So when you come into the hotel room you do not see the ceiling hoist Because it's like, yeah, the way they've done the molding of this, it's really hard to explain. It's one of those things. You need a picture.Adelaine Ng:
It sounds a little line which in the wardrobe.Yasmine Gray:
No, no, actually it was more like our deck out And it was clear in that when you're using the ceiling hoist, you could use it. But It wasn't like in your face as soon as you walk in the hotel room. Yeah, very often it is.Adelaine Ng:
Yeah, well, if they have a ceiling hoist, yeah, i guess I was referencing the book, the line the witch in the wardrobe, where you know You have to go through a secret. You know, through a cabinet, a secret door, yeah. And then on the other side is this other world. But nobody knew about it. You know you had, yeah.Yasmine Gray:
Well, that's how I would describe Accessible travel. If you don't need it, you have no idea it's there, but it's amazing how many different things are there and if it's done well, you don't know it's there. And, and that's the thing is, most people, when they think of accessibility, they're thinking of the ugly Hospital like looking, you know, plastic up the wall or metal up the wall. I've seen so many examples of It being done really well And again it's done on the original build. It's not done as a retro fit, it's the retro fits a little bit ugly, but yeah, the style that can be achieved if it's actually thought about it is amazing. And that's when it doesn't feel like accessibility. It feels like a holiday and And that's the one so I really love.Adelaine Ng:
Amazing, yes, and I'm gonna ask you a question that I used to ask guests on on my podcast Back during the days of the pandemic Which was what would be the first country you would travel to the minute the borders all unlocked and you could travel again? So in your case, if all the airlines, all your preferred airlines, made it possible for you to travel with your special chair, where would be the first country you would go to, and why?Yasmine Gray:
It wouldn't be a country. Number one on my bucket list is Antarctica. So going to South America, to Australia, and taking an icebreaker and you know wheels on the continent, antarctica hands down. And that, of course, has not only getting on the plane to Australia but also to getting on an icebreaker. And you know I don't want to go on these one of these big cruise ships that are glides by the outer edges of the icebergs. I want to actually put my wheels on the continent And you know, for anyone who's done that trip, you know there are so many layers of accessibility requirements. I don't know if I'll ever get to do it, but that is number one on my list.Adelaine Ng:
Well, i hope that you get there. Antarctica is one of my dream bucket destinations as well. I don't know if I'll ever get there. We have to, i guess, make a couple of things happen before that becomes a reality, but it sounds like you have a few more hurdles than someone who does not have accessibility issues to get to that goal. So you've raised a whole lot of really important issues for our awareness, so I do thank you for that. That's been an amazing insight into the world of people who travel with disabilities, and I didn't realize how big that world was and how simple it is actually to just fix a couple of things. That can make a massive amount of difference. So thank you for sharing that. You're welcome. Thank you for having me. Thanks for listening. I do appreciate it. Do check out the show notes where I've put links to Yasmine's organization Get A Bad Abel. If you found value in today's show, please click the follow button if you'd like to be notified when a new episode drops. By the way, have you ever considered launching a podcast with a strategy to land in Apple's top 200 charts in the first week? If so, feel free to send me an email at uponarivalpodcastatgmailcom and we'll explore how we can make it happen. Catch you next week for another great interview. We'll uncover more stories and strategies for a successful future. Till then, cheers.