In business

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) published ISO 21902 “Tourism and related services – Accessible tourism for all - Requirements and recommendations” in July 2021. It is billed as the first international standard on accessible tourism, offering guidelines to ensure access and enjoyment of tourism for all. It is hoped that the standard will become a key tool for enforcing the right of everyone to enjoy tourism and leisure.

Guidelines on how to apply ISO 21902 have been published for tourism and hospitality businesses and for tourism destinations:

Download ISO 21902 Guidelines for Tourism and Hospitality Businesses

Download ISO 21902 Guidelines for Tourism Destinations

These guidelines make interesting reading, and certainly put forward a number of valid suggestions, but how valuable – and relevant – are they to business operators in the UK who want to welcome guests with access needs, but who are wrestling with the practical problems of keeping their businesses afloat in these difficult times?

I am concerned that the guidelines (and by extension, the Standard) are not commercially focused. They are talking to tourism and hospitality businesses and tourism destinations, but they are not putting forward the practical business case for accessibility. Instead they employ language and arguments which are more suitable for government departments.

Building on this, the guidelines give very little consideration to the return on investment that businesses undertaking the work which they suggest could expect. The guidelines state that “investment costs can be kept to a minimum”, but give no evidence to support this statement – and the actions they suggest actually look like they would be costly – while the only place the business benefits are mentioned is in the section “Why should we care about accessibility?”, where Point 7 itemises “New experiences, revenue streams, innovation and improved business results”.

Further, the guidelines don’t offer much practical advice for operators of existing businesses. They can easily give the impression that, to be effective, accessibility has to be designed in from the start – it can’t be retrofitted to a business. This concerns me, because it is not the case – but it runs the risk of reducing the opportunities and ambition for businesses to become more accessible.

Another area of concern is the suggestion that businesses should engage researchers with disabilities to map obstacles that disabled guests might confront, rather than reviewing their existing levels of disability and accessibility awareness - including the number of people with impairments they employ – and planning to improve these internally. To me this feels like a bit of a “cop out” – it harks back to the days before the Equality Act 2010 – and the language and presentation do not reflect the current levels of social inclusion within organisations.

Overall, the guidelines (and by extension the Standard) appear to have been created by people with a generic rather than a detailed understanding of disability and accessibility. Perhaps because of this, they neither set out simple, basic principles nor give effective, practical advice- they fall between the stools. Add to this the fact that the ISO is often perceived as a European “quango” which, particularly post-Brexit, is not necessarily in touch with business practises in the UK, and many tourism and hospitality businesses may see the Standard as an extra layer of bureaucracy, rather than as a practical aid to welcoming guests with access needs – and that may reduce the impact of the Standard and the guidelines.

So where should you start if you are a tourism or hospitality business thinking about welcoming and giving great service to customers with access needs – and, if you are a tourism destination wishing to encourage businesses and destinations on your patch to become more accessible, what advice should you give – if you want to implement the essentials of ISO 21902?

  • First, you should consider why becoming more accessible makes business sense. Think about the “3 Rs” of your business: your revenueresilience and reputation.

The “3 Rs” of your business

  • Next, you should look at how accessible your business already is. Our FREE online training course “So what makes you think you are not accessible?” will show you that you are probably already more accessible than you think.

So what makes you think you are not accessible?

  • In our experience, for the vast majority of customers with access needs the warmth of the welcome and the friendliness and willingness of the service that they receive are every bit as important as any special facilities that are provided. So – and this is probably the most important advice of all - you should ensure that your staff are trained to give great service to customers with access needs.