Fostering patient-inclusive tourism to advance accessible tourism: Revitalising Australia’s tourism industry

"Despite the growing importance of accessible tourism, no uniform definition exists," writes Jun Wen, Fangli Hu and Wei Wang, Edith Cowan University, Australia in this exclusive research-based commentary.

Tourism is more than simply a leisure activity in contemporary society; it enables people to connect with the wider world, experience diverse cultures, and improve personal health (Wen et al., 2022a, b). However, physical limitations, economic constraints, and other concerns can limit one’s tourism participation (Hu et al., 2023a). Accessible tourism is necessary for maintaining equal rights to travel and promoting sustainable social development.

Despite the growing importance of accessible tourism, no uniform definition exists. Darcy (2006) described this type of tourism as “a process of enabling people with disabilities and seniors to function independently and with equity and dignity through the delivery of universal tourism products, services and environments. The definition is inclusive of the mobility, vision, hearing and cognitive dimensions of access.” Essentially, tourism should be accessible to all, and environments should accommodate various special needs.

Accessible tourism is a global initiative. The United Nations has called on the international community to promote it, recognizing this form of tourism as more than a matter of human rights; it is an avenue through which destination businesses can thrive (United Nations, n.d.; United Nations World Tourism Organization, 2016). Australia is leading the way as Tourism Australia (n.d.) vigorously advocates for accessible travel countrywide. For example, the state government of Queensland declared 2023 the Year of Accessible Tourism and invested A$12 million to support small and medium-sized tourism businesses in creating accessible environments (Queensland Government, 2023).

Accessible tourism involves a range of populations and numerous activities. More precise insights are thus essential, such as about the user-friendliness of tourism facilities and the integrity of travel experiences. Factors affecting tourism accessibility include available leisure time, disposable income, security, distance, and the general social environment. Health also plays a crucial, albeit often overlooked, role (Stainton, 2023). Diseases are naturally complex, but the mental health benefits of tourism continue to be documented (Buckley, 2023; Hu et al., 2023a). Individuals with mental disorders (e.g., dementia) can serve as a case in point when evaluating potential travel eligibility, travel behavior, and travel-related health benefits. The term “patient” is fairly controversial in academic communities, with some experts preferring not to use it due to negative connotations (e.g., passivity). Others have argued that there is no need to replace the word due to its extensive use and the absence of better alternatives (Tallis, 1999). We opt to use “patient” in this instance. Research involving tourists with psychological conditions can help key stakeholders develop patient-inclusive tourism to host travel-eligible visitors (Hu et al., 2023b, c; Wen et al., 2022b; Zheng et al., 2023).

The Australian government’s efforts to promote accessible tourism have been invaluable. They have had far-reaching impacts on the national tourism industry’s sustainability in terms of both inclusiveness and social development. Yet realizing accessible tourism is a complicated process that requires commitment from governments, tourism organizations, researchers, industries, and communities (Stainton, 2023). Australia’s focus on accessible tourism should include collaboration with stakeholders such as industry practitioners to define this concept. Additionally, trainings should be made available to educate staff on meeting specific tourist segments’ needs. These practices will better enable people to travel and hopefully lead destinations to engage in ‘vulnerability-friendly tourism’ (Wen & Wang, 2023) to bring patient-inclusive tourism to fruition.



Buckley, R. (2023). Tourism and mental health: Foundations, frameworks, and futures. Journal of Travel Research, 62(1), 3–20.

Darcy, S. (2006). Setting a research agenda for accessible tourism. Gold Coast, Australia: Sustainable Tourism for Cooperative Research Centre.

Hu, F., Wen, J., Lim, W., Hou, H., & Wang, W. (2023a). Mental health on the go: Navigating travel and travel eligibility. Journal of Travel Research. Ahead of print.

Hu, F., Wen, J., Phau, I., Ying, T., Aston, J., & Wang, W. (2023b). The role of tourism in healthy aging: An interdisciplinary literature review and conceptual model. Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management, 56, 356–366.

Hu, F., Wen, J., Zheng, D., & Wang, W. (2023c). Travel medicine in hospitality: An interdisciplinary perspective. International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, 35(9), 3134–3153.

Queensland Government (2023). Year of Accessible Tourism.

Stainton, H. (2023). What is accessible tourism and why is it so important? Tourism Teacher.

Tallis, R. (1999). Do we need a new word for patients? Commentary: Leave well alone. BMJ (Clinical Research ed.), 318(7200), 1757–1758.

Tourism Australia. (n.d.). Accessible travel around Australia.

United Nations. (n.d.). Promoting accessible tourism for all.

United Nations World Tourism Organization. (2016). Accessible tourism for all: An opportunity within our reach.

Wen, J., Kozak, M., & Jiang, Y. (2022a). Beyond sightseeing: How can tourism affect public/global health in modern society?. Journal of Global Health, 12, 03035.

Wen, J., & Wang, W. (2023). Vulnerability-friendly tourism: Revitalising Australia’s tourism industry. Travel Bulletin.

Wen, J., Zheng, D., Hou, H., Phau, I., & Wang, W. (2022b). Tourism as a dementia treatment based on positive psychology. Tourism Management, 92, 104556.


Jun Wen is a Lecturer in Tourism and Service Marketing at the School of Business and Law, Edith Cowan University. His current research interests lie in global health, tourism marketing, and travel medicine.
Fangli Hu is a PhD candidate in the School of Medical and Health Sciences at Edith Cowan University. Her interests include vulnerable tourists, travel medicine, travel therapy, tourism marketing, and suboptimal health.
Wei Wang is a Professor in public health in the School of Medical and Health Sciences at Edith Cowan University. His current research interests lie in genomics, glycomics, and suboptimal health.

Subscribe To travelBulletin