A recent market study conducted by Mandala Research has found that American adults with disabilities spend more than $17 billion each year on travel. The economic impact of this travel — an impact far more than $17 billion once family members and travel companions are factored into the spend — gives some indication of how important the hotel industry is to travelers with a disability. It also highlights why web accessibility is essential for hotels looking to provide a quality experience for each of their guests.
Hotel website and service accessibility is a necessity for would-be travelers browsing the hotel website from home as well as for hotel visitors who browse the site via smartphone or laptop. People with disabilities often also travel with additional assistive devices such as Braille displays or screen readers to allow for text-to-speech, and hotel websites must be able to support these types of devices. Hotel websites should also be designed and maintained to ensure that all guests can properly conduct any necessary travel planning, booking, and transactions online.
American hotels are required to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines. This includes identifying in detail the accessibility features of both the hotel itself and of its hotel rooms. This lets guests with a disability to easily determine whether a hotel is right for their needs. The best way a hotel can ensure compliance is by meeting the standards outlined in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0). These define what steps should be taken to, for instance, ensure that websites and services are accessible by making online forms functional without sole reliance on a mouse and by including text alternatives to website images.
Making Accessibility a Selling Point
Managers of many large hotel chains are also recognizing that ensuring compliance with accessibility is only part of the picture. These managers are also striving to go beyond minimum compliance levels to make accessibility a real selling point. With more than 40 million Americans affected by a disability, clearly providing full details of room and hotel accessibility features makes sense as a selling point to attract guests and ensure they have a more enjoyable stay.
For example, Hilton Hotels include an “accessibility pack” for individual hotels. The pack lists in detail all aspects related to accessibility such as whether entranceways, reception areas, and other important parts of the hotel are level areas without steps; whether gyms, conference, or business centers are accessible; and whether all hotel room and external bathrooms are fully accessible. This means that people with a disability can properly plan their trips knowing exactly which hotel facilities will be available to them. They are much more likely to stay at hotels that freely provide this information.
Hotels such as the Marriott group also have Public Accessibility Policies that specifically detail the scope and outline of their commitments to meet the requirements of the WCAG 2.0 AA standard.
Hotel companies both large and small have been the target of customer complaints and, in some cases, lawsuits related to noncompliance with the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). This demonstrates the very real need for hotels to meet website accessibility guidelines. Beyond the threats that customer unhappiness and lawsuits pose, however, is an opportunity: Hotels need to recognize that being proactive and engaging with guests with disabilities can only benefit hotels in the long-run — the proactive approach ultimately boosts the bottom line as well as customer satisfaction.