Disabled access is in dire need of improvement at many hotels and restaurants according to some in the sector, speaking at the launch of a new award ceremony.

Three leading campaigners agreed that the hospitality industry is still failing to fully meet the needs of people with disabilities despite legislation ensuring a level of accessibility.

They spoke at a panel on Wednesday to launch the Blue Badge Access Awards, which will highlight venues for their efforts to be inclusive – or lack thereof.

Co-founder of Bespoke Hotels Robin Sheppard said: “If we wait for more statutes or government requirements it will take too long,” adding that the greatest progress was made when senior executives believed in the cause and pushed change from the top down.

Neil Heslop OBE, CEO of charity Leonard Cheshire Disability, said many hotels needed to improve their physical design, customer service and marketing to the community before they could be considered properly inclusive.

He said venues needed to be pioneering examples to others.

“People with imagination can affect positive change. I hope people in the hospitality industry want to overcome some of the barriers they perceive,” he said.

Fiona Jarvis founded Blue Badge Style, a resource providing detailed information about locations. She highlighted the lack of good design when it comes to catering for people with disabilities, pointing to a recent survey showing that most hotel guests would request not to be given a disabled room.

All three also made the economic case for courting the ‘purple pound’ – money spent by people with disabilities and their families – which by some estimates is worth around £249bn to the economy.

“By coming together we’re a louder voice in the marketplace,” Jarvis said.

In attendance was Martin Affleck, a disability access consultant, who was pessimistic about recent progress.

“Things have got worse. The Disability Discrimination Act was passed in 1995 but now it’s completely fallen off the agenda,” he said.

“It’s unbelievable that so many hotels are still not paying attention to the issue.

“Hotels will meet their legal requirement but not go any further. Or the reality ends up being that they are still not accessible. You tell me that this door has been refitted to make it easy to open? But that is often not the experience of someone in a wheelchair.”