Giuseppe Aliperti, Maialen Sanz and Basagaitz Guereño Omil Title : COVID-19 and accessible tourism: A build-back-better opportunity
Basagaitz Guereño Omil
There has been a growing interest in accessible tourism throughout the years.
However, several physical and behavioural barriers are still influencing the development of a
fully accessible travel industry. Despite these difficulties, people with disabilities are
participating more in tourism even having all kinds of impediments that prevent them from
living the full tourism experience. This positive trend is exposed to new challenges and risks
due to the spread of the new coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the COVID19 pandemic is negatively affecting the tourism industry. Scholars and policy-makers are
committed to identifying how this pandemic situation will affect travel behaviour once the
international borders will be open again. This post-epidemic scenario includes the necessity
to develop and improve several health-related measures to reduce the risk of contagious
among travellers. At the same time, the new requirements offer the opportunity to the tourism
suppliers to re-design their services, consider new business model, and re-organize their
operational structures. The build-back-better approach suggests considering the crisis as an
opportunity to improve companies by developing better and innovative services/products.
Tourism firms are required to make investments to adapt their services to the new COVID-19-
related rules. From a build-back-better perspective, these required changes can be realized
developing more efficient eco-friendly business models. As an additional example, tourism
suppliers can (or better said, should) consider this COVID-19 adaptation process to develop
more accessible tourism services.
The aim of our ongoing study is to identify the problems that people with disabilities
may encounter with the new travel restrictions. By including elements of the Mental Model
Approach and the Building Back Theory, we will be able to underline the importance of the
communication between different stakeholders involved in the management of tourism
services and the opportunity to see the crisis as an opportunity to improve their accessibility.
The output of the study includes suggestions to develop new tourist services ready to prevent
COVID-19 related risks and, at the same time, ready to promote the development of the
accessible tourism. The study is conducted in the Basque Country (Spain). We considered
the COVID-19 protocols elaborated in 2020 by the tourism department of the local Basque
Countries’ government, following the Spanish government suggestions (“Protocolos
relacionados con el COVID-19 del departmaneto de turismo, comercio y consumo”), to reduce
the risk of contagious during the pandemic. Later, we compared these new-rules with some
relevant quality protocols for the accessible tourism. In particular, we considered the
documents elaborated by the PREDIF (Plataforma Representativa Estatal de Personas con
Discapacidad Física), the most important Spanish organization operating in the accessible
tourism industry. The comparison and analysis included several tourism suppliers’ perspective
such as hotels, travel agents, restaurants, tourism information offices, and museums.
Preliminary results show several contrasting suggestions provided by the protocols
elaborated to reduce the COVID-19 spread and those provided by the accessible tourism
documents. We pointed out these incongruences aiming at contributing to the development of
new and accessible tourism-oriented COVID-19 protocols. In the second stage of the project,
qualitative interviews will be developed to refine these suggestions taking into consideration
the perspective of tourism suppliers with long-term experience in the accessible tourism