The travel industry will miss out on a “huge, commercial opportunity” and a “bright, rosy future” if it does not open up to the needs of customers with reduced mobility, according to leading figures in the accessible tourism sector.

That was the message at Abta’s Accessible Travel and Tourism Seminar, attended by tour operators, agents, tourist boards and charities.

The government’s disability champion for the tourism sector Chris Veitch said catering for clients with accessible needs was a “really powerful thing to do for a business”.

“There are benefits for a business; we should see it as a business tool, improving the quality of the experience for customers,” said Veitch, who added that the industry needed to stop putting disabled customers into a separate category.

“We need to drop the labels; there are no disabled people; they are just customers, but they need businesses to understand them.”

Benefits to businesses include increased market opportunities; more repeat clients and recommendations; social responsibility; improved financial sustainability; and a unique selling proposition, said Veitch.

Angus Drummond, chief executive of tour operator Limitless Travel, also urged delegates to embrace this sector, said to be worth £12 billion a year to UK tourism alone.

“I believe there is a huge opportunity in the market for companies who are willing to open up and cater for people with disabilities,” he said. “I just don’t think [at the moment] there is recognition from the industry of the commercial benefits.”

Magnus Berglund, accessibility director of Scandic Hotels Group, said his company was an example of one which has benefited financially as a result of focusing on guests’ needs more effectively, improving the product and educating hotel staff, from concierge to cleaners.

He said: “We have earned extra money and we have got more business just by educating people on what we are doing. We need to educate everyone in the tourism sector. The focus has to be on the guests.”

Disability equality consultant Geoff Adams-Spink warned the industry’s future could be jeopardised if it does not adapt properly to clients’ accessible requirements.

He said: “If you do not get it right then the travel industry will not have the bright, rosy future that I think it has. We know the demographics of society are moving to more and more of the population being over 60 and 65 and we know as people age they acquire impairments.”