Accessible tourism is the ongoing endeavor to ensure tourist destinations, products, and services are accessible to all people, regardless of their physical or intellectual limitations, disabilities, or social status.
According to world health organization, 15% of the world’s population lives with some form of disability. Accessibility for all to tourism facilities, products, and services should be a central part of any responsible and sustainable tourism policy. Accessibility is not only about human rights. It is a business opportunity for destinations and companies to embrace all visitors and enhance their revenues.
Access needs for travelers
Tourists need accessible communication and information systems; they are considered as great needs since tourists needs them pre and during the travel. Particularly persons with visual impairment, may have challenges in information access. There are very few places in Africa, which are accessibility friendly.
Covid19 brought a new need to the tourism industry tourists needs to access to the vaccines and the covid19 free certification. The vaccine is now a deciding factor to lock people out of travel, even essential travel.
Travel professionals needs training to serve special needs visitors especially the senior market segment and those with disabilities.
Persons living with disabilities have access needs in housing and accommodation for instance they need infrastructures such as automated switches and smart technologies to enhance their experiences at the destinations.
Language affects cross-cultural relations between nations. Language barrier affects greatly on visitor experience at the destination, an example being availability of sign language for some travelers with hearing impairment. Tourist will need translators and interpreters and even technology that caters for language translation and interpretation for example ‘talking walls.
Tourists need good infrastructures such as proper transportation systems to have access to their destinations. They should have universal designs so that they can be accessibility friendly, by having provisions for the disabled visitors. Travelers also need social security and health safety; they need assurance that they will be safe at the destination and can easily access the health facilities in case of emergencies.
How African destinations are catering for access needs of travelers
Meeting visitor’s needs satisfies their expectations, thereby enabling destinations to retain visitor numbers. It is very crucial for tourism service providers to always investigate all the possible solutions to always enhance visitor satisfaction. In Africa, such provisions include the following:
Tourism service providers are trying to provide accurate website information about their products. Destinations are also collaborating with tour agencies and companies in making sure services are available and accessible, and by stating availability of access friendly facilities or services.
Tourism service providers also design and adapt tourism facilities and sites to meet physical access needs and improving information relevant to persons with disability, and under-privileged groups.
Service providers are also ensuring that there are diverse languages spoken by staff in most hotels and tourist attraction sites. Today, visitor information can be found in braille and even sign language. Interpretation also helps in countering misunderstanding in language.
Accommodation facilities have rooms designed for persons with paraplegic conditions and the elderly. The rooms are mostly on the first floor for city hotels or reserved in the case of a lodge. Some operators offer a personal caretaker for those travelers who have more specific medical needs and can even provide power wheelchairs and commodes should the need arise. In transport facilities there are provisions for those with physical access needs, e.g., space for wheelchair, and designated parking spaces in cities for persons with disability.
Removal of negative travel advisories, tax relief by the government to tourism industry service providers and promotional campaigns to aid in information dissemination and access to different and fair travel insurance packages to travelers.
About travel restrictions from the pandemic, governments are ensuring that there are covid19 vaccines and certificates to people who need to travel. Likewise, tour operators are putting more emphasis on domestic markets unlike before where promotion was on international markets.
However, tourism industry across continents faces several challenges in provision of accessible tourism and should be carefully investigated. These include:
Pandemics and natural disasters which bar accessibility. Pandemics pose great health security to travelers and resulting travel restrictions may disadvantage desires to travel to places.
Unfair policies such as lack of open boarder policies within countries, counts as a challenge to implementing accessible tourism. Unfavorable laws in certain countries not favoring accessibility such as the LGBTQs segments are not allowed to travel within middle East countries.
Information barrier, particularly website inaccessibility to enable dissemination of information even to the marginalized groups such as the visually impaired bars accessibility. Some are not able to acquire information needed to plan for their trip adequately.
Inadequate resources to develop accessible tourism coupled with unequal distribution of resources such as funds to develop tourism in different regions, is a challenge yet to be resolved in our countries. Expensive transportation system which at times are inaccessible poses a challenge to mobility. It is unfortunate when tourism service providers such as the accommodation sectors impose extra charges for use of special equipment, or clients with access needs forced to use premium services, hence making it costly for people with special needs to travel.
Factors that can enable equality of accessible tourism experiences in destinations within continents.
To counter the challenges, several factors have been identified to aid in accessible tourism within countries. These include;
- Fair travel policies for both residents and non-residents within countries such as implementation of cross-border policies to aid in free movement, also identified is that developed policies should aim at inclusivity rather than preferential or segmented treatment.
- Collaboration and cooperation among governments in tourism development to enhance accessibility.
- Proper development of information portals to enable prospective tourists to plan their travel adequately.
Accessible tourism is a great opportunity to tap into in the broader tourism industry. It is not just about serving persons with disability, but all the travel segments which is key in fostering equality, a fundamental value of sustainable tourism. Stakeholders are encouraged to develop policies and practices aimed at achieving inclusivity in accessible tourism.
Summary by Davis Lagat