All abilities trek to the summit of Mount Kosciuszko - Australia's highest peak

All abilities trek to the summit of Mount Kosciuszko - Australia's highest peak
All abilities trek to the summit of Mount Kosciuszko - Australia's highest peak - © Jennifer Johnson 2008

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Anxiety to Access: Where it all began...

My interest in accessible tourism derived from a chance involvement in research on the Disabled People’s International World Assembly held in Sydney in December 1994 (Darcy, 1995). Over 1000 delegates attended the World Assembly, approximately half of whom had disabilities. I thought that the World Assembly would be an opportunity to assess the delegates’ experience of tourism in Australia and their perceptions of Sydney as an accessible city. This interest was both professional and personal. To an academic working in the area of environmental planning and public policy for leisure and tourism, the World Assembly delegates provided an outsider perspective on Australian responses to people with disabilities and the accessibility of Sydney as a destination. My interest was also as a person with a disability for whom the World Assembly was a turning point. It was my first experience of being part of the disability community in Sydney and was an event that stimulated my interest in advocacy, research and the politics of disability issues.

The results of the study showed that there was a series of startling problems that delegates to the world assembly faced from both a tourism and city accessibility perspectives. After the World Assembly had finished and I was analysing the data further, the results prompted a range of other questions. The major of these was ‘what is known about the tourism experiences of people with disabilities globally?’ Upon consulting the literature in Australia and overseas the answer emerged as a stark - ‘not much’ with the exception of the Smith’s (1987) theoretical examination of the leisure constraints of travel and Murray and Sproat’s (1990) exploratory examination of tourism and disability in Australia. This, in itself, was an insight into the status of disability and tourism as a focus of academic study and industry practice.

From this position, I embarked on research into the tourism patterns and experiences of people with physical disabilities supported by Tourism New South Wales (Darcy, 1998). Anxiety to Access as it became known, was named based on the experiences that people with disabilities described to me – one of psychological distress (anxiety) as they planned their trip and they remained anxious at every stage of the journey until they discovered whether the next stage they entered was accessible. As a person with a disability with high support needs, what was being described to me was the way that I feel each time I travelled. Apart from these qualitative elements, the study was more important because of the questionnaire design, resultant sample size of 2700 and the detailed analysis of travel patterns that was carried out.  For the first time the disability advocacy movement could use statistically valid and reliable data to put a case to tourism industry that disability was a tourism market segment in its own right. The resulting market estimates first published as a conference paper (Darcy, 1996) and then incorporated into the final report (Darcy, 1998) are still quoted a decade later by the advocacy movement, tourism industry and government alike. In the time since this research began a lot more is known about tourism and people with disabilities. Slowly a more sophisticated understanding of ‘accessible tourism’ is emerging as more research informs policy and practice. However, a number of recent incidents with air travel over the last two years (AAP, 2008; Butson, 2009; Teutsch, 2008; Vedelago, 2009)  highlighted that the struggle of people with disabilities and other embidiements face in having an equality of tourism service provision continues.

For an overview of contemporary practice see the Rollin Rains Report -

AAP (2008, 18 June). Virgin Blue to face discrimination suit. Sydney Morning Herald.
Butson, T. (2009, 25 November). Jetstar sorry for Fearnley affront. Newcastle Herald, p. 3. from
Darcy, S. (1995). Satisfaction and Experiences of Sydney as an Accessible Destination: 1994 World Assembly of Disabled Peoples International. Sydney: Centre for Leisure and Tourism Studies and People with Disabilities (NSW) Inc.
Darcy, S. (1996, 10-12 October). Estimating the size of the market of tourism for people with a physical disability (Refereed conference proceedings). Paper presented at the Citizenship...Beyond Disability - NICAN 1996, Brisbane Novotel, 10-12 October 1996 (pp 112-119).
Darcy, S. (1998). Anxiety to access: tourism patterns and experiences of New South Wales people with a physical disability. Sydney: Tourism New South Wales.
Murray, M., & Sproats, J. (1990). The disabled traveller: Tourism and disability in Australia. Journal of Tourism Studies, 1(1), 9-14.
Smith, R. (1987). Leisure of disabled tourists: barriers to participation. Annals of Tourism Research, 14(3), 376-389.
Teutsch, D. (2008, 13 January). Access Restricted: flying can be an ordeal for people with disabilities. The Sun-Herald, p. 34
Vedelago, C. (2009, 18 January). When size matters: obese passengers and economy seating. Sydney Morning Herald. from

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Numbers of People with Disabilities who Travel: Disability and tourism statistics

A lot of people ask me “how many people with disabilities travel?”. From a research perpective, there is no definitive answer to this question. There are however estimates firmly based in the research literature and then there are guestimates. My suggestion for maintaining credibility with the industry is to be very wary of “guestimates” (anecdotal reports) and to stick strictly to what has been verified in the research literature. For example, when I was doing my PhD in the area (Darcy, 2004) the figure that everybody referenced was Durgin, Lindsay, and Hamilton (1985) who referred to secondary data of the 35 million Americans with disabilities and "estimated" that 13 percent of all travellers in the US had some form of ‘handicap’. Yet, when I went to the publication they had "guessed" that this would be the case and had not carried out any empirical work to validate this figure.
Photo 1: Types of Disability of those Travelling in Australia (Source: Dwyer & Darcy, 2008)

The main early study was Woodside and Etzel
(1980) who undertook the first empirical study on disability and tourism that sought to discover the role of physical and mental conditions on tourism vacation behaviour. The survey found that 10 percent of the 590 respondents to a household survey in the US State of South Carolina who had gone on a trip had a member of their party with a ‘physical or mental condition’. They concluded that while the demographic characteristics of those travelling did not vary significantly from other households, that those with a person with a disability had lower level of travel than the general population.

For a summary of the literature see pages 5-6 and Chapter 4 pp21-32 in the following is publication
(Darcy, et al., 2008). This was written and researched with the preeminent tourism economist Professor Larry Dwyer. 
Darcy, S., Cameron, B., Dwyer, L., Taylor, T., Wong, E., & Thomson, A. (2008), Technical Report 90040: Visitor accessibility in urban centre. Gold Coast: Sustainable Tourism Cooperative Research Centre.

This work presented a detailed methodology for assessing the economic contribution of tourists with disabilities based on nationally collected data on their travel patterns. Only the Australia government's Bureau of Tourism Research
(2003 now Tourism Research Australia) have collected data at a national level that allows comparison between the rates of travel for people with disabilities and the general population. The above study was based on these figures. It also shows the complexity when understanding that of this study estimated that about 11% of Australians travelling with in Australia (domestic holidaymakers) have a disability. Figure 1 presents a breakdown of the types of disability that travellers identified that they had. This proportion dropped significantly for those travelling internationally. That is where the complexity lies when trying to estimate the proportion of travellers with disabilities as part of inbound markets. The other excellent data set is from the US Open Doors Organisation (HarrisInteractive Market Research, 2003, 2005) both our study and these studies suggests that about 7% international travellers have some form of disability. However, these travellers have lower levels of support needs than domestic travellers. 

There are also studies that seek to make the economic impact of travellers with disabilities of which the above study did as well. However, most of these other studies use gross demand estimates rather than undertaking direct empirical work about the consumer behaviour of people with disabilities tourism participation and patterns. For example Neuman and Reuber’s

(2004) estimated German tourists make a €2.5 billion contribution to the economy where the European Union countries’ OSSATE research estimated that tourists with disabilities contribute €80 billion to the economy using gross demand estimates (Buhalis, Michopoulou, Eichhorn, & Miller, 2005). More recently VisitEngland has collected data that suggests

“overnight trips made by, or accompanied by, someone with a health condition or impairment contributed almost £1bn to the English domestic visitor economy in the first 6 months of the year, accounting for 5.7 million trips in total. These latest figures highlight the importance of considering people with access needs, who in the year to June 2009 have accounted for 12% of all overnight domestic trips” (ENAT, 2009).

This report has the potential of making a valuable contribution to the field and we look forward to public release.

For a detailed examination of the research literature see pages 89-96 of
Darcy, Simon 2004, Disabling Journeys: The social relations of tourism for people with impairments in Australia – an explanation of people with impairments’ experiences through the discourses of government tourism authorities and the tourism industry, Unpublished Ph.D Thesis, Faculty of Business, University of Technology, Sydney.

For an introduction to understanding the accessible tourism market see
Darcy, S. (2006), Setting a Research Agenda for Accessible  Tourism, Gold Coast: Sustainable Tourism Cooperative Research Centre.

Buhalis, D., Michopoulou, E., Eichhorn, V., & Miller, G. (2005). Accessibility market and stakeholder analysis - One-Stop-Shop for Accessible Tourism in Europe (OSSATE). Surrey, United Kingdom: University of Surrey.
Bureau of Tourism Research (2003). National visitor survey: travel by Australians Retrieved 10 September, 2007, from
Darcy, S. (2004). Disabling Journeys: the Social Relations of Tourism for People with Impairments in Australia - an analysis of government tourism authorities and accommodation sector practices and discourses, Faculty of Business Available from
Darcy, S. (2006). Setting a Research Agenda for Accessible Tourism. In C. Cooper, T. D. LacY & L. Jago (Eds.), STCRC Technical Report Seriespp. 48). Available from
Darcy, S., Cameron, B., Dwyer, L., Taylor, T., Wong, E., & Thomson, A. (2008). Technical Report 90064: Visitor accessibility in urban centrespp. 75). Available from
Durgin, R. W., Lindsay, N., & Hamilton, F. (1985). A Guide to Recreation, Leisure and Travel for the Handicapped Volume 2: Travel and Transportation. Toledo, Ohio: Resource Directories.
ENAT (2009). UK Tourism Firms Encouraged to Improve Accessibility Retrieved 26 December, 2009, from
HarrisInteractive Market Research (2003). Research among adults with disabilities - travel and hospitality. Chicago: Open Doors Organization.
HarrisInteractive Market Research (2005). Research among adults with disabilities - travel and hospitality. Chicago: Open Doors Organization.
Neumann, P., & Reuber, P. (2004). Economic Impulses of Accessible Tourism for All (Vol. 526). Berlin: Study commissioned by the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology & Federal Ministry of Economic and Labour (BMWA).
Woodside, A. G., & Etzel, M. J. (1980). Impact of physical and mental handicaps on vacation travel behaviour. Journal of Travel Research, 18(3), 9-11.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Welcome Accessible Tourism Research

I am Simon Darcy and I teach and research in sport, tourism and diversity management. All my research is industry linked with the private sector, third sector or government organisations. I am actively involved in community advocacy projects and passionately believe in the rights of all people to fully participate in community life.

Why did I start the blog?
The areas in which I have chosen to dedicate my work are important areas that have received little academic or industry attention in Australia or internationally. My work in accessible tourism and diversity management has gained national and international recognition from academic and industry practitioners. I take the knowledge arising from my academic rigour into the public policy and market arena to develop enabling management practices to create a more just society. I have held numerous board and management committee positions with government and community organisations. These involvements have been widely recognised through community, academic and university awards for disability, diversity and social justice work. I receive a great deal of satisfaction working in this area, as I strongly believe in therights of all Australians regardless of their backgrounds to fully participate in all the rights of citizenship.

I am regularly contacted about my research and the field of accessible tourism research.

This blog will become the site to post a history of the field, breakthroughs and research as it becomes available.

Simon Darcy

Total Pageviews

Popular Posts