Accessible Tourism

Accessible Tourism for People with Disabilities

Since 2020, the MacEachen Institute has been engaged in research activities focused on improving the accessibility of tourism for people with disabilities. The project is a partnership between the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland, and includes eight academic partners from five institutions. It uses scenario planning to explore how the tourism industry could adapt to better accommodate the needs of people with disabilities.

About the Project

Funded by a SSHRC Insight Grant, The MacEachen Institute, along with the University of Strathclyde and other partners, conducted research in the area of tourism, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the potential impacts on people living with disabilities. The goals of the project were to:

  1. Examine different futures of tourism for people with disabilities, recognizing physical, attitudinal, knowledge, and systemic barriers;
  2. Recognize opportunities and constraints that may arise in these futures;
  3. Identify and recommend steps stakeholders can take to work towards the vision of accessible tourist destinations, products and; services for Nova Scotians, with a special focus on those with disabilities.

As part of this project, the investigators held a series of scenario planning sessions involving discussions about potential futures in tourism for people with disabilities and strategies to improve the accessibility of the tourism experience. The sessions were followed by a follow-up questionaire and interviews with a subset of participants.

Next Steps

A fourth session will take place in 2024 where participants will review potential strategies and develop policy recommendations.

This project is a comparative study, and similar research activities will take place in Glasgow, Scotland in 2024.

Research Outputs

The MacEachen Institute and its partners will produce a number of deliverables from the eventual findings of this research. This will include:

  • Briefing notes
  • Op-eds in regional and national publications
  • Peer-reviewed articles in risk management and governance journals
  • Public panel events at both the MacEachen Institute and the University of Strathclyde
  • Present research to risk experts at conferences such as the Society for Risk Analysis

These materials will be posted here on the MacEachen Institute's website, and shared on our social media channels and in our newsletter. To be kept up-to-date on the release of findings from this research, follow the MacEachen Institute on social media and subscribe to our newsletter.

Project Background

Tourism in Canada

Tourism in Canada

The tourism sector is a major economic driver of the Canadian economy, contributing billions of dollars and thousands of jobs. In 2019, tourism generated $104 billion in revenue, and the industry accounted for 10.6% of total employment, including one in four new jobs created. As one of the fastest growing sectors in the world, tourism and travel have become a part of modern life for many.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought tourism around the globe to a near-halt. The pandemic was devastating for the industry, as border protocols and quarantine measures created a 97% reduction in international air travel (UNWTO). In June 2020, financial losses in the tourism sector were more than five times the loss experienced during the 2009 financial crisis (UNWTO).

Since restrictions have gradually eased over the couse of the pandemic, tourism has made a significant comeback with many markets seeing tourism spending that match or exceed pre-pandemic numbers. As the tourism sector continues to move forward following COVID-19, how can the sector become more accessible for people with disabilities?

Accessible Tourism

The United Nations defines accessibility as “the ongoing endeavour to ensure tourist destinations, products and services are accessible to all people, regardless of their physical limitations, disabilities or age. This includes publicly and privately owned tourist locations, facilities and services” (United Nations, n.d.)

The Province of Nova Scotia (Access by Design 2030) and Accessibility Standards Canada (Accessibility Plan) mandate the government to develop regulated accessibility standards, with an ultimate goal of being accessible within the next decade.

Many people with disabilities travel regularly, and many others are motivated to travel. In Canada, people with disabiltiies have a collective disposable income of $55 billion. Because of the correlation between age and disability, the number of people with disabilities in Canada is expected to grow as the Baby Boomer generation ages.

However, many barriers built into society make it challenging for people with disabilities to participate in tourism and travel. Some of these barriers include inaccessible booking services and travel information, limited availability of accessible accommodations, and the persistent attitude that meeting accessibility needs is a favour, rather than a right.

As the tourism sector continues to grow post-COVID-19, there are financial, legal, and social justice considerations making accessibility a higher priority for the industry.

Scenario Planning

Scenario planning is a tool that can help organizations to distinguish between what they can control and what they cannot control, and what policies they can develop in light of this dynamic. Scenario planning accomplishes these four objectives:

  1. Identifies 'driving factors' for the organization
  2. Identifies potential risks and uncertainties
  3. Imagines potential future scenarios
  4. Creates policies and plans to address these futures

There are many methods of scenario planning. This project uses the intuitive logics method, with some modifications. Read more information about scenario planning at the MacEachen Institute.

Scenario Planning Sessions

Researchers and participants during session 2 (Oct. 19, 2023)

The scenario sessions, hosted by the MacEachen Institute at Dalhousie University, brought together 25 stakeholders from the tourism industry, disability advocacy organizations, and government, many with lived experience. Participants reflected a wide array of views and experiences, and developed policy responses for several imagined futures.

Session 1

The first session, hosted virtually, took place on Sept. 27, 2023, consisted of brief overviews of the economic impact of the tourism sector and its challenges and opportunities, and understanding disability and accessibility in the context of tourism. This session also reviewed the scenario planning process and the goals and timeline for the project.

Sessions 2 and 3

The second and third sessions were hybrid and hosted by the MacEachen Institute at Dalhousie University in Halifax, N.S. In these sessions, participants met for two consecutive days of scenario planning. The sessions, facilitated by the Institute's Scholarly Director Dr. Kevin Quigley, walked participants through four imagined scenarios of what accessibility could look like for the future of the tourism industry. During this discussion, note takers recorded what was said for future review.