10 Ways to Make Tourism Sensory-Friendly

Being sensory-friendly helps travellers and visitors who have sensory sensitivities and experience sensory overload. This also affects more people than you might think.  Becoming sensory-friendly can be quite simple.  A few changes make all the difference to visitors and travellers.   Travelling with autism for families with an autistic child can be especially difficult due to the child’s sensory sensitivity.  However, it is important to know that other challenges make visitors seek out sensory-friendly experiences too. Other challenges include people of any age who experience anxiety, hearing loss, concussion, or PTSD.

Mother and daughter at sensory-friendly aquarium looking at fish.

Did you know there are easy things you can do to make a tourist attraction more sensory-friendly?

These are things you can do at any time of year.  The more of them that you do, the more sensory-friendly your tourist attraction can be.

Are you a family travelling with autism?  Maybe you one of the 1/3 of the population (our own research) with sensory sensitivity or experience sensory overload.

Share this blog post with a tourist attraction you want to become sensory-friendly.  These steps also help you become an autism-friendly place.

10 sensory-friendly tips for tourism locations or events

Make your tourist attraction the go-to place for families travelling with autism or other hidden disabilities.

Infographic highlighting 10 ways to offer sensory-friendly tourism for traveling with autism.
  1. Set sensory-friendly hours.
  2. Make a day sensory-friendly.
  3. Create a sensory-friendly map.
  4. Give out sensory kits.
  5. Offer to loan rent or sell noise-cancelling headphones.
  6. Have a sensory room.
  7. Provide staff training.
  8. Arrange for a suggestion box.
  9. Establish quiet zones.
  10. Hand out sensory-friendly lanyards.

Bonus tip:  let people know what to expect.

Sensory-friendly tourism examples include:

  1. Shopping
  2. Movie Theatres
  3. Show Performances
  4. Sculpture Trails
  5. Sensory Gardens
  6. Restaurants
  7. Beaches
  8. Arenas
  9. Theme Parks
Mother, father and son sitting at sensory-friendly beach tourist location.

Let’s explore each of the 10 tips in more detail.  It is an important reminder that you do not have to do all of them.  However, the more you do, the more sensory-friendly you become!  Additionally, this will be beneficial not only for people travelling with autism.  It will help a lot of visitors.

1. Set sensory-friendly hours

An easy way to start is to make some hours of operation sensory-friendly.  Choose times with a lower volume of visitors anyways.  Alternatively, open a little earlier or close a little later and make those times sensory-friendly.  A good rule of thumb is to reduce noise and bright, flashing lights for sensory-friendly times.  You can reduce noise by turning off background music.  Is there equipment onsite that also makes a lot of noise?  Can it be turned off for a period of time?  You want enough light so that people can see and are safe.  However, oftentimes there spotlights, flashing lights, strobe lights or really bright lights that can be turned down or off too.  Additionally, try to limit the number of people so that crowds are not overwhelming.

2. Make a day sensory-friendly

Sometimes adjusting hours is difficult and it is easier to set a day as sensory-friendly.  That can be a one-day, a multi-day event or the same day a week (like Sensory Saturdays)!  Follow the same sensory-friendly principles outlined above including reducing noise and lights.  Also, pay close attention to the other senses.  This involves reducing smells and scents and become scent-free if you can.

3. Create a sensory-friendly map

We highly recommend this sensory-friendly strategy.  Create a map of your location that lets people know where quiet and noisy areas are.  Tell people where they can expect to find bright and flashing lights.  Let people know where the toilets are and especially if they are accessible, gender-neutral, or family-friendly.  Additionally, ensure that the map printed and available online for visitors to view.

4. Give out sensory kits

Sensory-kits help people with sensory-sensitivity manage the experience.  They often contain things like the map we cited above. They may include things like hand fidgets and noise-cancelling earmuffs too.

 5. Offer to loan rent or sell noise-cancelling headphones and/or earmuffs

This is especially important for autism-friendly places.

As mentioned above, noise-cancelling headphones are often included in a sensory-kit.  However, making them available on their own is helpful too.

6. Have a sensory-relaxed room

Create a space that gives people, of any age, the opportunity to be removed from the noise, crowds, or brightness of your attraction and enjoy a bit of calm.  So make it low noise and lower light area.  Also, consider adding features like comfortable chairs.  It doesn’t have to be fancy!  You can include some quiet toys for children or quiet activities too.

7. Provide staff training

Staff training can be formal or more informal.  Organizations like us at Sensory Friendly Solutions are asked to provide staff training for example.  You can also reach out to local organizations that represent the many people with hidden disabilities who have sensory sensitivity.

8. Arrange for a suggestion box

Asking for feedback can be scary.  It is OK.  You may not be able to fix everything for everyone all the time. However, the best suggestions come from people who have direct experience.  Ask people to tell you what they enjoy about your sensory-friendly attraction and ask them for suggestions on what to improve.  More often, they are simple things that you can easily implement.

9. Establish quiet zones

Sometimes busy, noisy, bright is part of the sensory-rich experience of your tourist attraction or event.  Other times it isn’t possible to create a whole sensory-relaxed room.  Creating a space that is quiet will be appreciated by many people.  Reduce noise in this area and ask visitors to reduce their noise too.  Post signs and let people know about quiet zones.  Offer some seating options too.

10. Hand out sensory-friendly lanyards

Some people are comfortable being identified with a special coloured lanyard that indicates they have a hidden disability and might need more help from staff or will seek out all the sensory-friendly features you have to offer.  Have sensory-friendly lanyards available for people to wear at your location or event.  Make sure they have a quick release for safety.

Bonus Tip:  tell people what to expect.

This is the most important tip. Let visitors know what to expect.  For children with autism, knowing what to expect in advance is very helpful.  So this is key for families travelling with autism.  It is also helpful to people with other disabilities that cause sensory sensitivities.  It is OK that you are not able to reduce all the noise and all the lights.  Giving your guests information in advance about the sensory-experience is helpful.  It gives them the opportunity to make a decision about whether or not your location or event is a match for what they want to experience.  Tell people what sensory-friendly changes you have made (and also what sensory-rich features to expect that have not been changed).

If you are looking for fun places to take an autistic child, choose tourist attractions that are sensory-friendly.  Have you found a tourist attraction you want to visit and it is not sensory-friendly?  Consider sending them this blog post.

Wondering where to start? Check out this thesis project, “Sensory Overload: Creating Autism-Friendly Areas In Theme Parks Through Universal Design Principles” by Lindsey Leffel (2022), which talks about strategies to create spaces for families and children that reduce sensory overload 1.

Check out the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, Illinois, the United States of America as an example of a tourist attraction that is sensory-friendly.  They are sensory-friendly champions!

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  1. Vadarevu, P., & Nagarjuna, G. (2021). Sensory Tourism: A Case Study On Devnar School for the Blind. https://fhtm.uitm.edu.my/images/jthca/Vol13Issue2/Chap_8.pdf
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