Why Catering For Customers With Accessibility Needs Is Key In The Hospitality Sector

By Jonathan Hassell, founder and CEO at Hassell Inclusion (www.hassellinclusion.com)

Like many sectors, the hospitality industry has seen a huge increase in the use of digital technologies over the past two years. They touch every part of a customer’s journey, from searching for a potential venue, to activating special offers via social media, perusing an online menu, booking a table via a website or ordering via an app or QR code.

This move to digital shows no sign of slowing down. In its latest 2022 trends report, OpenTable found that 43% of the consumers it surveyed said they would even welcome more advanced technologies such as voice ordering, virtual reality and sophisticated chatbots.

However, there is a danger that many businesses could be missing out on a huge number of customers if they haven’t made their digital platforms accessible.

More than one in five potential UK consumers have a disability, and, according to research from The Purple Pound, restaurants, pubs and clubs could be losing up to £163 million a month if they are not addressing accessibility.

Providing a warm welcome to customers is paramount in the hospitality industry, and yet so many of their potential patrons with accessibility requirements are being left out in the cold. So, how can businesses in the sector turn this ‘invisible’ 20% into a loyal 20%? Quite simply, by making sure their digital communications and services are accessible to everyone.

An end-to-end accessibility approach
Being great at digital accessibility isn’t just about having a good website, it’s about the whole user journey, from your marketing to your digital platforms to your in-venue experience. This requires a strategic approach to ensure that accessibility is ‘baked in’ to your processes rather than having to retro-fix elements of your services that simply don’t cater for those with specific needs.
To be truly accessible, you will need to go beyond Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) compliance. You need to think about accessibility across all your digital channels.

In our experience, there are several potential weak spots in customer-facing industries such as hospitality:
1. Good design is accessible design – Your choice of colours, fonts and imagery could be key to winning or losing customers. For example, people with a range of visual impairments struggle with low contrast text, and those on the autistic spectrum may be put off with too many images, so it’s best to use white space to let things breathe. Similarly, be careful in your choice of fonts – handwriting fonts may look fantastic but can be difficult for many people to read, so use them for branding not essential information. Another benefit of accessible design is that it can improve your SEO if you use closed captions on videos, and clear and simple headings.

2. Be socially accessible – Social media is a key channel for many in the industry to promote their business and there are several things you can do to make sure your social activity is accessible. For example, hashtags are a great way to get noticed, but make sure you use CamelCase capitalisation in them i.e #HashTags, so screen readers don’t try and read them out as one word. And make sure you include alt-text with your images.

3. Check your third-party providers meet accessibility standards – Many businesses in the sector use third-party suppliers to manage online bookings or payments. Even though you don’t control them, you should be aware of whether the suppliers’ services are accessible. For example, if an ‘iframe’ is used to present a date-picker or payment confirmation dialogue without the right coding, a blind person using a screen-reader might not be able to book or pay. So, it’s worth doing an inventory of what can and can’t be controlled, to build a picture of what you can and can’t influence and change supplier to a more accessible one if you can.

4. Don’t overlook PDFs – PDFs are often used for things such as menus, booking confirmations, terms and conditions, coupons and vouchers. To make sure they are accessible, start with using the authoring tool’s accessibility functions (in Word, Google Docs, PowerPoint or InDesign), and then test documents with Adobe Acrobat when they are converted to PDF.

Effecting lasting change
In 2019, we turned our attentions to creating the international standard for digital accessibility – ISO 30071-1. We did this because we wanted to effect real change and provide a clear framework to help companies ensure their accessibility approach is robust, sustainable and effective.

Since then, we have developed the Digital Accessibility Maturity Scorecard. This free tool provides a review of your organisation around nine key areas of digital accessibility linked to the Standard, helping you identify gaps and providing guidance on where and how to best make improvements.

For those businesses looking to stay ahead of the competition, benchmarking your current performance in digital accessibility is certainly the best place to start to build a loyal following among customers who right now are being overlooked.