Making Travel More Neuroinclusive

In VML Intelligence’s “The Future 100: 2024” report, one new trend spotlighted is how the travel and tourism industries are becoming more inclusive to neurodiverse travelers and attendees — but this is not a new trend for us.

Author: Casey Gale       

woman among cacti under bright desert sun

A woman hikes at Usery Mountain Mountain Regional Park. Mesa, Arizona, became the first autism-certified city in the world in 2019.

The travel, tourism, and events industries have understood the importance of responding to the needs of neurodiverse travelers and attendees — and Convene has been at the forefront of reporting this movement. In recent years, I’ve written about KultureCity, a nonprofit that creates inclusive spaces at venues and attractions; AsIAm, an organization founded to amplify autistic voices and help make events more welcoming to neurodivergent people; CVBs that are earning autism travel accreditation; Microsoft’s Neurodiversity Hiring Program; the Stanford Neurodiversity Project; and Marriott International’s commitment to neuroinclusion. Barbara Palmer, Convene’s deputy editor, explored how The Neu Project aims to provide resources to organize neuroinclusive events, while Jennifer N. Dienst, Convene’s senior editor, wrote about “the most accessible city in the U.S.,” Mesa, Arizona, which was the first-ever Autism Certified City.

Given our own focus on neuroinclusive efforts — and how they have influenced DEI initiatives — I was thrilled to see VML Intelligence, the futurism, research, and innovation unit of global creative agency VML, recognize “Neuroinclusive Travel” in its “The Future 100: 2024” report, which identifies 100 trends across industries that will shape our world this year and beyond. I also couldn’t help but think that it’s about time.

As VML notes in its trend writeup, an estimated 15 percent of the world’s population experience some form of neurodiversity, which, in addition to autism, includes ADHD and learning disabilities. And according to a 2023 report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 36 children has autism, up from one in 44 in 2021. Similarly, there has been a drastic increase in ADHD diagnoses in adults — which Psychology Today attributes to “an increase in access to healthcare, a decrease in stigmatization about receiving mental health care, and greater awareness of the symptoms of ADHD.” The bottom line: Tourists and event attendees are more aware of their accessibility needs than ever before, which means the travel, tourism, and events industries should remain steadfast in their efforts to be inclusive for all.

“This community wants to travel, they’re just nervous to,” Jayme Mazur, relationship manager at Destination Toledo, told me when I spoke with her about the DMO’s work toward becoming a Certified Autism Center. “We all want to want to go somewhere [where] we feel comfortable and understood.”

Casey Gale is managing editor of Convene.

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