Skip to main content

A Blog About Accessibility And MACROSCOPE Trend 4, The Whole Trip Experience

Paul Tilstone Shares Insights From IATA World Passenger Symposium 2022  Part 1

The subject of “accessibility” has more regularly appeared than at any time I can recall.  It seems to be a topic frequently under the spotlight in the wider business world for reasons I will come to in a minute.

So, to come across a whole track dedicated to accessibility at the IATA World Passenger Symposium (WPS) in Bahrain in November was something of interest to me.  I say “came across” because it caught my eye, it wasn’t what I was intentionally there for. I was there to help facilitate dialogue around modern retailing (more of which I will come to in a follow up blog), but three things happened whilst I sat in the bigger meeting room track on NDC, payments and my regular subjects. 

  • Firstly, Michael Swiatek, Chief Strategy Officer at Avianca got on the main stage. Not on his own, with the help of a guide and a white pole as Michael is blind. His speech was beautiful, entertaining and insightful and it switched on my accessibility radar.
  • Then I started to realise in the breaks that there seemed to be a lot of people with disabilities, far more than I had seen at a regular travel conference. And my accessibility radar bleeped.
  • And then Diane Lundeen Smith, Global Travel Sourcing Manager at Microsoft and an advocate for accessibility in business travel, told me of the amazing session she had just been to in the other room. And that’s when I knew I needed to change room.

So, I exited the deep discussion on retailing and went next door to a small room dedicated to accessibility.  These are the three things I learned.

Accessibility v Disability – it’s all about perspective

“I don’t have a disability. We all have different abilities, and besides, there’s an advantage to being blind, I never have to look at PowerPoint! In fact, my CEO says that just by listening better in meetings I bring more value than 90% of people who look at slides

I’m not personally a fan of the word disability, but apparently it is something hotly debated within the accessibility community and widely used, so I guess I’ll have to roll with it.  It certainly featured heavily in the track as you can see from the photo above on the screen.

But what struck me most was the amazing gifts many of the presenters with disabilities had and just how differently you had to think about stage access, structure and the audience if you wanted to fully embrace a more diverse accessibility speaker and audience set.  And the speakers were generally more engaging because PowerPoint hardly featured, it was all about the insights and conversation.

I take my hat off to IATA, they had thought about the whole experience and made all sorts of efforts, from ramps, to stage layout, to formats, to fully take advantage of the amazing brains that graced the stage.

This struck me, as a company which helps clients deliver engaging events and as a team who have championed diversity on stage, that it was something we should consider more of as a sector to bring more speakers with disabilities to the stage.

Market Opportunity – The Market Size Should Grab Attention

“The challenges and opportunities in the accessibility space can be really effectively viewed as a marketing/customer need issue.”

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) 15% of the world’s population have a physical, mental or sensory disability. That is about 1.2 billion people given that we just went past the 8 billion mark!

And with an ageing population that figure is set to grow.  The potential for servicing this market is huge and under delivered, so if you view accessibility with a commercial lens the topic takes on extra significance.

Complexity – Where There’s a Complex Problem There’s Value To Be Created

“Accessibility needs can be mobility based, cognitive or sensory (see/hear etc) but they can also be temporary v permanent v situational. And they aren’t mutually exclusive – it feels like someone in a wheelchair, who is deaf and pregnant might break our industry!! “

It’s clear that it’s a complex market.  There were some wonderful comments from speakers that really got me thinking, but not least this one.

“On the X axis have all the journey touch points. On the Y axis have visual, hearing, cognitive and mobility components and then think about all of the pain points on that chart.”

I hadn’t really categorised accessibility needs before.  I had just seen a single bucket of complexity, but when you break it down by visual, audible, mobility and cognitive accessibility needs it makes the picture so much easier to understand.  And I love the idea of tracking the traveller experience pain points by each of these categories. Maybe this is something that every travel programme should be doing to facilitate equality for employees in the travel experience.

The sessions opened my eyes to accessibility as a potential focus we can use to benefit everyone in our sector. When you start thinking about accessibility needs from a temporary versus permanent perspective it starts to make you think differently. There’s such a great potential to have accessibility act as a wedge to drive better service for the whole eco-system.  For example, creating a more open data environment in our sector across transport modes would help create more joined up and accessible experiences for all.  Or bringing data to the point of sale depending on accessible based attribute shopping would bring more value to all travellers.

Using the Principle of Universal Design we can use better materials and building structures to affect the experience for everyone.  Just think about the last time you moved through an old airport versus a new one and tell me that the experience isn’t fundamentally better.  Some of this can be attributed to design input to allow for those with accessibility needs to have a better experience.  And that means a better experience for all.

So, the biggest takeaway from my conference experience is that a spotlight on accessibility is good for everyone.  As well as being the right thing to do in a 21st century focused on equality for all, considering accessibility can be used as a wedge to create a better business travel experience for everyone.


PTM Coffee Table Book

Register here to receive your complimentary copy and future updates of the our PTM Coffee Table Book 


Register here to receive your complimentary copy and future updates of the MACROSCOPE REPORT