Researchers find European tourism sector losing out on 142 billion a year due to poor infrastructure, services and attitudes towards travelers with disabilities.
However, if European destinations were fully accessible, this demand could increase by up to 44% a year - producing an additional 142 billion GDP and creating 3.4 million jobs.
The research, which was carried out by Dr Victoria Eichhorn, Dr Gang Li, Professor Graham Miller and Dr Jason Chen from the University's School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, is the first of its kind to study the economic impact of accessible tourism within Europe.
"The worry of many small and medium-sized businesses has been recouping the cost of adapting for special access needs", explained Professor Miller. This research shows that this cost will not only be recovered, but will result in market growth.
Person in wheelchair entering ramp - Photo Credit Aqeel Qureshi
"In the long-term, commitment is required from both the public and private sectors. However, even small changes in the meantime will reap massive rewards."
Following the research, the European Commission has identified several key recommendations for improving accessibility in its report, Economic impact and travel patterns of accessible tourism in Europe (ec.europa.eu/DocsRoom/documents/5566/attachments/1/translations/en/renditions/native) .
Antonella Correra, Policy Officer at the European Commission, commented: "This is the most comprehensive research on accessible tourism carried out so far in Europe.
"Far from being a niche sector, accessible tourism is a huge market opportunity. The research provides clear evidence that accessible tourism services are also better services, that increase the visibility and reputation of tourism destinations, and give a competitive edge to operators."
Explore the full report (ec.europa.eu/DocsRoom/documents/5566/attachments/1/translations/en/renditions/native) on the European Commission's website or discover more about hospitality and tourism research at the University of Surrey - www.surrey.ac.uk/shtm/research/index.htm