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Technology is key to making travel more accessible, new report finds

People with access needs still face numerous barriers when booking and undertaking travel, but existing and emerging technologies are crucial to making the process more accessible, research claims.

The new report found that while advancing technologies such as voice recognition, artificial intelligence and virtual reality are being used by some companies and hotels to make travel more inclusive, website accessibility and use of mobile devices – for tasks such as managing bookings – are still fundamental for travellers with access needs.

The study, ‘Voyage of discovery: Working towards inclusive and accessible travel for all’, was commissioned by travel technology consulting firm Amadeus and carried out by Ilunion, a consulting firm owned by ONCE, the Spanish National Organisation of the Blind. It looks at the requirements and first-hand experiences of travellers with access needs and explores how ‘the travel experience and customer journey’ can be made more accessible by examining three stages of the process: ‘The pre-travel stage: what happens before the trip’, ‘In transit: what happens on the journey’ and ‘In destination: what happens upon arrival’.

Results are based on responses from focus groups and interviews with consumer travellers and industry experts, featuring contributions from people with “visual, hearing, cognitive and physical disabilities” and travellers over 65-years-old with accessibility needs, from the United States, European Union and India.

Speaking about the findings of the report, Elizabeth Aston, Senior Advisor for Industry Affairs at Amadeus IT Group, told e-Access Bulletin that “Technology will be a pivotal factor in making travel more accessible. We are already seeing companies use mobile applications, more intuitive user interfaces, voice recognition, data analytics and customer management systems to help address [access barriers] identified by travellers … But technology is not the sole answer, it must also be seen in the wider context of accessibility, as an enabler and facilitator of change and action.”

As demonstrated in the report, the same technology that can aid more accessible travel can also become an obstacle when it is not designed inclusively. For example, difficulty in navigating inaccessible travel websites was found to be one of the biggest barriers for users during the booking stage.

The report also notes that when booking a trip online, “there is a lack of standard procedures for communicating passengers’ specific needs.” Despite this and other issues, the report found that online booking was still by far the most popular method for booking trips.

A later section of the report examines how technology is empowering travellers. The report notes that “Some hotel chains are using mobile apps to allow guests access to their rooms and other facilities, and others are using virtual reality to demonstrate accommodation and services.”

Here, the study points towards the increasing use of Bluetooth-enabled navigation beacons, wearable technologies and even driverless cars as potential future aids for accessible travel.

Other significant findings from the report include the discovery that “travellers would increase their travel budget by 34% if accessibility barriers were eliminated,” representing a clear business incentive for the industry alongside moral obligations.

The report ends by making recommendations on how the industry can work towards making travel more accessible for all, including a call for the development of “global standards for accessibility in travel and tourism.”

Voyage of discovery: Working towards inclusive and accessible travel for all’ is available in full at the Amadeus website in accessible PDF.

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