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Barrier-free travel: a win-win for society and EU tourism

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Making tourism more accessible is essential to the development of new markets and services that will help Europe’s tourism industry thrive. By making basic adjustments to facilities and information services, senior citizens and travellers with special access needs can fully enjoy Europe’s tourism experiences. As a result, accessible tourism not only promotes equal opportunities and social inclusion, but can also boost the tourism industry.

Senior citizens and people with special needs have the desire and the right to travel like everyone else. However, their travel experiences are often restricted by physical barriers such as transportation constraints, inaccessible accommodation and tourism sites and a general lack of information.

The European Commission is therefore promoting accessible tourism – that is, tourism which offers services to people with various kinds of special access needs: reduced mobility, visual impairments or learning difficulties, and also families with children and senior travellers. These services enable people to travel independently and with dignity, which is why the Commission dedicated 2013’s European Destinations of Excellence (EDEN) awards to locations that excel in accessible tourism.

Destinations in 19 countries were recognised for their efforts in developing accessible tourism offers. These destinations featured accessible accommodations and equipment such as walking paths adapted to wheelchairs or strollers, special bike rentals and enhanced access to beaches.

Europe – a destination for seniors

Senior citizens are an essential element to the European tourism industry. Currently, more than 128 million Europeans are between 55 and 80 years old, and according to current demographic trends, this proportion is expected to increase. However, the potential for senior travel has not yet been fully exploited: Only 41 % of seniors between 55 and 75 currently travel.

Tourism authorities, as well as industry and senior organisations, are being encouraged to engage in a stronger public-private partnership. In this context, the Commission is preparing to launch an initiative, ‘Europe, the best destination for seniors’, which is designed to increase the flow of senior tourists, particularly during the low and medium seasons, between countries both inside and outside the EU.

Easy travelling around the EU

Other barriers that restrict travel within or to Europe are also being lifted. The EU boasts a comprehensive set of the passenger rights which apply regardless of the transport used. Travelling without borders and using the same currency and same health insurance card are just a few examples of how Europe supports hassle-free travel.

However, in order to attract more tourists from third countries, the European Commission prepared a review of the Visa Code. Its aim is to simplify and improve the visa procedures, especially for tourists coming from emerging economies such as China and Russia, while ensuring an adequate level of security in the EU.

A source of employment

Tens of thousands of jobs are currently available in the tourism sector across Europe, which could provide some relief to the more than 26 million Europeans currently out of work. These jobs are especially attractive to young Europeans, who face a 23.5 % unemployment rate (and up to 50 % in some areas).

Although these jobs exist, it is often difficult to match potential employers with qualified workers across Europe. To bridge this gap, the European Commission helped launch EURES (The European Job Mobility Portal), a pan-European job portal which currently has many openings in the tourism sector.

A European growth sector

The latest World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO)figures show that international tourist arrivals in Europe grew by 5 % during the first half of 2013, with the best results recorded in Central and Eastern Europe (+ 9 %) and Southern and Mediterranean Europe (+ 6 %).

Key indicators from the aviation industry also confirm the successful trend: travel on European routes grew at a slightly faster rate in 2013 compared to the previous year. For example, nearly 2 million foreign visitors flew to Greece's main airport during the summer season, a boost for the Mediterranean country which relies on tourism to help pull itself out of an economic crisis.

"Tourism has always been very high on my agenda, as it employs nearly 20 million people and has links to other key sectors, such as culture, food, fashion, construction and transport. We should continue to find ways to make Europe's tourism sector flourish."
- European Commission Vice-President Antonio Tajani

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