2.1. Accessible Tourism
Accessible tourism is an important concept at the international level that has markedly evolved in recent years. According to the World Tourism Organization, “Accessibility is a central element of any responsible and sustainable tourism policy. It is both a human right imperative and an exceptional business opportunity”. Moreover, tourism does not only benefit persons with disabilities or special needs; it benefits us all.
This concept has evolved towards quality tourism for all rather than accommodation for people with disabilities with a focus on tourism. According to Buhalis and Darcy [24
], accessible tourism means that people who have some type of limitation, such as those in the mobility, vision, hearing and cognitive access dimensions, have the same opportunities as the rest of the population to enjoy everything that a destination offers. Therefore, a city that adapts to “Tourism for all” benefits all involved groups, both tourists and the citizens who live in that destination. For example, people with vision problems comprise one of the most neglected groups of tourists with disabilities [25
]. A tourism policy for all represents an innovative response to the challenges of social exclusion and inequality while improving the economy of the tourism sector through job creation and regional development [26
The Organization of Social Tourism (ISTO) was created in 1963 with the aim of promoting the development of social tourism at the international level. For ISTO and the social tourism sector, tourism for all is an ongoing priority. They define “Tourism for all” as the inclusion of the largest possible number of people in leisure and tourism services. The most important segment for a social tourism policy comprises young people, families, senior citizens and persons with a disability [27
]. However, in the welfare state of European countries, government policies need to take into account not only social tourism but also additional proposals that allow other people to travel for tourism purposes by overcoming their economic difficulties or lack of free time [28
Moreover, data from the European Union Tourism Trends indicate that tourism contributes 10% of the GDP. The World Tourism Organization, in collaboration with the ONCE Foundation (Spanish National Organization of the Blind) for Cooperation and Social Integration of Persons with Disabilities and the European Network for Accessible Tourism (ENAT), developed a manual that highlights the importance of the principles, tools and best practices of accessible tourism for all.
In the European context, 14% of the total population between the ages of 15 and 64 has some type of disability [29
]. At the international level, the growth rate of the total number of people with special needs exceeds the population growth; these data are mainly due to the aging of a relatively large proportion of the European population, as well as a global increase in chronic health problems associated with disabilities [30
]. Taking into account that Portugal and Spain are two of the main tourist destinations in Europe, the following research question is posed for the analysis of digital accessibility:
RQ1: Which country best meets the accessibility digital criteria?
Among the studies that have been carried out on accessibility, several investigations have focused on the importance of this segment for the tourism sector. Research related to accessible tourism has concluded that despite policies that intend to meet the requirements of accessible tourism in different countries, greater awareness is needed so that more effective measures are implemented in different destinations.
2.2. Mobile App and Website Accessibility
Internet consumption has increased considerably in recent years: around 60% of the world’s population is already online. At the beginning of 2020, the number of people who were using the Internet exceeded 4.5 billion. In January 2020, Internet penetration in Spain and Portugal stood at 91% and 83%, respectively, with 42.40 million Internet users in Spain and 8.52 million in Portugal. Between 2019 and 2020, the number of Internet users increased by around 4.3% in Spain and by 3.0% in Portugal.
According to data from October 2020, Android devices led the global market share with respect to other mobile devices, such as iOS, at 72.92% [31
]. Of the countries examined in this study, the data indicate that Android device usage was higher in Spain than that in Portugal in October 2020, at 78.45% and 73.27%, respectively [32
]. On a global level, the market share of Desktop vs. Mobile vs. Tablet is 48.88%, 48.62% and 2.5%, respectively. If the percentages of Mobile and Tablet are combined, they constitute 51.12% of the market share vs. Desktop. Therefore, it can be deduced that the share of mobile devices is equal to and even surpasses the participation of the desktop market [34
]. Continuing with the data for the month of October 2020, in Portugal, the Desktop vs. Mobile vs. Tablet data are 71.36%, 26.91% and 1.73%, respectively. However, in Spain, these values are 54.73%, 42.78% and 2.48%, respectively [35
]. The data for Portugal differ more from the global statistics than those for Spain, but both countries follow the same trend in which the use of mobile phones and tablets increases over time.
It is important to highlight that from the point of view of the user, both accessibility and usability are integral in the browsing process, as well as factors and attributes that directly influence the user experience of e-tourism websites [37
]. The Internet is a medium that many users employ to plan a trip, but if a web or mobile application is not accessible, both seniors and people who have some type of disability are excluded from enjoying the advantages of tourist consultation and reservations. It is important to highlight the barriers that usually occur in the digital field: the information is incorrect, lacking detail, outdated, inaccessible and not adapted to all types of users.
Given that Internet penetration facilitates access to information and increases the level of information that each person has, the following research question is raised:
RQ2: Are the mobile applications and official websites of Portuguese and Spanish tourist destinations promoted through the Tur4all platform accessible?
The most important technology companies, such as Google and Apple, have introduced design and development guidelines for digital accessibility to facilitate mobile technology [38
]. Notably, these companies have launched accessibility scanners that can be used to check the level of accessibility of mobile applications, whether Android or iOS [40
]. Technology makes life easier for citizens through, for example, apps, in what is known as the concept of smart cities [42
]. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) develops international standards for digital accessibility.
There are several notable studies on digital accessibility: empirical research based on a quantitative study of Norway’s tourism websites using the Website Accessibility Test (TAW) is among the most recent studies that analyzed the accessibility of tourism websites. Other studies have also examined mobile application accessibility in the context of the tourism sector and smart cities. Finally, research in sectors other than tourism that stand out include studies on the accessibility of India’s e-governance mobile apps and air quality monitoring apps (focused on clean air), both of which analyzed mobile accessibility through Google’s Accessibility Scanner tool.
From a legal perspective, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 levels A and AA were approved based on EN 301 549 V3.1.1 (2019-11) by the European Commission. This international standard sets the current requirements that web pages must meet. In the case of mobile applications, they will be valid as of 23 June 2021. The Web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 are based on four basic principles: Perceivable (Information and user interface components), Operable (User interface components and navigation), Understandable (Information and the operation of user interface) and Robust (Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents) [43
]. Based on the criteria established by WCAG 2.1, the following research question is posed:
RQ3: What aspects of the content of websites and applications could be improved with respect to the WCAG 2.1, established by the W3C?