Preparations for the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2004 jumpstarted the long-needed improvements to make Greece, and Athens in particular, more accessible to people with special needs. Ongoing initiatives for improved access are being made through the Ministry of Environment’s “Accessibility Plan” that promises full social inclusion of this population in the future.
Presently, JBR Hellas, an Athens-based consulting firm, is working on the ministry’s program to make tourist accommodations and sites accessible.
The project involves developing a plan for site inspections and assessments, and modifications required for accessibility that are both cost and time-effective.
A management plan will address alterations to the buildings, facilities and services of tourism destinations as well. This program is intended to meet the special codes and requirements of the EU’s European Accessibility Label being developed. JBR Hellas is working in cooperation with specialized consulting firms in Spain, the United Kingdom, France, Scandinavia, Turkey, and the Dominican Republic.
Making tourist accommodations and tourism destinations accessible is considered a critical step towards full social inclusion, and is also deemed a sound investment since locations bearing the labeling will have a significant competitive advantage.
People with special needs make up a growing part of today’s tourism market. There are over 100 million people with special needs in Europe, the United States and Japan alone, and that number doubles to 200 million if the aged and individuals with temporary disabilities are included.
The majority of these potential tourists have adequate finances to travel – in North America alone, people with special needs spend about $15 billion annually on travel – and many of those that do not are offered special tourism packages from their home country’s social services authorities. As well people with special needs usually travel with at least one or two people, and often travel off-season.
A fact released that is of interest to hoteliers is that accessible units usually enjoy a higher rate of occupancy and average room rate (up to 10 units and 20%, accordingly), but do not have higher operating costs due to their special design and accommodations.
However, a crucial part of providing accessibility is making it known. According to JBR Hellas, the modifications made for people with special needs for the Olympic Games were not adequately promoted or widely communicated. Many travel agencies (see above graph) specializing in special needs travel are unaware that the Acropolis, the Archaeological Museum, the Metro and Airport are accessible.
Unfortunately, not even the Greek National Tourism Organization‘s official website provides this information. JBR Hellas’ services will include marketing and promotion for the hotels and destinations that are accessible.