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Tourism Destinations and Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities

Studies about the tourism experience of persons with disabilities first arose in the late 1970 and even in the late 1980 and early 1990, researchers only “toyed with this subject” (McKercher et al., 2003). Nowadays, there are growing numbers of studies concentrating on the tourist experience of persons with disabilities. Recent studies highlight the need for further investigation into the travel experiences of persons with disabilities and also there are other studies highlighted the accessibility issues.

Accessible tourism is largely encouraged to make it easy for all persons to enjoy tourism experiences (Darcy & Dickson, 2009). The fundamental principle is captured within the view of human rights, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, 2006 is steered by the following principles: dignity, independence, full and effective participation, reverence and recognition of disability as part of human variety and parity of opportunity.

Tourism for persons with disabilities mean the use of general and basic mainstreaming framework for ensuring that persons with disabilities have access to the physical environment, the transportation system, information and communications channels, as well as to a wide range of public facilities and services.
Tourism destinations should be made disability friendly through regulations, monitoring and supervision with regard to accessibility, structures and environment. Tourism today is an integral part of the lifestyle of much of society.
Research has found that the participation of persons with disabilities in tourism is limited due to many factors such as the inaccessible tourism environment, the nature of transport services, the language barrier and the lack of tourism awareness towards persons with disabilities.

Accessible tourism is a very big market. And, as the population ages, it will get even bigger. By 2020, on some estimates, 25 % of travel and leisure spending will come from people who have some form of disability. There is also a multiplier effect here: people who are elderly or who have a disability often take other people along when they are travelling. Accessible tourism is a very big market, brings growth and jobs. Investing in it can open up a market of millions people with disabilities across world. “Accessible Tourism in Europe

Accordingly, tourism should be accessible to all travellers and accessible tourism that ensure tourist destinations, products and services are accessible to all people, regardless of their physical limitations, disabilities or age. Facilitating travel for people with disabilities is a basic, cross-cutting and integral element of any responsible and sustainable tourism policy.
The tourism industry will recognize that people with disabilities have equal rights to tourism services and opportunities: independent travel, accessible facilities, trained staff, reliable information and inclusive marketing. See “Recommendations on Accessible Tourism, World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

In this context, accessible tourism for all is not only about providing access to people with disabilities, but also it addresses the creation of universally designed environments that can support people that may have temporary disabilities.
UNWTO indicated to recommendations of the appropriate measures in order to ensure that persons with disabilities have access, on an equal basis with others, to the physical environment, transportation, information and communications, including computer systems and information and communications technology, and other services and facilities open to the public or for public use, in urban areas as well as rural and coastal zones.
Accessibility must be present throughout the tourism chain, the links between all sites, services and activities must be well planned and tested. Elements of the tourism chain include: Tourism destination management, tourism information and advertising, urban and architectural environments, modes of transport and stations, accommodation, food service and conventions, cultural activities and other tourism activities and events.

In an increasingly globalized world today, an awareness of the need to factor accessible tourism into decision making and policies needs significant attention. It is important that government and other stakeholders are encouraged to make it a priority to the sectors positive effect and find ways to mitigate the detrimental impacts. Therefore, there is urgent need to inform for policy makers towards appropriate intervention to accessible tourism for persons with disabilities. For example Australia, Tourism Victoria’s Accessible Tourism Plan outlines strategies and actions to help industry meet these obligations and then go further to cater for all people with access requirements by:

  • Increasing industry awareness and understanding of the accessibility needs of tourists
  • Encouraging new and existing product to capitalise on the benefits of providing accessible tourism.
  • Disseminating information on accessible tourism products and attractions.

Persons with disability have a right to enjoy travel leisure experiences, accessibility and participation in tourism will enhance social inclusion, their travel experiences are still characterized by transportation constraints, inaccessible accommodation and tourism sites, and inadequate customer services. If professionals of tourism industry are to succeed in accessing these potential new markets, they must understand the needs involved and learn how to respond to these challenges for the benefit of both the tourism industry and people with disabilities.

The studies of the UN-ESCAP Barrier-Free Tourism for People with Disabilities in the Asian and ..., have shown the major issues about challenges such as travel planning and information for people with disabilities, one issue is the need for shared understanding of what constitutes access and disability by the stakeholders (people with disabilities; operators; tourism sectors; intermediaries), also transport barriers, transport options are not available for easy use by people with disabilities in addition the lack of accessible accommodation, one travel planning information issue is obtaining information about barrier-free accommodation. Many accommodation operators do not understand what accessible or barrier-free accommodation entails. They are often unable to provide accurate or detailed information about the features of their rooms. In many cases, this involves accommodation operators representing their rooms as accessible or barrier-free, but people with disabilities find that the rooms are not suitable.

Many elderly people, families and people with disabilities are keen to travel, but wide variation in the level of access within destinations, combined with poor information and negative experiences discourage potential customers.

The demand for Universal Accessible tourism products needs to be addressed urgently. It would be prudent for the tourism service providers to consider the merits of accelerating measures to address the needs of this sector of the market, based on the predicted demand which far exceeds the current availability of Universal Accessible accommodation, services and facilities. Improved accessibility will not only result in economic benefit to the tourism industry but will also assist in overall social integration. Universal Accessibility would be greatly enhanced by up-scaling service delivery in all the critical touch points such as the following: Access to information, accessibility in the Web, ICT accessibility has a major part to play in barrier-free tourism., communication, accommodation, training in accessibility, staff training is vital to the promotion of truly accessible tourism and Design for All.
Also, there are other factors conditioning the tourists accessibility of one destination that can be resumed as: Barrier-free destination “infrastructures and facilities”, transport by “air, land and sea, suitable for all users”, high quality services and marketing.

The improvement of accessibility of tourist products and services, using global solutions based especially on the principle of "Design for All" will be a requirement of the present and future tourist towards the tourist sector and cooperation between the public and private sectors must be at the heart of accessible tourism.

Author: Nabil Eid
ICT Accessibility consultant in the Middle East
Middle East Specialist at Telecentre Foundation
Twitter: @nabileid1


The Manual on Accessible Tourism for All: Public-Private Partnershi...
Rights of Tourists with Disabilities in the European Union Framework
Barrier-Free Tourism for People with Disabilities in the Asian and ...

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