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Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Accessible tourism: Enabling tourism opportunities for differently-abled people

erala, recently, was in the news when its efforts for accessible tourism got recognized by the United Nations. Their ‘Barrier-Free Tourism Project’ got global recognition and owing to which Kerala was named as an ‘Emerging Global Destination’ in the Accessible Destination Awards 2019. Hailing the achievement, Kerala Tourism Minister Kadakampally Surendran said, “We deserve this honour. It will enhance Kerala’s reputation as a global tourist destination.”

India was always a part of ‘emerging global destinations’ of the world offering bouquet of varied tourism; wellness, adventure, medical and local tourism etc. But ‘accessible tourism’ that includes travels and stay facilities for ‘differently-abled’ tourists or senior citizens etc. is bit of a challenge for India. So, it is to be honest kind of a big deal now that Kerala, the south Indian state, is the first state to become elderly and disabled friendly.

All individuals accessing all tourist destinations
For us, the ‘normal’ people, tourism and travelling is quite accessible. We clearly take our ability to embark on a vacation anytime for granted; especially when we have technology and smartphones serving us. But what happens if someday this goes away. If we find ourselves in a situation where we can’t do this?

To travel is to evolve.  But most differently-abled people who wish to travel are often stepping back owing to lack of proper facilities. So, making travel more inclusive can make people happier and countries richer. Given the large population that includes senior citizens, persons with disabilities or chronic illness, expecting mothers and parents travelling with infants or toddlers, there is an urgent need to implement accessible tourism in every state.

So, what is stopping other Indian states from implementing an all inclusive accessible tourism that enables all people to participate in and enjoy tourism experiences? It is often come to notice that transport operators, hotels, tourist destinations, etc. often fail to provide information about accessibility in their advertisements, websites or communication. Implementing a safe travel, having a ramp, wheelchair accessibility, sign language interpreters, audio guide for visually-impaired people, etc. are the basic needs of ‘special’ people. By failing to cater to these needs, it’s really heart-breaking to see some travelers facing breakdowns or unanticipated inaccessible sections during their trip. Hotels, too, are sometimes ill-equipped or under-trained to provide accessibility-related support to these people. This ordeal, inadvertently, negatively impacts the entire travel experience of persons with accessibility needs.

Continued endeavour to make countries richer
Accessible tourism is the continuing endeavor to make sure tourist destinations, products, and services are available to all people, irrespective of their physical incapacities, limitations or age. Tourism centres have been equipped with amenities to support the differently abled, as it has been the objective of the tourism department to ensure all tourism centres become disabled-friendly.

Accessible tourism is not to be treated as a burden or obligation but as an opportunity. India is a country with reportedly more than 26.8 million people living with disabilities. This itself is a huge underserved market and to put things in the ‘monetary way’, by not implementing compulsory accessible tourism, India is losing out a billion-dollar opportunity.‘’

According to a 2015 report by Open Doors Organization, accessible tourism segment was estimated to be worth US$ 34.6 billion in the United States. Similarly, in 2015, the European Network for accessible tourism (ENAT) valued the European accessible tourism market at €150 billion (US$ 166 billion). Many cities such as London and Paris, even with their mix of old and new infrastructure, have managed to improve accessibility while maintaining a ‘sense of place’ and ‘identity’. These examples are worth emulating and should ‘guide’ countries and states to take this up and promote it to an altogether different level.

The government’s take
In an effort to tap the potential of this group for promotion of tourist destinations in the country, the Ministry of Tourism has taken an initiative to make tourist destinations barrier-free. Guidelines have been issued for making the tourist-facilities which are being created with central financial assistance, barrier-free. The Ministry instituted a new category of Award of Excellence for Most Barrier-Free Monument/Tourist Attraction in the country to encourage other agencies responsible for maintaining monuments/tourist attractions to create barrier-free environment for the promotion of accessible tourism. The condition of making the hotels accessible for people with different abilities has been included in the guidelines for approval and classification of 4 and 5 star category hotels.

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