#TOURISMFORALL – Is your travel website reaching as many guests as possible?

#TOURISMFORALL – Is your travel website reaching as many guests as possible?

The theme for this year’s World Tourism Day, which happens a week today on September 27, is Tourism for All. In the promotional materials for its annual event, the UNWTO writes: “Accessible Tourism for all is about the creation of environments that can cater for the needs of all of us, whether we are traveling or staying at home. May that be due to a disability, even temporary, families with small children, or the ageing population, at some point in our lives, sooner or later, we all benefit of universal accessibility in tourism.”

I have written before about the scale of the accessible tourism market and the opportunities this presents. How worldwide, the accessible tourism market is 1.3bn people, and how, when their friends and family are considered, this increases to 2.2bn.

However, it is one thing to acknowledge that there is a huge opportunity. It is another to know how to reach it. I love exploring London. I never appreciated the challenges that kerbs and doorways present, let alone navigating the Underground, until I pushed a friend round some of my most well trodden routes one day.

More significantly, however, considering I build websites for responsible tourism companies, I only recently realised that I wasn’t thinking enough about the internet from an accessibility point of view. Nor, it would seem, were the many responsible tourism companies I have worked with. Not one client I have built a website for has ever asked me to ensure it was accessible to every potential guest.

Today, however, I read the accessibility page on the website of Native Hotels. Aside from being in six languages, www.nativehotels.org goes much further than most to ensure its website can be read easily by as many people as possible.

As Native Hotels explains: “With the W3C system (the most used in the world) you can use a Braille Line which converts to dots the text that appears on the screen. And you can use the hearing system Jaws that reads the text on the screen as fast as you want. Among other solutions. And with InSuit tool you can access the information without viewing the screen, without touching the keyboard and without talking to the computer. We can simply blow on the microphone of our headphones. This system allows navigation even to a blind, mute and hands motionless user. And you can use it on any computer, not necessarily yours, because accessibility is embedded in the website and do not need peripherals or specific programs.”

To see how far the majority of tourism websites fall below this, it’s worth checking how well your own website measures up using various website accessibility checkers, or alongside something like Berkeley University’s Top 10 Tips for Making Your Website Accessible or this guide to making your wesite disability friendly from Mashable. The articles both cover topics such as use of colour, how to implement heading tags such as H1 and H3, and the correct labelling of images, since those ‘alt-tags’ aren’t just another SEO-grabbing device. They are there to enable screen reader users to understand the message conveyed by the use of images on the page.

However, a lot of SEO and Accessibility guidelines do overlap. Which means that if your website is built and structured correctly then it will be easy for both search engines and all your potential human clients to read.

The vast majority of your future guests will discover your business online. Reaching as many of them as possible should be the first thing any tourism business looking to succeed should do.

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Jeremy Smith is a writer and editor specialising in tourism communication and storytelling. As well as writing a fortnightly blog on WTM's responsible tourism website, he works with responsible and sustainable travel businesses, developing their communications, brands, marketing and digital & social media strategy. He is co-author of Rough Guides' only guidebook dedicated to responsible tourism, Clean Breaks - 500 New Ways to See the World. Before that he was editor of The Ecologist, the world's longest-running environmental magazine. His own website is www.jmcsmith.co.uk

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