National Accessible Scheme update
We play a key role in facilitating an accessible and inclusive tourism industry.
In support of the Government’s ambition for the UK to become the most accessible tourism destination in Europe, we commissioned Tomorrow’s Tourism to undertake a full and independent review of the National Accessible Scheme (NAS) for accommodation and provide evidence-based recommendations on its future. The review was informed by robust research, undertaken by XV Insight, amongst 673 people with health conditions and/or people who travel with others with health conditions that impact their leisure travel accommodation requirements.
The NAS was established in 1993 with the aim of helping disabled travellers to identify suitable accommodation more easily. The scheme awards logos based on an assessment against built environment standards, with each logo relating to a common grouping of people with accessibility requirements i.e. older and less mobile guests, part-time wheelchair users, assisted wheelchair users, independent wheelchair users, people with hearing loss, people with visual impairment.
One of the key findings is that fundamentally the NAS no longer reflects the traveller preferences and behaviours around trip planning of its target audience. In line with the review’s recommendation, the NAS will close to new participants from 16 February 2023 and for existing participants on 31 July 2025. We will update and enhance our initiatives to best serve the current information needs of travellers with accessibility requirements and the guidance needs of the tourism industry.
See the key findings of the consumer research (PDF, 496KB) and next steps below.
Key findings of the review
The review, overseen by Ross Calladine, the Disability and Access Ambassador for Tourism, highlighted some key findings on the requirements of today’s disabled travellers that are not being met by the NAS or similar accreditation schemes:
- The NAS groups people into impairment categories, prescribing suitable accommodation to the customer on their behalf. This contrasts to most holiday-makers, who think about accommodation features, rather than specific health conditions or disability categories.
- Ratings based on impairment type are assumptive and do not provide enough information for individual decision-making, leading to disabled travellers having to undertake their own research into specific facilities of the accommodation to ensure it is right for their needs. In the words of one of the interviewees, “don’t tell me what I want, tell me what you have and I’ll make my decision”.
- The scope of disability is vast; each individual’s requirements are unique and people with the same impairments often have different accessibility requirements. The average trip party in this audience also has two or three different conditions and differing impairments can often lead to opposing requirements. The NAS cannot cater for such complex and multi-faceted considerations
- Accommodation is only one element of the overall decision-making process when people with accessibility requirements research and book their trips, with the wider destination’s accessibility being as or more important. Therefore, a more holistic approach to providing information on the public realm, visitor attractions and food & drink venues is required.
- The tourism landscape is very different compared to when the NAS was launched in 1993, given the growth of technology, consumer behaviour and visitor expectations. Fundamentally the NAS no longer reflects the traveller preferences and behaviours around trip planning of its target audience.
- The review emphasised that today’s traveller wants venues to be described factually to empower them to make personal choices on accommodation suitability. Therefore, a format like Accessibility Guides is a better solution than the NAS to serve the information needs of travellers with accessibility requirements.
In addition, the review considered the merits of the scheme as a source of accessibility guidance for tourism accommodation businesses:
- Although the technical standards within the NAS are seen by businesses as a toolkit to develop physical facilities, the format and presentation are seen as too complicated with too many aspects to consider at once. This is off-putting for many tourism businesses who feel overwhelmed and do not engage with the guidance.
- The review emphasised the limitations of the NAS as a practical business development tool due to its focus on facilities and buildings, underplaying the more critical role of staff training and information provision: the two other pillars in accessible tourism.
We are updating our resources to better equip the businesses within the visitor economy with the resources and knowledge they require to deliver accessible experiences and empower disabled people to make informed choices:
In recognition that the provision of accessibility information is a key barrier to disabled people participating in tourism, we created a standard approach for tourism venues to provide this information – Accessibility Guides (formerly Access Statements) – and made available a template tool for tourism operators to use to produce their Accessibility Guides.
We are now working on a new phase of the Accessibility Guides initiative, which will see a new and improved tool made available for small and less complex businesses. This will allow not only accommodation businesses but all tourism businesses to accurately describe their venue in detail and give disabled people ownership over the decision of whether it meets their requirements. The tool will include the ability to publish photos and videos to improve clarity and ease of interpretation for users.
Work has already commenced on the production of new accessible tourism industry toolkits. These toolkits, created by Access and Inclusion UK and Mima, will inspire, inform and guide both tourism businesses and Local Visitor Economy Partnerships in England through practical tips and case studies.
The business toolkit will cover all three pillars of accessibility (facilities, information and customer service) and also include new content on employing disabled people within the tourism industry. It will incorporate updated National Accessible Tourism Standards for the built environment, replacing the NAS standards for accommodation with guidance for multiple business types. The toolkit will be available on the VisitEngland Business Advice Hub in summer 2023.
Accessibility will become a core element of the business advice provided by quality scheme assessors.
Assessors will use the Accessible Tourism Business Toolkit to provide guidance to 100% of scheme participants to help them develop their accessibility in a practical way, compared to currently advising only 4% of accommodation scheme participants through the NAS (as of November 2022).
A new ‘top accessibility features’ question set for businesses will also be developed. This will create a consistent approach to describing key venue accessibility information that online travel agents and other distribution websites can use to promote their products.
VisitEngland quality scheme participants will be able to display their top accessibility features, including a link to their Accessibility Guide, on their RatedTrips.com listing.
These new initiatives will further empower people with accessibility requirements and equip visitor economy businesses to develop tourism venues and experiences that people with a wide range of accessibility requirements can enjoy – further growing the £15.3bn accessible tourism market.