Accessible Tourism has been recently brought to the forefront of the agenda for sustainable tourism development, as numerous research reports took notice of the spike in demand for accessibility. This tendency is supported by the statistics related to the growing number of people with disabilities and growing aging population in Europe and among inbound travelers to European destinations. Existing research proves that people with disabilities and other access needs, including elderly people, pregnant women and families with children, tend to travel just as much as people without specific access requirements (ONCE Foundation, 2016). These people show a high demand for nature based leisure activities, however, even at well-equipped accessible tourist destinations, recreation opportunities and attractions are often inaccessible (Report on economic impact and travel patterns of AT in Europe, 2014). Managers of tourism SMEs tend to lack awareness of the access needs of their customers and have insufficient skills in developing and implementing innovative, sustainable solutions, which could help them increase their market share by seizing the opportunities offered by the growing market of accessible tourism. This is particularly true for natural and rural areas (NRAs), where professional development and training opportunities are limited (Mapping and performance check of the supply side of tourism education and training, EC, 2016).Project
The Access-IT project seeks to address this competence gap by offering a comprehensive training in the cross-field of accessible tourism, innovation and sustainable development of natural and rural areas. The overall objective of the project is to build capacity of EU tourism SMEs operating in NRAs to bridge accessibility gaps through stakeholder co-design of innovative solutions for tourism products for customers with specific access requirements.
Specific objectives are:
1. Identify the determinants of tourism accessibility in NRAs.
2. Develop case studies of accessible tourism in NRAs, utilising video and other methods for capturing and recording access improvements and first-hand user experiences.
3. Provide hands-on business support and guidance, advancing the innovation capability of tourism SMEs for the development of accessible tourism products in cooperation with key stakeholders.
4. Create a solid foundation for usability and transferability of the project outputs to a wider audience of stakeholders.
5. Increase awareness of business opportunities in the accessible tourism market among EU tourism SMEs operating in NRAs.
The project is targeted at: tourism SMEs operating in NRAs (owners, managers, staff), destination management bodies in NRAs, VET providers offering programs and courses in the field of tourism, individual learners and aspiring entrepreneurs. Stakeholder co-design sessions, planned to be held within the project, will also involve people with specific access requirements.
More than 700 representatives of the project target groups and stakeholders will be directly involved in the project activities and events, such as surveys, stakeholder roundtables, training workshops and conferences. In addition, the project consortium intends to reach at least 5000 rural enterprises through targeted dissemination of the project results.