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Key Elements of a Destination, Part 1: Access

By Victoria Belton

Key Elements of a Destination, Part 1: Access

Regardless of why visitors have chosen your destination for their next trip, tourism experts agree that there are fundamental expectations your DMO most meet in order for visitors to return with friends or family and to recommend their experience to others.

This blog has been updated here.

Regardless of why visitors have chosen your destination for their next trip — whether for business, leisure or bleisure travel — tourism experts agree that there are fundamental expectations your destination must meet in order for visitors to recommend their experience to others and to return with friends or family. These key elements are known as the 5 A’s: Access, Accommodation, Attractions, Activities, and Amenities. Over the course of the next few weeks, we will cover each element in full. We are going to start this series with Access.

Key Element: Access

Most often when access is discussed in relation to destinations, it refers to how easily visitors can get to your place. However, accessibility can also refer to your destination’s infrastructure, wayfinding, ability to cater to visitors with disabilities, ease of access to attractions that are off the beaten path, etc.

How are most people traveling to your destination?

Understanding where your visitors come from and how they get to your city is important for how you market to them and also how you structure resources like your website and visitor guide. For example, when communicating with meeting planners and tour operators, access points to your destination should be easily identifiable. Major city gateways such as airports, interstates and alternate routes should be clearly identified on your main website, microsites (if you have any), in your visitor guide, and in other applicable collateral.

Have you researched where visitors to your destination will end up if they just put your city and state into their favorite mobile mapping app? Start by putting just your city's name and state (no specific street address) into as many mapping apps as you can access and see where they will each take a visitor who does the same. Consider placing wayfinding signage in these locations that will start these drive-in visitors on a curated journey of your destination.

No matter who your target market is and how they travel to your destination, it’s important to work with local stakeholders, elected officials and community leaders to shape first impressions by improving and maintaining entryway appearances. City welcome signs, attractive landscaping, modernizing your public transportation stations, and keeping it all on brand is important for controlling perceptions from the moment visitors step foot in your city.

Knowing how most visitors get to your destination is also useful for effectively helping to steer some of your city’s infrastructure budget to facilitate and maintain the efficient flow of visitors to and from your city. Providing this information to your local planning commission can help reinforce and ultimately grow tourism and travel's economic impact on your city. While this effort is not what has typically been considered within the purview of Destination Marketing Organizations, this is a great example of the evolving role Destination Management Organizations will be playing in the overall success of their city.

How do visitors navigate once they reach your destination?

Keeping your destination accessible also means having a comprehensive wayfinding system in place to guide visitors from one place to the next. Wayfinding is more than just giving directions. It’s guiding visitors through your destination in a way that will leave the most favorable impression.

The quickest route may not be the one that takes them past your local gems. A well-constructed wayfinding system helps ensure that the simple act of moving from one place to the next enhances your destination’s brand, cultivating the experiences you want to be remembered by. We’ve written about the importance of wayfinding in previous insights, and you can access the first of our four-part wayfinding series here.

Are attractions, shops, restaurants, and lodging handicapped-accessible?

This is a big one. Accessible tourism enables people with access requirements, including mobility, vision, hearing and cognitive dimensions of access, to function independently and with equity and dignity throughout their entire stay in your city. Now, it’s likely not realistic that every experience can be tailored to suit every requirement. However, there are steps you can take to make your destination attractive to this market. For example — walking trails can’t always be tailored to accommodate people with limited mobility. But lookout points along the way can be constructed so all visitors can experience the beauty of your destination. Including braille on attraction markers, in menus and as part of your visitor guide, building access ramps according to local code in key locations, and engineering sensory parks are also great steps toward making your destination as accessible and enjoyable as possible for every visitor.

Accessibility in all its forms is an important factor for travelers. Work to ensure that your destination meets accessibility requirements wherever possible, as it not only cements a favorable impression in the minds of your target markets, but will help you tap into additional markets that may not have previously considered your city for their next travel destination. There’s much more to be said about accessible tourism than can be covered here. If you would like to carry on this conversation or have additional insights you’d like to share, please feel free to reach out to me at