According to the World Health Organization, there are approximately 1 billion persons with disabilities in the world. This equates to approximately 15% of the world population having a physical, mental, or sensory disability. Based on evidence gathered by the WHO and World Bank (World Report on Disability, 2011), there is a high correlation between aging and disability.
Older people (over 65 years) who may not be considered “disabled” very often have similar difficulties in carrying out daily activities. Therefore, they are usually included among those who have specific access requirements, thus greatly increasing their number.
They represent a significant potential source of tourism business, which can benefit host countries and destinations if they take the necessary steps to improve their accessibility. This significant potential becomes more evident if we consider that the rapid ageing of the population is underway. In 2015, there were 617 million people aged 65 or over in the world, comprising 8.5 percent of the global population.
Their number is projected to increase more than 60 percent in just 15 years: in 2030, there will be about 1 billion older people globally, equivalent to 12.0 % of the total population.
The share of older population will continue to grow in the following 20 years: by 2050, there will be 1.6 billion people aged 65 or over worldwide, representing 16.7 percent of the total world population. Due to the ageing population, the number of people with specific access requirements with the capacity to travel is increasing, boosting the demand for an accessible environment, transport and services and, therefore, bringing benefits to the tourism sector.
Much of the senior population, in fact, has significant income and the desire to travel, both in their home countries and abroad, and their expenditure tends to be higher than that of tourists in general. Because many people with disabilities and older people are no longer active in the workforce, they have the possibility of traveling throughout the year, which helps to reduce the seasonality of demand experienced by many destinations.
The numerical importance of people with specific access requirements for the tourism sector has been confirmed by the results of the study published in 2014 that the European Commission commissioned in order to provide a coherent picture of the current and future potential demand for accessible tourism in Europe and to estimate its economic impact.
According to this study, in 2011 there were 138.6 million people with access requirements in the EU (around 27% of total population), of which 35.9% were people with disabilities aged 15-64, and 64.1% were the older population aged 65 or above. In 2012, people with access requirements in the EU took approximately 783 million trips, thus generating a total gross value-added contribution of about €356 billion and a total employment of about 8.7 million persons.
Driven by the aging population, which in Europe is much higher than elsewhere, the demand is anticipated to grow by 10% to about 862 million trips per year by 2020, equivalent to an average growth rate of 1.2% annually.