In the last decade, we have seen our industry dramatically altered by both lifestyle and technological changes. The advent and mass adoption of the Internet as a means to research hotel travel decisions, make reservations and manage components of the hotel-guest relationship stands as one of the most prominent changes.
Depending on your source, it is estimated that between 60% and 75% of hotel reservations in the United States begin with online research via hotel websites or search engines. And between 35% and 50% of all hotel reservations are made direct by consumers via the web. Given that this usage increases dramatically every year, it would not be surprising to me to see the Internet channel responsible for over 75% of hotel travel bookings in the near future.
With this in mind, hotel management should always be thinking about how to maximize their performance online. One area in which to stand out is to effectively serve one major opportunistic segment of our customer base: the aging traveler and the traveler with disabilities.
A significant source of business: the elderly and people with disabilities
It is probably not surprising to know that America's Baby Boomers, the largest generation in our history, is now entering their senior years. This segment of people, now between 50 and 70 years old, represents nearly 30% of our population with over 80 million people strong. Baby Boomers are also the most affluent segment of our population and they have the savings and disposable income to be high volume travelers.
Like the elderly population, Americans with disabilities also make up a large part of the population. There are 60 million Americans with disabilities in the United States; that is roughly one in every five people. This population is growing by over 700,000 people each year as America ages and the aggregate income of this group is over $1 trillion with $175 billion in discretionary income.
Both of these segments have challenges related to vision, hearing, motor skills and cognition. With this in mind, it is important that your website is optimized to meet their needs through accessibility and design.
The legal perspective
Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, well before the Internet was available to mainstream America. This act covers all mediums of communication including the Internet, and if your hotel has a website, you are legally liable to ensure that your website is accessible or you could face a lawsuit. Plus, based on the statistics provided above, building an accessible website is a good business practice, regardless of the legal implications.
Basic design pointers
In order to cater to these market segments, it is important to have a website that is universally designed and accessible. The concepts of universal design are basic; make all information equally accessible to visitors regardless of individual needs. The most basic methods can be summarized in a few broad statements:
- Websites should be designed in compliance with International Web Standards.
- All audio and visual components of your website should have text alternatives.
- No part of the website should be audio, color or image dependant for visitors.
- All forms, scripts and content should be compliant with assistive technologies.
Make sure that your website designer and administrator are familiar with accessible web design. Take a look at your website and see if your website does not meet any of the statements above. Additionally, there are several online services that test your website for accessibility that you can utilize. For you web designer, a good resource to begin with to ensure good web design is the Worldwide Web Consortium (WC3) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). WebAim also has some tools, for a fee, to assist you in creating and maintaining accessible websites.
As the Internet becomes a more competitive place for the hospitality industry, make sure that your company is a step ahead and a step above in having universally designed and accessible websites. Not only will you be meeting legal requirements, but you will be better positioned than your competitors to service the largest segment of demand for hotels for the future: our ageing guests and guests with disabilities.