EyeforTravel Amsterdam 2018

November 2018, Amsterdam

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Why there should be no boundaries for travellers with disability

A truly successful marketing campaign should not only resonate with a target audience but also honestly reflects a brand’s vision. National Rail’s recent campaign seems to be delivering

In London’s Kings Cross station a real-world marketing campaign seems to be resonating strongly with passers-by. A pop-up exhibition titled ‘No Boundaries’, featuring the works of 20 artists living with disabilities – both visible and invisible - was commissioned by National Rail to coincide with the launch of the ‘digital disabled persons railcard’.

The exhibition features numerous artworks including those of Sophie Morgan, a TV presenter best known for presenting the Paralympics 2018 and interior design makeover programme Best Laid Plans, and Robyn Herbert, a 15-year-old illustrator, and the youngest artist taking part.

Image caption: Robyn Herbert, 15, with her work title ‘Lost at Sea’

A significant market

In many parts of the world, including the UK, there is still a stigma attached to disability. “When we heard Scope’s research that two in five disabled people feel the need to disguise their disability as a result of stigma and negativity, and that over a third of the British public have avoided talking to disabled people for fear of saying the wrong thing we wanted to do something to help turn figures like this into a thing of the past,” says Jyoti Bird, National Rail’s Marketing Director.

The No Boundaries exhibition is the result of work that began back in 2015 when theRail Delivery Group (RDG), which brings together train operators and Network Rail to improve the railway, released a report titled: On Track for 2020?: The Future of Accessible Rail Travel.

While the progress being made is clearly good for people with disability, it could also be good for the bottom line. The disabled segment is, after all, considerable. According to the World Bank, 15% of the world's population experiences some form of disability, and for one-fifth of those people that disability is significant. 

15% of the world's population experiences some form of disability, and for one-fifth of those people that disability is significant  

World Bank

However, last year, for example, the UK government estimated that UK retailers are at risk of losing £249 billion a year by ignoring consumers with a disability. With record numbers of people now travelling by train, according to RDG, that represents an opportunity for train travel, something the UK rail industry has recognised.

According to Bird, the goal has been to improve the overall experience by embracing new technologies and upping the game with service. Aside from the new digital disabled persons railcard, rail companies will also be trialling a new digital passenger assist solution, and the ability to purchase mobile tickets; there are currently ticket gates at 98 stations with a further 79 stations receiving upgrades by the end of the year.

Raising awareness

While National Rail’s vision is a far-reaching and ambitious one, other travel brands are also doing their bit to raise awareness, and make travel more accessible. Japan Airlines is one. According to Akira Mitsumasu, the airline’s VP of products & services planning, a winter campaign to curate ski trips for people with physical disability was driven by multiple factors, and has provided numerous lessons.

Among the drivers, were a government initiative to remove travel barriers, including psychological ones, for people in a wheelchair; an internal shift to encourage more people with physical and mental disabilities to travel, and data!

“Data indicates that this as an underserved segment with potential, especially here in Japan where we have an ageing population,” says Mitsumasu, who shared insights at a recent EyeforTravel event.

Japan is not alone. In fact, the UN predicts that rate of population ageing in the 21st century will exceed that of the previous century. The number of people aged 60 years and over has tripled since 1950 and it is projected that together the senior and geriatric population will reach 2.1 billion by 2050.

While addressing the ageing population is a long-term issue, in the medium term, the JAL winter ski campaign was thinking ahead to 2020, when the country will play host to the Olympics and Paralympics. “The campaign is part of our initiative to improve accessibility as we prepare Japan for the 2020 Paralympics,” Mitsumasu says.

Lessons from the Japan Airlines campaign, which will run again this winter, include:

  • If well organised with outside partners, it is possible to extend the idea to other activities (such as marine sports) and stimulate travel demand among people with disabilities.
  • Such campaigns should not be a one-off, but a day-to-day process by the airline to facilitate air travel for disabled travellers. 
  • Surveys and research to better understand the pain-points for disabled travellers can help to mitigate future barriers.

Online moves and opportunities  

It is not just travel suppliers, like airlines and rail companies, that are working to improve services to the disabled segment; online travel companies are doing their bit too. Under Booking.com’s Booking Booster accelerator programme, US-based Wheel the World, a platform that is ‘tackling the challenge of disability accessibility in tourism’, received a €275,000 investment.

Also in the US is Brettapproved, a community of reviewers and a metasearch platform founded by Brett Heising, who has been in a wheelchair for 38 years. Heising who left his corporate job in 2012 to launch the platform believes “everyone regardless of any given disability or mobility challenge, deserves to travel — confidently”.

The travel industry is making progress, but there is still work to do. One area where there is a real opportunity is in business travel. A recent white paper from risk consultancy Drum Cussac argues that organisations have a duty to ensure that their disabled business travellers are well equipped to deal with some of the challenges and prejudices they may encounter while on the road.

So the work to make the world more accessible continues. While it is too early to say whether National Rail’s campaign has been a success, engagement to date has been positive, says Bird. Today (August 21st) is the last day to view the exhibition at London Kings Cross. Next stops for the No Boundaries exhibition are Birmingham New Street, Cardiff, Gatwick and Edinburgh.

Photo credits: Simon Jacob

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