Multiple benefits of accessible tourism
by Peter Tan. Posted on October 5, 2013, Saturday
TRAVELLING is a passion I reacquired after realising that it is an activity wheelchair users can still do, albeit with difficulty. For the past few years, I have been fortunate to be able to visit almost all the states in Malaysia either for work or leisure.
I like how my senses are stimulated by the rich potpourri of sights, sounds and savouries of the places that I visit. Each city and each town has its own unique character. Indeed, ours is a country blessed with attractions that cannot be found anywhere else.
The charms aside, a majority of these attractions are beset with physical obstacles that diminished the enjoyment of my adventures. I had to grapple with one barrier after another while moving from one place to the next. It is obvious that the authorities and managers of tourist locations are ignorant of the needs of disabled travellers.
Accessible tourism is a term that describes transportation, accommodation and tourist destinations that support the access and mobility needs of disabled persons, senior citizens and families travelling with children in strollers. In Malaysia, this form of tourism is not even at its infancy stage and a reflection of the sad state of accessible infrastructure in the country.
One of the main concerns when I travel is the availability of facilities that I can use safely and conveniently, especially at hotels where I will be putting up for the night. According to the minimum requirements for star rating of hotels issued by the Ministry of Tourism, all hotels with star ratings should have at least one room with facilities for disabled persons and an accessible public toilet in the common area.
Imagine how flabbergasted I was when I found out that the four-star rated hotel that I stayed in recently neither had an accessible room, although I had specifically requested for it, nor a public toilet in the premises that I could use. As my wife was with me, the non-accessible room that we had did not pose a major issue.
The entrance to the coffee house only had steps and no ramp. The manager kindly suggested that they could carry me up the three steps which I politely declined as wheelchairs are not built to be carried like a sedan chair. In the end, we settled on setting up a table for me at the lounge beside the coffee house. It was an odd sight but I wanted to make a point with regards to the lack of facilities for disabled guests at the hotel.
However, the lack of an accessible toilet in the public area was a potential problem. I was there to conduct a one-day Disability Equality Training workshop and had to request for extended check-out so that I could have a place with some privacy while emptying my bladder in between sessions. The hotel management is definitely going to hear from me, which I see as a great opportunity to get them to improve their facilities. These are common issues that I face at other hotels too.
Every now and then, I receive emails from overseas enquiring about ground arrangements and places of interest for wheelchair users. Most of the time, I would share with them that, based on my own experience, they will face significant challenges moving around even in the major cities but a doable endeavour nonetheless. There is so much Malaysia as a tourist destination can offer but it is so frustrating for me to be the harbinger of negative news to potential visitors.
Tourism is the second largest source of foreign currency earnings and the seventh largest contributor to the national economy. Tourism Malaysia reported that there were 25.03 million tourist arrivals generating receipts of RM60.6 billion last year.
As Malaysia looks to expand the industry in the coming years, accessible tourism should be developed and capitalised on. As it is still relatively a niche market in this region, there is great potential in getting a head start in making our destinations barrier-free.
This will certainly attract tourists from developed countries where this segment of tourism is in demand, evident from the increasing number of organisations providing information and services of this nature.
The multiplier effect from accessible tourism can dramatically improve the lives of disabled persons in the local communities. The provision of more accessible facilities for tourism purposes will also benefit them and allow them to realise active participation in society.
At the same time, this development will spur the domestic tourism industry as well. Disabled persons and senior citizens usually travel with companions or family members. We do not travel as much as we would like due to the many problems that we face from accommodation to mobility. If these issues can be significantly reduced, we will undeniably travel more often to enjoy the best our country has to offer.
Accessible tourism is a win-win situation for all parties concerned. The economy profits from the influx of foreign currency. The tourism and hospitality industry has another segment to tap into. Disabled persons benefit from the greatly improved infrastructure. This is food for thought for the government and industry players.
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