The ageing of the population in the developed world is a concern that has been extensively discussed in media during the last years. The expected increase of life expectancy will result in a growing number of people needing some kind of support in their daily life as well as when they are travelling. Currently, about 15 percent of the world‘s population live with some kind of disability. By 2050, 20 percent of the world’s population will be over 65 years old, and half of them will most likely suffer from a disability such as visual impairment or mobility difficulties to some extent limiting their daily life. (Amadeus 2017) In the tourism field, development of accessible tourism services has been an answer to the demand of new services for a growing number of seniors who have both time and money to travel.
In a world where the right to travel even is seen as a human right, inclusive tourism has been brought in as a concept covering more angles than only accessible tourism. The concept of inclusive tourism combines two topical elements in tourism, accessibility and hospitality. Instead of focusing only on services for seniors and other customer segments suffering from disability challenges, inclusive tourism acknowledges also that different customer groups must have the possibility to travel with dignity and enjoy similar services as everyone else. The practical implication is that also religious, sexual and ethnic minorities should be offered the same hospitality as any tourist when travelling.
The Erasmus+ funded project, Growmat (Growing the market in accessible tourism) started in December 2016 as a project aiming at enhancing new business opportunities in the senior tourism market especially during shoulder seasons. It was though quickly realised that thinking in terms of accessible tourism was too narrow. During recent years, media all over the world has raised the question of discrimination of different tourism groups, from Airbnb hosts in US not renting their apartments to certain minorities to service personnel at Finnish gas stations not delivering services to customers of Romani background.
Thus, companies selling tourism services need not only to think in terms of how to make their facilities both technologically and physically more accessible, they need to focus also on intangible service quality issues such as empathy which can be improved mainly by offering training to the personnel.
In the Growmat project new ideas for enhancing the visitor experience at Suomenlinna were developed for Finnish residents with immigrant background, visitors with visual impairment and senior citizens. Milla Öystilä, representing the commissioner the Governing Body of Suomenlinna, was happy with the ideas developed by the students and promised that some of the ideas will be tested already during spring. The
The students implementing the project acknowledged that understanding of the needs of different customer groups is a key for success in the tourism industry. Participating in the inclusive tourism course made them more aware of the needs of different tourist groups that face different challenges when travelling. For us teachers, the cases commissioned by the Governing body of Suomenlinna deepened the understanding of inclusive tourism as a wider concept and phenomenon. It was also interesting to see how student teams got involved in their respective cases of various target groups and how much they used time e.g. by revisiting the fortress island and interviewing representatives of different target groups. The main learnings from Growmat project are that inclusiveness must be further discussed and enhanced the tourism market around Europe. Even if some improvements have taken place when it comes to physical accessibility, trends such as digitalization and a growing number of seniors without family nearby, are in the same time excluding a huge number of people from the buying and consuming tourism services.
Eva Holmberg & Jarmo Ritalahti, Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences
The Erasmus+ project, Growmat is co-ordinated by Basque Cebanc. The other partners in the project are from UK, Slovenia and Greece. The main objective of the project focuses on developing courses for students and trainings for companies in the context of inclusive tourism. In Finland, the course was piloted with the Governing Body of Suomenlinna during fall 2018. A group of first year students in the master program in Aviation and Tourism Business were chosen to pilot the project.