The Port of Tacoma’s Local Economic Development Investment Fund helped Visit Rainier create a travel guide for visitors with disabilities
When it comes to businesses and tourism agencies providing quality accessibility information, Brett Heising likes to say, “not only is it the right thing to do, but it’s good business.”
Heising is the founder and CEO of BrettApproved.com, a website providing accessibility ratings to assist travelers. Heising has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. He was a consultant for an accessibility guide to Mount Rainier produced by Visit Rainier, a non-profit destination marketing organization.
“The guide was recently downloaded for the 5,000th time,” says Meilee Anderson, Visit Rainier’s marketing consultant and she expects that number to increase significantly as COVID travel restrictions continue to loosen.
Anderson understands all too well the challenges that come with traveling with accessibility issues. Her mother has multiple sclerosis and needs a cane to walk short distances. So, when Anderson helps her mom plan trips, “I’m shocked at how many websites I have to visit to answer our questions.”
Viewing travel from this perspective and seeing a spike in requests for Mount Rainier area visitor information for those with mobility issues prompted development of the accessibility guide. In 2019, the Port of Tacoma’s Local Economic Development Investment Fund contributed $5,000 to the project.
“Congratulations to everyone involved with creating the Visit Rainer accessible tourism guide,” said Dick Marzano, Port of Tacoma commission president. “With over five thousand downloads to date, it is proving to be a valuable resource for travelers. The Port is proud to have partnered with Visit Rainier to help make this vision a reality.”
“It’s a wonderful, meaningful idea and it expands the scope of tourism to Pierce County,” added Leslie Barstow, the Port’s community relations manager.
Eight volunteers helped produce the colorful guide that is packed with information on recreation, dining, lodging, transportation and more, in and around the national park. It even includes details on how to navigate Sea-Tac International Airport and rent wheelchair-accessible vans.
Not only is the guide helpful, Anderson said, but it is an important tool the region can use to promote itself to a large population of travelers. U.S. Census data show 19 percent of Americans and 49 percent of seniors have a disability of some form.
A study conducted by the Chicago-based Open Doors Organization, a non-profit focused on increasing opportunities for people with disabilities, showed that in 2018-19, 27 million travelers with disabilities took 81 million trips and spent $58.7 billion. “This is not a niche market,” Heising said. “And we are sticky, loyal consumers.”
Heising says he’s impressed Anderson recognized this and took a proactive approach by putting together the guide. “This should be second nature for more businesses and tourism agencies,” he said.
“Nobody defines themselves by their disabilities, but so often when you travel you have to lead with that,” Heising said. “Nobody wants to have that conversation. When you have good information like the Visit Rainier guide, you have empowered consumers and that’s a really great thing.”