Designing Inclusive Tourism Experiences for Neurodivergent Travellers

Small adaptations make a massive difference to the overall visitor experience, opening up opportunities to travel for neurodiverse individuals.

In this case study, we'll explore how Liverpool John Lennon Airport has attempted to overcome a fear of flying among neurodivergent individuals, bringing the joy of travelling to more people, and how making small adaptations to services can make a massive difference to the overall visitor experience.

In this case study, we'll explore how Liverpool John Lennon Airport has attempted to overcome a fear of flying among neurodivergent individuals, bringing the joy of travelling to more people, and how making small adaptations to services can make a massive difference to the overall visitor experience.

Flying is a stressful experience for many, with between 33-40% of travellers becoming anxious at some point during their flight (or in the lead-up to it). While for most this is manageable, aerophobia (fear of flying) still prevents some people from travelling. This is especially true for neurodivergent families, of whom 78% are reluctant to visit new locations, with 94% more likely to travel if they knew their diverse needs would be accounted for throughout their holiday.

In this case study, we'll explore how Liverpool John Lennon Airport has attempted to overcome this challenge, bringing the joy of travelling to more people, and how making small adaptations to services can make a massive difference to the overall visitor experience.

Liverpool Airport Sensory Lounge

Through its very essence, tourism is all about relaxation and experiencing something new and exciting, yet for neurodivergent individuals who process sounds, sights and smells differently, this can be overwhelming. Recognising the diverse needs of travellers and that some people require additional assistance to enable them to enjoy their travel experience, Liverpool Airport designed a departure lounge sensory room. Here, travellers can acclimatise themselves to the hustle and bustle of a busy airport environment while they patiently wait until they can board their flight.

Here at the DTTT, we believe that diverse empowered teams are essential for any successful innovation, where cross-sector collaboration should be championed. Liverpool Airport is an excellent example, working in close collaboration with Alder Hey Children's Hospital and Autism Adventures when designing the new sensory environment. Collaborating with two local organisations that have regular interaction with neurodivergent individuals was crucial, enabling expert knowledge to be shared and influencing the final layout of the room. In particular, Autism Adventures' expertise in developing leisure and play opportunities for neurodivergent individuals helped show how a therapeutic and calming setting can be delivered outside of a clinical environment.

Doubling down on accessibility, wheelchair access wasn't an afterthought, it was woven into the design. Liverpool Airport perfectly demonstrates the commitment to embracing the reality of intersecting disabilities and making tourism accessible to all. Through smart design, every need was met, proving inclusivity doesn't have to compromise practicality for any traveller. This was achieved without significant capital investment, on a budget of £35,000, showing how improving customer amenities doesn't need to be costly. Following this approach, Liverpool Airport's commitment goes beyond just inclusive design, with financial barriers eliminated and the space available to anyone who books without any charge.

We believe this example demonstrates the power of effective design in transforming visitor experiences. By fully understanding the challenges faced by neurodivergent travellers and empathising with their unique needs, Liverpool Airport was able to analyse its customer service better and identify potential weaknesses in its ability to cater for the specific needs of passengers with non-visible disabilities. By obtaining diverse perspectives, the airport was able to develop potential solutions, test them and make refinements based on feedback to ensure that their new offering adequately helped to achieve their desired outcomes.

Other examples of autism-friendly initiatives

While Liverpool Airport has tailored its offer to better cater for neurodivergent travellers, other companies have placed inclusion right at the centre of their business model. These companies put a specific focus on supporting disabled travellers, but also enable other companies to deliver outstanding service to all travellers:

  • The Autism Nature Trail: Located at Letchworth State Park in New York State, the Autism Nature Trail was developed through a public-private partnership, raising $3.7 million for its development and intended to cover all future maintenance costs. Through a mix of adventure and tranquillity, the one-mile trail stimulates the senses at nine activity stations, where nature is utilised for engaging individuals in skill-building activities in a controlled environment.
  • Autism Travel: The International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards established Autism Travel to help make it easier for families with neurodivergent individuals to travel with confidence. The organisation certifies attractions, destinations and travel professionals, providing reassurance to travellers alongside advice for tourism businesses to make the necessary adaptations.
  • WelcoMe: Leveraging the power of technology, WelcoMe puts disabled individuals in charge of the experiences they receive. Through a digital customer service portal, venues are trained on how to accommodate the needs of visitors with various types of disabilities, providing practical advice and tips to help businesses make the right adaptations for visitors.

In the modern age, fragmented accessibility is no longer acceptable and the travel industry needs a paradigm shift towards holistic support for neurodivergent travellers, ensuring everyone has the chance to explore the world. Liverpool Airport shows how providing spaces for neurodivergent travellers helps them to thrive, even in such a challenging multi-sensory environment as a busy airport. However, the airport is just one touchpoint in the visitor's journey. Without a concerted effort by the entire sector to support neurodivergent travellers, visitors will still face barriers and remain reluctant to travel. To effectively address the needs of this specific group of travellers, partnerships should be established across all verticals, including by airlines, accommodation providers and attractions, to ensure the necessary adaptations are made and neurodivergent travellers have a seamless experience.

Key Takeaways

  1. Recognise the needs of individual customers: Travellers are not homogenous. While there are many similarities in terms of visitor behaviour, it's also important to recognise the nuances faced by individual customers. By having a better understanding of specific pain points, businesses can reassess their operations to identify areas to prioritise for continuous improvement of visitor experiences and improve brand reputation.
  2. Have a design-centric approach: Catering for travellers with disabilities doesn't need complex solutions. Instead, by better understanding customers, simple and efficient adaptations can be made without breaking the bank. Rethinking the design of visitor areas and creating spaces that have a more neutral setting can make a big difference to neurodivergent travellers and persuade them to book with confidence.
  3. Collaboration is key: The tourism industry is built upon the delivery of excellent visitor experiences across a variety of businesses. Companies, and in particular tour operators and travel agents, should prioritise working with their partners to make the relevant adaptations for disabled travellers, helping to provide reassurance that all travellers' needs will be catered for.
  4. Partner with the health sector: Medical professionals have the expertise when it comes to supporting people with disabilities. The tourism sector should capitalise and build upon the relationships developed with the health sector in the aftermath of COVID-19, benefiting from knowledge exchange to better understand the best techniques for catering to the needs of disabled travellers.
Published on:
February 2024
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