By Jim Smith, CTIE, Senior Consultant – Travel Industry Distribution 

Perhaps one of the most commonly overlooked business opportunities that is off the radar of many marketers is a segment that represents 20% of the US population. It is, by all accounts, the fastest growing global demographic. Surprisingly, it is not the millennial market although they do, indeed, hold rich potential.

Over 63 million Americans live each day with some form of chronic disability. Additional tens of millions, while not disabled, have special needs; some acute, others chronic.

In a Fortune Magazine survey, over 24 million Americans with disabilities indicated that they would travel or travel more frequently if only their needs were met. The market holds tremendous potential for forward-thinking travel providers.

Their market spend on travel exceeds 12 billion dollars, with over 32 million vacations taken annually. Not surprisingly, 85% are taken with others.

Disability impacts 1 in 5 American households, providing no household member has yet attained the age of 65. When one household member turns 65, the incidence of household disability jumps to 1 in 4.

For travel to be memorable for all the right reasons it needs to be comfortable, enjoyable and accessible. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), passed in 1990, was enacted to protect the civil rights of Americans with Disabilities.

In the past quarter-century we have seen physical modifications to facilitate access vis-a-vis ramps to public buildings. Curb cutouts enable wheelchairs, scooters, etc. to accomplish tasks as simple as crossing a street. Grab bars are now resplendent from public restrooms to hotel accommodations. Accessible parking spaces, poolside/motor coach lifts and braille embedded signage are a direct result of this milestone initiative.

For almost a decade, Special Needs Group has been committed to “Delivering an Accessible World.” As the leading global provider of mobility, oxygen (and much more), 2015 saw SNG serve over 200 cities in 35 countries, worldwide.

Knowledge is Power. On Veterans Day, 2011, SNG introduced its “Certified Accessible Travel Advocate®” online training initiative. This 3-module, 65-minute program includes a brief test at the conclusion of each module. Successful completion of the series is required to earn the designation.

Over 2,500 travel professionals earned this designation in 4 years. We would like to extend an invitation to USTOA members to avail their organizations access to the program and are delighted to conduct “Certification Jump-Start” webinars for all USTOA members.

Founded as “Special Needs at Sea,” serving the cruise segment, a rebranding to communicate our expanded global footprint and ability to serve land-based vacationers was undertaken in 2011. From Las Vegas to Orlando, Spain to Greece, the Yucatan to the Dominican Republic (and many destinations in between), we are poised to assist USTOA members and their stakeholders at every turn.

Special Needs Group is located at 302 NW 3rd Ave, Dania Beach, FL 33004, USA Toll Free 1-800-513-4515. USTOA members, please contact Tensi Westreicher, Director, Sales and Marketing at extension 1014 to schedule Certification Jump-Start Webinars or for additional information. 

*Note: unless otherwise noted, all statistics were extracted from the 2005 US Census.

By Terry Dale, President and CEO, USTOA

This August marks 100 years since Woodrow Wilson signed the United States National Park Service into existence and festivities are already underway in many of the parks to honor this momentous milestone.  USTOA tour operator members have long treasured these conserved areas of natural beauty and history and to help celebrate are featuring new National Parks-focused itineraries, special offers, insider access and more.

Jackson Lake, Grand Teton National Park (Credit: Austin Adventures)

Jackson Lake, Grand Teton National Park (Credit: Austin Adventures)

From kayaking in Grand Teton National Park and stargazing in Yosemite to Navajo cookouts at the Grand Canyon and traditional carriage rides along historic roads in Acadia National Park, USTOA members provide travelers access, activities, adventures, culinary exploration and more throughout the National Park Service’s 84 million acres of protected area.

Following is a sample of itineraries from USTOA member tour operators to explore its pristine landscapes celebrate throughout the centennial of the National Park Service:

  • For the first time, Globus, an official partner of the National Park Foundation, is offering an unparalleled 103-day tour that takes travelers to 35 National Parks from Hawaii to Maine. Travelers on the “Centennial Celebration: 100 Days of GoParks!” journey will engage in local experiences such as a buffalo safari near Custer State Park, wine tasting in Washington’s wine country and time with a naturalist in Denali National Park and Preserve. The tour begins July 7, 2016 in Honolulu and ends on October 17, 2016 in Las Vegas. It is priced from $30,405. For travelers who can’t commit so much time, Globus offers 24 other GoParks! Tours and a percentage of revenue from each is donated to the National Park Foundation.
  • With horseback riding, fly fishing, ziplining, stargazing and other outdoor adventures on a dude ranch in Big Sky, the new seven-day “Montana: Big Sky & Yellowstone National Park” from Adventures by Disney will fulfill every cowboy’s dreams. Guests will also “glamp” at Yellowstone National Park, hike to the Norris Geyser Basin and visit Old Faithful.  Available over select dates in summer 2016, prices start at $3,919 per adult.
Yellowstone National Park (Credit: Adventures by Disney)

Yellowstone National Park (Credit: Adventures by Disney)

  • National Parks have always been at the core of Austin Adventures’ offerings and to mark this year’s centennial anniversary, the company has expanded its roster of trips and departures. Additionally, as an advocate of the Every Kid in the Park initiative from the National Park Foundation and the White House, Austin Adventures is waiving trip fees for all fourth graders traveling on any National Park adventure in 2016. Finally, as a participant in the NPS Centennial Tour Operator Program, the company will donate two dollars from each guest booked on one of its National Park trips in 2016 to Tourism Cares, Inc. to aid restoration projects at five National Parks. Guests can choose the six-day “Oregon – Crater Lake National Park” itinerary from $2,798 and the new six-day “Glacier National Park” itinerary from $2,898, among others.
  • Student groups can explore nature’s playground on Explorica Educational Travel’s six-day “Grand Canyon, Bryce & Zion National Parks” itinerary with optional Colorado River rafting extension. Highlights of this action-packed trip include a hike through the red rock spires in Bryce Canyon and a guided tour of Hoover Dam. Available year-round, rates start at $845 (bus) or $1335 (flight) and group leaders travel free with 10 paying participants. In honor of the centennial, receive $50 off per participant on any new booking with offer code GBZ50 through March 31, 2016.
  • In Freedom’s Footsteps: Philadelphia to Washington, DC” from Tauck, a new itinerary crafted in collaboration with acclaimed documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, traces the roots and legacies of freedom with visits to 10 National Park Service sites in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia and Washington, DC. During this 11-day journey, travelers will have early morning admission to view America’s founding documents at the National Archives, learn about the Civil War from historian and author Mark Howell, and visit Shenandoah National Park, among other activities. Available over select dates in 2016, prices start at $4,790 per person, double occupancy plus airfare.
Gettysburg National Military Park (Credit: Tauck)

Gettysburg National Military Park (Credit: Tauck)

  • Go Ahead offers nine tours that visit U.S. National Parks – five of which are new – and is offering $200 off all when reserved by March 31, 2016 with the promo code 16USTOA. On the 11-day “National Parks: Canadian Rockies, Glacier & Yellowstone” journey for instance, guests marvel at cascading waterfalls in Yellowstone National Park, drive along the scenic Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park and explore the Grand Tetons, where human history dates back 10,000 years. Price for this tour starts at $2,249 with discount code:
  • Photographers will delight in the “14 Day Ultimate National Parks” itinerary from Gate 1 Travel. Visits to Scottsdale, Sedona, Montezuma Castle, Grand Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Salt Lake City Tabernacle and Temple Square, Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial offer captivating views and abundant wildlife. Available over numerous departures dates May through September 2016, prices for this spectacular journey start at 2,449 per person, land only. Save $400 per person with promo code UST400.
  • Mayflower Tours is offering 20 National Parks air holidays in 2016 and will be donating $5 per person for each National Park visited to Tourism Cares to aid restoration projects. A highlight is the “National Parks of the Southwest” journey, departing September 28, 2016, which features the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta and six National Parks (Arches, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, Zion, Grand Canyon and Petrified Forest). Guests will watch the evening sky fill with a kaleidoscope of brilliant color as the burners of nearly 500 balloons are ignited at once followed by a mass ascension of over 600 specially shaped balloons as they lift off at sunrise the next day. Prices start at $3,099 per person, twin.
Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta (Credit: Mayflower Tours)

Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta (Credit: Mayflower Tours)

  • Abercrombie & Kent announced two new National Parks-focused Luxury Small Group Journeys (limited to no more than 18 guests) for 2016, including the 10-day “Family Yellowstone & the Grand Tetons” itinerary. Kids and adults alike will enjoy a roping demonstration at a dude ranch, a hike to a waterfall, horseback riding and whitewater rafting down Snake River, among other local experiences. Available over select dates in summer 2016, prices start at $7,995 per person, based on double occupancy (children save $800).
  • Insight Vacations’ 15-day “Great Western American Adventure” offers guests an in-depth look at the diverse composition of the American West with visits to Grand Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park and Yosemite National Park, along with the iconic cities of San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Scottsdale and Las Vegas. Highlights include an exclusive wine tasting in Napa Valley, a customized food tour in Carmel and a night inside Grand Canyon National Park without the daytime crowds. Available over various dates in 2016, this spectacular journey begins at $4,916 per person, twin.
  • Trafalgar offers nine National Parks itineraries, including the 15-day “Scenic Parks Explorer” with visits to Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, Arches National Park, Mesa Verde National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, Jackson, Denver, Monument Valley and Las Vegas. The adventure includes off-the-beaten path experiences including an exclusive behind-the-scenes talk at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, a complex of five western museums in Wyoming, and an unequalled view of the Grand Canyon at sunrise. With 45 departure dates from May to October, prices start at $3,895 per person, land only.
Grand Teton National Park (Credit: Trafalgar)

Grand Teton National Park (Credit: Trafalgar)

  • Cox & Kings’ eight-day “Southwestern Spa and Healing Immersion” private journey is the perfect respite for travelers wanting to disconnect from daily cares, reconnect with nature and rejuvenate at renowned spas. In addition to marveling at the Grand Canyon and hiking in Petrified Forest National Park, guests will receive a privately guided tour of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Taos from a Native American healer, take part in a hands-on cooking experience with a Native American chef and scholar, and relax at the natural hot springs of Ojo Caliente. Available throughout 2016, prices start at $8,950 per person. Save $250 per person based on double occupancy for travel by Labor Day weekend.
  • The Colorado Rockies,” a nine-day journey from Collette, visits Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Mesa Verde National Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. Guests will climb aboard a 1881 steam train for a journey through the San Juan Mountains, scale Pike’s Peak on the world’s largest cog railroad and take a private tour at a family-owned vineyard, all while taking in the spectacular views. Available over many departure dates May through September, 2016 and 2017, prices start at $2,299 per person, land only, based on double occupancy.
Bryce Canyon National Park (Credit: Collette)

Bryce Canyon National Park (Credit: Collette)