Report on Disabled Traveler Market – 2015

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Improvements in trauma care have increased the number of survivors among military and civilian populations. Over the past decades, progress in medicine has led to an increasing number of live births that were hitherto not possible. The first Boomers have passed their 65th birthdays. More than 65% of all the humans who have ever lived on this planet and reached the age of 65 are alive today; until recently, humans simply didn’t live that long. Improvements in medicine have increased the number of people living with conditions that previously led to quick demise.


All these events have led to a significant increase in the number of people with disabilities and mobility challenges living and integrating into general society around the world.



This paper will provide some clarity around the numbers, nature, and habits of this target market as they relate to travel and hospitality.




The US Census reports that there are 56.7MM of people with a disability living in the United States in 20101

    • 30.6 million people 15 or older have difficulty walking or climbing stairs2
    • 3.6 million people aged 15 or older use a wheelchair to assist with mobility2
    • 11.6 million people who used a cane, crutches or walker2
    • 8.1 million people 15 years or older have a vision difficulty2
    • 7.6MM people 15 years and older have a hearing difficulty2
    • 4MM of those who have difficulty hearing are aged 65 or older2
    • 12MM people aged 15 and older require the assistance of others in order to perform one or more activities of daily living or instrumental activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing, doing housework, and preparing meals2
    • By the year 2050 the number of persons over age 60 is projected to increase up to 20% of the world population, with one-fifth of this group being over 80 years old.
    • By 2030 nearly 24% of the total U.S. population, approximately 84MM, people will be disabled. Approximately 15% severely disabled3

How Many Are Physically Disabled?

With a core market of approximately 60 million people with mobility related disabilities and an additional 36 million Baby Boomers (approximately half of the Boomer population) as the study group, we too a look at the numbers to see if they are traveling and how much they are affecting the hotel market.


A large number of the aging population would be included in this group of mobility challenged, but not wheelchair disabled people. To put it clearly, while they do not require a roll in shower, should they wish to take a tub to ease an aching back after a long flight, they will certainly have need of grab bars on the tub to get in and out safely. Aches and pains increase the likelihood of some core muscle weakness or failure when sitting or rising, especially from a tub depth. Hence, the requirement for grab-bars.


Are They Traveling?

JetBlue reported to Open Doors Organization that approximately 1.2% of their passengers requested assistance to board planes using wheelchairs last year. The number of people requesting wheelchair assistance is increasing year over year at a faster pace than the number of Jet Blue travelers since 2004. The 262,000 Jet Blue passengers who request special assistance do not represent the full mobility challenged market. Many mobility challenged customers do not self identify as disabled and do not require a wheelchair to board a plane.


JetBlue represents approximately 5.2% of the airline market in the US and their percentages of disabled requests is average across the airline industry. Extrapolating, the number of people who request wheelchair support is approximately 5.2MM per annum in the United States.


  • 21M disabled adults in the US traveled in 2005, including –
    • 9M business travelers
    • 20M leisure/pleasure travelers
    • 4M who combine business and leisure travel


Getting a Handle on Real Numbers

Of the 54M people designated as disabled by the US government

Airports are reporting that they believe that between 2% and as much as 15% of the wheelchair requests may be bogus. In other words, the traveler did not actually require wheelchair services, but used facilities such as transporters to move through the airport more quickly or to avoid a long line. There is some dispute about the abuse assumptions, including the fact that disabilities are not always externally evident. While an airport employee may believe that someone is using the wheelchair service to avoid a long line, the passenger may actually be unable to stand for long periods of time, but be otherwise reasonably ambulatory. Spinal, hip, knee, leg, and ankle injuries or chronic conditions such as phlebitis or swelling of the ankles while standing are just some of the issues that may not be otherwise noticeable, but require special assistance.


Jani Nayer, executive director of the Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality, asserts, “If you provide the service the disabled will travel. We are not looking for charity; the travel industry needs to know that providing theses services is good business.”


Fastest Growing Segment of the Travel Market

As early as 2012, Travel Agent Central reported that accessible travel is the fastest growing market sector4.


SATH reported that in 2012, the accessible travel market was valued at
$15 billion USD per annum. With the increase in aging Boomers, this sum is destined to grow quickly over the coming months and years.


More than 55% of every travel dollar is controlled by people aged 50 and older. More than 80% of the luxury travel market is governed by this group. Boomers are inheriting $10.3 trillion from their Golden Ager parents and they are unlikely to save it. When Boomers were born, paper diapers were invented and Dr. Spock told their parents how to raise them. Hula-hoops and Spaldeens came on the market to be their playthings. Approximately 365 universities opened in the US, and closed behind them as Boomers passed through the college years. As Boomer approached 40, books like Conversations with God addressing spirituality were written and Boomers consumed with the same rabid taste for acquisition as they did everything else. Divorce rates spiked as Boomers searched for personal happiness and fulfillment over cultural norms and expectations.


Boomers not only travel; they are very likely to continue to do so and spend increasing sums on travel. As the Boomers reach 60 and 65, mobility devices such as scooters for home and travel are ever more present in advertisements, at airports, and at amusement centers, museums, and elsewhere for rent.


This a generation accustomed to being paid attention to, having its way, and fulfilling its desires. As they age, Boomers will require increasing accessibility supports, but they are unlikely to give up their pursuit of travel and entertainment experiences because arthritis or other chronic ailments engender mobility challenges. They simply expect those challenges to be met with support systems to accommodate and overcome them.


Market Characteristics

Researched conducted by brettapproved, Inc. of Phoenix, AZ involving nearly 1200 disabled travelers in the US and abroad provided the following market traits.



Participants overwhelmingly indicated willingness to spend more for a hotel room if they could be assured:

  1. The room they are booking actually exists. I.e.: The room is not occupied FT by a long term guest and therefore not really available although the website enables them book it. Note: occupancy of accessible rooms in mid-level hotels by long term by guests using the hotel as a retirement living alternative appears to be increasing in the US. More research on this subject is indicated.
  2. The room is held for them and available when they check in. I.e.: not given away to someone else “by accident”. Note: Respondents indicated that do not receive the room they ordered more than 80% of the time. The company, brettapproved, Inc., and SATH were both formed by people who experienced these issues and are working to improve the situation through their organizations.
  3. The accessible features are as described. Related to the issue above, respondents indicate that although they book a room with a roll in shower, they are often provided a room with a tub with grab-bars instead. ADA compliance says a hotel must provide an ADA room; it does not require the correct accessible features. This can mean the difference between being able to clean one’s person or not for the duration of the stay.
    Guests with accessible needs spend more on property per visit as well as returning more frequently. Upon arrival, they often require the services of the Bell Hop. They purchase in-room Internet access, even if there’s a cost for in-room access and no cost for access in the public areas or lobby. Most respondents indicated the effort required to move between the room and public spaces to use Internet access makes it worth the cost.Guests with mobility challenges use hotel or resort property facilities, including restaurants, spas, and shops preferentially since moving off property requires more effort and can entail accessibility issues they cannot predict. The issue is about knowing what to expect en route and upon arrival.

Participants across the board said once they find a hotel that works for their needs, they return rather than trying another hotel in the area. The following quote demonstrates the value of the stickiness generated by providing accessibility features and services.


“I travel to conferences frequently. If I know hotel A near a convention center has an accessible room and features that work for me, I’ll stay there again, even if hotel B is the same quality level, literally next door, and $100 less expensive. It’s worth the difference to know what to expect when I get there.5

    Interestingly, disabled travelers tend to complain less frequently than their able bodied peers. For example, the most frequently experienced problems by both disabled and nondisabled air travelers include schedules not being kept and restrictive security procedures. More of the nondisabled air travelers (38 percent and 49 percent, respectively) as compared to the disabled air travelers (25 percent and 34 percent, respectively) complained.6


The Social Media Pain Point

Customer service issues are being aired on social media in preference to emails, phone calls, and in person complaints. The trend is increasing, as Millennials, the eldest of which are 25 years old, become adult consumers. When travelers book hotel stays, they turn to peer reviews on multiple platforms. With a single query for a hotel brand name or brand name + location, Google and other search engines return a page full of social media / peer review responses, bringing in responses from tripadvisor, Yelp!,,, Google+, and many more. Good peer reviews are increasingly important metrics in booking decisions.



The disabled market is significant, growing, profitable and powerful. As the market segment population increases, integration into society is also increasing. Forward thinking travel, entertainment, and hospitality brands are budgeting for soft skills training and marketing to accommodate this growing market sector.


Citations and Reference Material


  1. References – Disabled World.
  2. Americans with Disabilities: 2010
  3. Harris Poll commissioned by Open Doors Organization, Chicago, IL
  4. com/traveling-with-handicapped-people/accessible-travel-fastest-growing-segment-travel-indstry-34918
  5. 2014, Brett Heising, CEO brettapproved, Inc.
  6. (See appendix table 29 and table 30.)

brettapproved®, Inc. Report on Disabled Traveler Market – 2015

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