24 November 2022

People with disability a valuable addition to the tourism workforce

There are growing opportunities for people with disability to work in tourism.

In Australia, people with disability have a labour force participation rate of 53.4% (Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2019, 4430.0 – Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia 2018).

This means there is a large – and largely untapped – source of skills, which tourism operators can tap to alleviate labour shortages.

Australia’s first social enterprise hotel

One company that helps people with disability into the tourism industry is Hotel Etico in the Blue Mountains.

Hotel Etico delivers both a tourism experience for guests and an employment and training program for people with disabilities. Aimed at developing work and independent living skills, trainees rotate through a range of hospitality roles over a period of 12 months and complete the following formal certifications:

  • Responsible Service of Alcohol
  • Barista Skills
  • Safe food handling

The trainees are paid full award wages and are front and centre in the business. After graduating from Hotel Etico, they are supported for a further 12 months and secure open employment with Hotel Etico’s tourism and hospitality partners. Since February 2021, the program has had 6 graduates, who all secured further employment.

The hotel now takes on 12 trainees a year and will soon expand across Australia.

Meet Remy: Parliament House concierge

Another example is Canberra’s Parliament House, where Remy is a neurodiverse employee in the service staff team.

Remy’s ability to work on his feet all day and his excellent customer service have made him a popular Concierge Officer. Remy is now responsible for:

  • greeting guests
  • escorting visitors to function rooms
  • staffing the cloakroom
  • producing event passes.

The Department of Parliamentary Services (DPS) worked with Remy and his family to start his employment. A few adjustments were put in place, including assigning Remy a staff mentor. The organisation also undertook disability confidence training so the whole team understood the barriers faced by people with disability.

Remy has performed exceptionally well, especially at the year’s biggest event, Budget 2022. ‘I could see he was capable and confident,’ says Christopher Kennedy, Visitor Engagement Team Manager at the time. ‘He thrived from day one. Having him in the team has also brought out the best in his colleagues.’

Becoming a disability-confident employer

The Australian Network on Disability works in partnership with its member organisations to build ‘disability-confidence’ in Australia.

‘We help businesses develop an accessible and inclusive approach to their products and services, and to the people they employ,’ says Megan Jones, from Australian Network on Disability. ‘Making people with disability feel welcomed and included is good business.’

Australian Network on Disability helps businesses to:

  • develop an accessibility action plan
  • identify and remove barriers to recruitment
  • learn from the experience of other member organisations
  • connect to talent
  • educate staff
  • check progress.

Potential to address skills shortages

The opportunity for Australia’s tourism industry is huge. Working-age people with disability are more likely to be unemployed (Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, People with Disability I Australia web report, last updated 5 July 2022).

About 1 in 10 working-age people with disability want to work more than they do and are available to start. Working-age people with disability are more likely to be unemployed than those without disability (Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, People with Disability I Australia web report, last updated 5 July 2022).

Building a resilient visitor economy workforce

THRIVE 2030 is the long-term strategy for the sustainable growth of Australia’s visitor economy. A priority of the strategy is building a secure and resilient workforce. This includes attracting workers from under-represented groups.


Visit Hotel Etico’s website to learn more about the Independence Program for people with disabilities.

Visit the Australian Network on Disability to learn more about how they can help organisations:

  • employ and retain people with disability
  • design products and services for customers with disability

The Field is a new jobs platform to break down employment barriers, and connect job-seekers with disability to organisationswho want to hire more inclusively. Co-founded by Australian of the Year Dylan Alcott OAM, the Field website has resources for both job-seekers and employers.

Growing the visitor economy

THRIVE 2030 is Australia’s national strategy for the long-term, sustainable growth of the visitor economy.