Special Needs Travel: Fastest Growing Segment of The Market

The trillion dollar travel industry is experiencing a massive shift: special needs travel is becoming the fastest growing segment of the market.

Customers Demand Special Needs Travel Options

Currently, there are over 20 million families with autism around the world and an estimated 53 million Americans with disabilities. This population has long been underserved when it comes to travel.

Resources to make it easier for people with special needs to travel have been lacking for a long time. Many people who have autism and other disabilities desire to travel, but have been hesitant because of the potential challenges. In many cases that means that families with children who have autism end up deciding it’s just easier not to travel.

In a survey conducted by Autism Travel, 1,000 parents who have a child with autism were asked a short series of questions. The results are shocking and show the extreme need for autism certified travel options:

  • 87% of parents surveyed do not currently take family vacations
  • 93% would be more likely to travel if autism certified options were available
  • 97% said they are not satisfied with the current travel options for families with autism
  • 98% responded yes when asked if they look to physicians and therapists for travel approval

The demand for better travel opportunities for individuals who have autism is rapidly growing as more and more people don’t want to miss out on creating memories and enjoying fun experiences with their families.

Although there are still many travel destinations that are not prepared to accommodate guests with autism, families have more options now than ever before due to training programs like those offered through IBCCES, the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards.

Traveling Ease Made Possible for Families with Special Needs Children

IBCCES is working with travel destinations and travel professionals to train and prepare them so that they can provide a safe and fun travel experience for individuals and families who have autism and other sensory disorders.

The Certified Autism Center (CAC) designation is a training and certification program developed by IBCCES’ board of experts and requires at least 80% of a destination or attraction’s staff to be trained and prepared to welcome guests with sensory sensitivities. A CAC is also held to higher standards once the training is complete and is expected to commit to ongoing training and education while staying up to date on the latest research.

Needs Vary for Individuals on Autism Spectrum

Autism is considered a spectrum disorder, therefore each person will have unique needs and require different levels of attention. Staff at a CAC have a deeper understanding of how to work with individuals who have autism and  are prepared to assist them throughout their entire experience.

Dr. Christopher O’Shea, a parent of a child on the spectrum, says:

“Traveling to a destination where the staff are trained to recognize and address the needs of children on the autism spectrum simply makes our trip less stressful and more enjoyable. We know that once we arrive on resort that the stress of the trip is over and we can relax without having to worry over what the next meal will be or how the staff will react to the kids. It gives us the freedom to enjoy a vacation in the same way that ‘regular’ families can.”

Families with autism and other sensory sensitivities can finally have peace of mind while traveling. When they visit a CAC they know they’ll be traveling to a place where the staff is welcoming and ready to handle any of their needs. Here is a list of destinations that are autism certified.

Leaders in Travel Are Becoming Certified Autism Centers

Many popular travel destinations are acting as leaders in the industry and have already earned the CAC designation, including Beaches Resorts, Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa, SeaWorld Orlando and Sesame Place.

These organizations have received incredible feedback from their guests with autism and they now feel confident about their staff handling these situations that inevitably happen every day.

After Sesame Place announced their certification, the response was incredible! For example, 400 families visited their park who self-identified as having a child with autism the week after the CAC designation was announced.

Special Needs Travel Market Is Growing Quickly – It Pays to Be Prepared

These industry leaders are several steps ahead of the game. They recognized the rapidly changing market and took necessary steps to accommodate the growing population of families and individuals with autism who wish to travel. Travelers with special needs take 32 million  trips per year. Organizations who don’t will soon be left behind and unequipped to handle this growing demographic.

Todd Hickey, the Sawgrass Marriott General Manager, comments:

“We are so proud to have become a Certified Autism Center after our associates went through specialized training provided by the wonderful staff of IBCCES. Families that live with autism can feel comfortable knowing our employees understand their needs. We have continuing education and videos available today to help us maintain this caring and inclusive culture throughout our resort.”

IBCCES also offers a Certified Autism Travel Professional (CATP) certification program designed for travel professionals who wish to serve this $262 billion market. The training allows travel agents to better understand and provide travel-related services to individuals on the spectrum. A CATP is highly sought after by families who include individuals with autism because they provide a sense of ease and valuable resources when planning a trip. A list of qualified travel agents can be found here.

A New Standard For The Travel Industry

Thousands of healthcare, education and travel professionals have been certified through IBCCES, with the ripple effect impacting over 1 million individuals. The outcome has been monumental, but there are still many more destinations and professionals in the industry that lack this crucial training. The organizations who are certified have set a new standard in the world of travel. It isn’t enough to be “autism friendly.” The market is demanding autism certified centers and professionals become a standard across the industry.</strong.currently,>

Importance of Certification and Training for Suppliers and Travel Agents

Travel destinations and travel professionals can become a part of the positive change and serve the fastest growing segment of the market. In fact, it’s never been more important for organizations to take action if they want to remain relevant to their customers.

Families and individuals who have autism are no longer afraid to turn down destinations and services that can’t offer them the support they require because more and more options are becoming available. Rather than giving up on their travel dreams, people are expecting their travel destinations to be prepared and when they’re not, they know there are other options for them.

Becoming a CAC or CATP gives organizations and individuals a leg up in an undeniably competitive industry. Learn more about the certification process here.

Better Travel For All is Good for the Travel Industry and for Families with Special Needs

The travel industry is waking up to the fastest growing segment of the market and leading organizations are setting the bar high when it comes to providing resources and services to individuals who have special needs. There’s no reason to cancel that special trip because it seems undoable or unrealistic. Don’t settle for any old vacation. Expect your destinations and travel professionals to be trained and prepared to assist with you or your family’s needs.

Organizations in the travel industry: don’t get left behind! Get certified now so that you can assist a population of over 20 million families who have been underserved for far too long.

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