The would-be travellers: Disabled stay home from lack of European holiday facilities

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BRITAIN'S tourism industry could be given a multi-million- pound boost if hotels and tour operators made themselves more accessible to disabled people, according to a report by the management consultants Touche Ross.

Profiting From Opportunities identifies a huge new market of disabled people likely to travel throughout Europe if access to venues and transport is improved.

'The estimated impact on business could mean hundreds of millions of pounds in the UK,' said Hugh Cade, a partner at Touche Ross.

The report concludes that only five million disabled people in the 17 countries surveyed currently travel as tourists, out of a potential market of 36 million.

Since few disabled people travel as individuals, it argues, their travelling companions will generate further business in the sector if access is improved. 'At a conservative estimate, disabled travellers could generate an additional 293 million tourism nights and 117 million day visits.'

Mr Cade said: 'The business potential is huge - as much as pounds 22bn extra tourism expenditure in Europe. This could be one of the last great market opportunities for the tourism industry.'

The study found that awareness of the full potential market for disabled people was limited to a small number of organisations, and that levels of provision for disabled travellers were often 'erratic' and dependent on individual national legislation. Marketing to the target audience was often 'misleading and inconsistent'.

Mapping out the potential for growth, the report points to ageing populations. 'The market for disabled tourists will increasingly be made up of people used to travelling and with higher expectations than previous generations.'

But it warns that unless the sector recognises the needs of disabled travellers 'supply will consistently lag behind potential demand'.