Travel firms urged to recognise ‘commercial imperative’ of inclusion

The travel industry will only make strong progress on inclusion when it realises that supporting travellers with disabilities is a “commercial imperative”, according to Richard Thompson, chief executive of specialist travel firm Inclu.

Thompson highlighted that one in six people in the world have a disability, which means “this is not a niche market”.

He criticised the lack of progress on inclusive travel over the last two decades, adding: “Once the industry realises this is a commercial imperative, that’s what’s going to produce changes.”

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Thompson was among the speakers on a panel entitled ‘Making travel accessible to all’ at the International Women in Travel & Tourism Forum 2024 in London on Thursday.

He said the key question was not asking about a person’s disability, but asking about the barriers to their travel.

“Right now disabled people are disenfranchised by our industry,” he said. “It’s not accessible or inclusive.”

Limitless Travel founder Angus Drummond said it was “ridiculous” that some aircraft and hotels were unequipped to cater for travellers with disabilities and suggested that government intervention might help.

“I believe there is a role that the government can play where the market can’t go the full way,” he said, adding “minimum accepted framework” could be a valuable tool.

“Without government intervention and legislation to protect people with the highest level of needs, they’re not going to be catered for,” he said.

He also called for a “mindshift shift” in the way travellers with disabilities are treated. “We want to be treated as travellers first and foremost,” he said.

“When you’re on safari in South Africa, you don’t feel like you’re disabled. You feel like every other traveller,” he added.

Thompson disagreed with Drummond’s view that government intervention would help with progress.

“If you’re waiting for government to make this happen, you’re going to wait decades – it’s not going to happen. We need to drive this change,” said Thompson.

He added: “It has to be a commercial imperative. That’s what’s going to drive change, not government intervention.”

Hays Travel learning and development manager Nicola Degnan emphasised the importance of finding out what every traveller and their family need.

This requires having an understanding of hidden disabilities and neurodiversity, she added.

Holly Addison, a partner at Leathwaite, an executive talent and consulting firm, said her non-profit enterprise Balance the Board helps to connect company boards with people with disabilities.

Businesses rarely talk about disability, she said, meaning they are missing out on a “huge commercial opportunity”.

Photo (from left): Nicola Degnan, Richard Thompson and East Midlands airport’s Mike Grimes.

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