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

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.


  1. I am in the process of making a dissertation proposal on how the physical education profession can respond to the needs of sports and leisure tourism professionals.

    Any comments, ideas and suggestions you could extend will be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you.

    aleli ada villocino
    visayas state university
    baybay, leyte PHILIPPINES

    1. Hi Aleli

      Interesting topic, I can certainly point you in the direction of some recent work that I have done in the area of the constraints faced by people with disability in sport if it is of any use to you

      Good luck


  2. Hi! I am currently constructing my Case study about Persons with disabilities in the hospitality industry. It focuses on the observance of the Republic Act 7277, otherwise known as Magna Carta for disabled persons, among hospitality-related establishments. Now, I am looking for articles for my Review of Related Literature (ROL) that's why I came across your blog.I hope you could recommend some sites or books where I could get my ROL's.

    THank YOu!

    Kathleen Gabucan
    4thyr College HRM Student

    1. Hi Kathleen, I'm very sorry that I somehow missed your post. Please see my CV/publication list on the following link otherwise the two books on the right hand column near the top of the list are excellent starting points for your study
      Feel free to e-mail me on

      Kindest regards


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  5. Dear Mr. Darcy,
    I am preparing a lecture about the lack of structure in the Brazilian tourism for people with disabilities.
    I plan to use data from this market in USA as an illustration.
    Where can I get information about the total revenue generated by tourism for people with disabilities in a year (most recent data possible).

    Best regards,
    Roberto Belleza

  6. Roberto if you would like to send me an e-mail at I can send you a recent article about Spain and one about Australia. However, there are no global figures on these matters.

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  12. Good Afternoon,
    Thank you for all your information, i am currently doing a Master in Luxury Hospitality Management, i need to create a Luxury service capable to exceed expectation of guest with impairments. Do you have any suggestions?
    Thank You

  13. First of all sorry because i have sent the email in Portuguese and not in English.
    Second, thank you for you positive answer to my request.
    I am trying to design a new luxury service for people with impairments, i have been trying to research for information about this target and trying to linked with the luxury hospitality business.
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    If you have any idea or if you can share any information regarding this subject, i will aprecciate.
    I am doing this research with an academic purpose only.

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  16. Hi,Very informative article. I am the owner of Belize Spice Farm (belize
    From the beginning of our planning we have people with disabilities in mind. We have made access to our facilities easy for people with disabilities. and made special Bath room just for this community
    About 8000 tourists visit Spice Farm every year. It is beautiful and may be the only such facility in Belize for General public and Physically challenged persons

  17. Great article. Thanks for sharing this information with us. I think the app 00Limits will be very helpful for people with reduced mobility as it provides a guide of accessible places (hotels, restaurants, activities, services, etc.) for people on wheelchair, reduced mobility. For more details visit

    1. Adelathank you for your comment and good luck with your app development. Simon


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