World Tourism Day 2016: Tourism for All – promoting universal accessibility

Taleb Rifai

Secretary-General, World Tourism Organization (UNWTO)

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Over 1 billion international tourists travelled the world in 2015 compared with just 25 million in 1950. Another 6 billion domestic journeys are estimated to take place every year. Yet, the dream of exploring the wonder of our world is still a challenge for an estimated 1 billion people – around 15% of the world’s population – who live with some form of disability, along with families with young children and/or senior citizens.


Travel is a human right and should be enjoyed equally by all segments of society. Facilitating travel for people with accessibility needs is an integral element of responsible and sustainable tourism. That’s why World Tourism Day 2016, is dedicated to advancing ‘Tourism for All’.

Our sector needs to put accessibility for all at the heart of tourism policies and business strategies. Not just because travel is a human right, but also because accessibility is a great market opportunity that opens a whole new segment of consumers to destinations and companies.

Keys to progress

I am happy to see that progress is being made. Forward-thinking destinations and tourism providers are considering the diverse conditions of travellers in terms of age, health, mobility, and sensory and intellectual impairments. These measures combine socially inclusive policies, Universal Design techniques, and the use of new technologies.

Despite this progress, we are still some way from providing accessible tourism for all. Reaching this goal first requires service providers and destinations to want to make a difference in the travel experience of people with accessibility needs. Once the mindset is there, they can adjust their model of services to make tourism accessible and seize the related economic advantages.

Strong partnerships are also essential. Public authorities, the private sector, and disabled peoples’ organizations must come together to promote accessibility for all in the physical environment, in transport, public facilities and services, and in information and communications channels. In doing so, there may well be attitudinal and technological challenges encountered. These will be more easily overcome if we tackle them together. But we will get nowhere without strong will.

UNWTO’s work with partners like Amadeusto facilitate technologica laccessibility solutionshas yielded one very clear lesson: if we use technology the right way, it can be a particularly powerful ally in increasing ‘good access’ for those with accessibility needs, in physical and virtual environments. I wish to congratulate Amadeus for making improvement of accessible travel through technology a pillar of its social responsibility strategy. We are seeing the results of this commitment in successes like its e-Retail flight booking platform, which is now available to airlines in the US who serve travellers with accessibility needs.

For the occasion of World Tourism Day,UNWTO,Fundación ONCE, and the European Network for Accessible Tourism(ENAT) have published ‘Good Practices in the Accessible Tourism Supply Chain’, a booklet of best practices in the most relevant aspects of accessible tourism provision. I hope that our work inspires others to take steps towards broadening the availability of accessible offers in tourist destinations around the world, and making tourism a truly universal human right.


Guest Post, United Nations, Industry Relations