How inclusive are Cornish tourist sites?

Isabelle Cloquet, Marco Palomino, Gareth Shaw, Gemma Stephen and Tim Taylor, ‘Disability, social inclusion and the marketing of tourist attractions’, Journal of Sustainable Tourism 26.2 (2018), 221-237.

Since 1995 legislation at a number of governance levels has attempted to guarantee equal access to tourism facilities for people with a disability. In parallel with this there has been growing research interest into the participation of people with disabilities in tourism. However, much of this has been conducted from within a narrow neoliberal discourse focusing on the economic benefits of attracting an unexploited ‘niche market’ and issues of access.

This article aimed to go further by assessing how far tourism businesses embrace an inclusive approach to accessibility in their marketing. It asked three questions. How far was the ‘right to tourism’ of people with disability reflected, how were people with disability portrayed and how were families with a disabled member represented?

The authors point out how the role of the family has been under-researched. Yet it is presumably critical in the ‘pre-trip phase’, when information about tourist destinations are processed and choices are made. This phase has a socio-cultural aspect and the way in which people with disabilities are portrayed and families with disabled members accommodated may have an impact on their wider sense of acceptance and belonging. The article also points out that families with disabled members are far from being a small minority. The 2012 Cornwall Visitor Survey found that 22% of tourist families included a person with a disability, a proportion very close to the figure of 21% of families with a disabled member among the general population of Cornwall.

The method adopted in the study was to assess the tourism marketing of visitor attractions through content analysis, both quantitative and qualitative. A total of 100 brochures and 175 websites of tourist attractions in Cornwall provided the raw material.

Results were fairly bleak. Despite the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act and the 2010 Equality Act only around half of the marketing sites and brochures included even basic information on accessibility. Such information was more likely to be found on the websites of larger organisations and more frequently provided by charities than for-profit organisations.

When it came to the visual representation of people with disabilities in marketing the researchers found very little representation at all – in fact none in brochures and a presence in just 4% of websites. The single site with positive imagery (of a woman on a mobility scooter) was Trebah Gardens. Invisibility was a major theme while families with disabled members were not addressed at all.

The article notes three issues. First, a sizeable proportion of tourism businesses in Cornwall are failing to provide access information while the quality of the information provided by others is fairly basic, concentrating on car-parking and toilets.

Second, there was a very rare use of imagery relating to people with disabilities, which as a group, despite being quite large, are effectively invisible.

Third, the techniques used to represent disabled people were focused, if they existed at all, on access needs rather than the experience of the visit. The authors conclude this ‘may’ reinforce social stereotypes and affect the sense of acceptance of people with disabilities.

The article concludes that rights of access are dependent on government priorities and cannot be left to tourism businesses. ‘Under neoliberal ideologies and economic crises … rights have been … watered down’ and appropriate legislation needs to be enforced. Tourism marketing in Cornwall fails to address broader issues of inclusion by avoiding visual representations of disability, so does not play a ‘role in fostering social sustainability’.