Accessibility: Barrier-free holidays

The EU wants to make life easier for millions of citizens with disabilities. That’s commendable and important. Unfortunately, however, the EU is making some unrealistic demands in the current legislative process. It expects every single hotel in Europe to implement extensive conversions. That’s impossible for hotels located in historic buildings, and simply unaffordable for many family-run hotels. At the other end of the scale, the legislation won’t apply to private rentals such as Airbnb. The TUI Group will continue to perform a pioneering role in developing accessible tourism irrespective of potential regulation.

The TUI Group’s objective is to provide as many people as possible with accessible holidays. It already complies with German and European accessibility legislation – e.g. in aviation – and it is extending its range of accessible products in liaison with associations and representatives of the disabled community.

The tourism industry began addressing the needs of people with physical impairments and elderly holidaymakers a long time ago, not least because they are part of an attractive and growing target group. TUI is an accessibility pioneer, and it has developed new products which allow as many people as possible to travel in comfort. They include:

  • Arrivals and accommodation: As many people as possible should be able to access the destinations. To achieve this, TUI operates over 1,200 accessible hotels at 130 destinations – and there are more in the pipeline. The ships in the TUI Cruises “Mein Schiff” fleet have accessible cabins, and passengers travelling with TUI fly can use a special wheelchair for on-board mobility.
  • Support: People with disabilities need a lot more support than the majority of other guests. TUI offers tailored solutions to meet their individual requirements. It also set up a service team for disabled guests back in 1981, something that no other travel company had even thought of at the time. Today the twelve-strong team organises arrivals and departures, transfers and excursions for disabled guests.
  • Collaboration: The TUI Group is currently working with disabled associations in Germany to develop an accessibility roadmap with the objective of developing booking and travel standards.

European Parliament is overshooting the mark

The European Parliament’s proposal doesn‘t take this progress adequately into account in its current debate on a directive for accessible products and services. A last-minute amendment changing the European Commission’s original proposal envisages the conversion of all accommodation establishments in the EU. All existing communal areas like conference rooms and – depending on the establishment’s size – a minimum number of rooms will have to be fully accessible. That simply isn’t commercially viable in many cases. In others, it isn’t architecturally possible and, overall, it lacks any sense of proportion. Another thing lacking is planning certainty, and without appropriate transition periods to comply with such regulations, many hoteliers would face bankruptcy. The fact that the European Parliament is making this demand without having given any consideration to the consequences highlights its shortcomings. In the upcoming trilogue negotiations, member states will have the opportunity, via the Council of Ministers, to support the original European Commission proposal and ensure practical improvements to the legislation.

The crucial phase of implementation

The European legislative act on accessibility is designed to give people with disabilities greater access to products and services. The European Commission issued its legislative proposal in December 2015. The plenary of the European Parliament adopted an amended version in September 2017. The Council of Ministers is currently deliberating it.