For most of us, tourism is quite accessible and we tend to take our ability to begin on a vacation anytime for granted. All the vacation plans in the world are available to us on our smartphones, laptops or tablets. Depending on how much money we want to spend on travel and how long we want our trip to last, we can customize our dream holidays and avail ourselves of hired assistance at every step. There are countless websites with very user-friendly interfaces, the airport/railway station is a taxi ride away, we can book a tour guide online, and if there are any problems with documents, an agent will sort them out for a small fee. But what if we woke up one morning and found ourselves unable to do any of this without seeking help from a friend or family member? For people with disabilities, obstacles in the way of easy accessibility are a daily reality. Not only do they have to deal with harder lives in general – commuting to work, going shopping, attending music concerts – they are also largely excluded from the benefits of the developments in the tourism industry.
According to 2011 census, about 2.68 Cr persons are disabled which is 2.21% of the total population and According to the UN, 10% of the world population is disabled. The volume of people with disabilities is growing fast due to an increase in the number of acquired disabilities besides congenital conditions. Available studies suggest that disability poses serious challenges to the normal living of people in absence of accessible environment. The travelers face many barriers during traveling ranging from getting information on accessible accommodation to problems getting around at their destinations. Usual concerns of the disabled tourist when booking a holiday include: Accessible airport and train station transfers, Wheelchair accessible local transport, adapted hotel rooms, reliable information about a specific site’s accessibility (Monuments etc.), accessible toilets, accessible restaurants/ bars, access to pedestrian environment, availability of disability equipment on rent (wheelchairs, shower chairs, toilet raisers, electric wheelchairs etc.).
Accessibility is a major issue for letting the elderly and disabled people feel confident that they can spend leisure time as tourists and that they will not face too many barriers or problems. As noted by the English Tourism Council (2000), better provision of information about barrier-free tourism would lead to increased travel. However, poor information dissemination has been identified as a major weakness of tourism for people with disabilities. Thus, their options to enjoyment of equal rights in terms of opportunities particularly employment, income and holidaying get alarmingly reduced. The ministry believes that physically challenged and older persons are becoming a growing group of consumers of travel, sports and other leisure oriented products and services. The planners have also failed to realize the potential of tourists with reduced mobility. But Principal Secretary, Tourism, V. Venu admits “We have a great distance to go. We have not given due importance to access tourism. Some products such as houseboats have started adapting to the needs of people with disabilities”.
Many country-governments and international agencies such as UNWTO, UNESCAP and European Union have already acknowledged the legal mandate as well as development opportunities. Their pro-active approach also resulted in launch of certain specific initiatives even at the international level. However, existing environment is not conducive enough to realize the potential of the tourists with reduced mobility leisure and recreation market. Major inhibiting factors to tap this potential are finance, mobility, family support, access constraints at different stages of travel process and societal perception.
Possibility of accessible tourism in India can be divided in two groups, Domestic tourist with reduced mobility and Foreign tourists with reduced mobility. Critical set of factors which influence their travel decision is economic in nature, viz. reasonably priced tourism products and better income opportunities. Besides these, trained staff and their friendly treatment of tourists with reduced mobility, providing safety support systems, change in attitude of the public towards disabled tourists and information about availability of aids/ equipment’s at attractions would also play varying but important roles. Accessible tourism can be enhanced by creating an inclusive society for all. To achieve the goal of Accessible tourism, persons with disabilities should recommend to their governments, and those who are responsible for tourism promotion, to introduce accessibility as criteria in validating/ accrediting the Hospitality and Travel Industry. The government can also consider providing economic and other types of incentives to promote accessible tourism for the industry.
The following is the PEST analysis of Accessible tourism.
Political/ administrative – It has enhanced international recognition of region and values and development of skills among planners and negatively affected economic exploitation of local population to satisfy ambitions of political elite, Distortion of true nature of event to reflect elite values, Failure to cope, Inability to achieve aims, Increase in administrative costs, Use of event to legitimate unpopular decisions, Legitimation of ideology and socio-cultural reality.
Economic Factor – It has positively increased expenditures, Creation of employment, Increase in labour supply, Increase in standard of living and negatively Price increases during event, Real estate speculation, Failure to attract tourists, Better alternative investments, Inadequate capital, Inadequate estimation of costs of event.
Social/ Cultural Factors – Increase in permanent level of local interest and participation in types of activity associated with event, Strengthening of regional values and traditions and negatively affect Commercialization of activities which may be of a personal or private nature, Modification of nature of event or activity to accommodate accessible tourism Potential increase in crime, Changes in community structure -Social dislocation.
Technology Factors – these factors consider the rate of technological innovation and development that could affect a market or industry. Factors could include changes in digital or mobile technology, automation, research and development. There is often a tendency to focus on developments only in digital technology, but consideration must also be given to new methods of distribution, manufacturing and also logistics.
Therefore companies need to create a balance between the technological innovations and the human element. Improving the customer experience must always be on the back of travel and tourism companies’ minds when investing in technology.
There are six trends to watch out for in travel and tourism industry in 2018, Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR and VR), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), Voice Technology, Wi-Fi connectivity, Wearable devices.
To improve this scenario further, websites need to be compatible with common text-to-speech software. A progressive step that monuments in India are already taking is the use of Braille signage alongside text, providing information about sites. There is also a need for innovation in terms of the methods in which material about cultural heritage is presented, to make information easier to acquire for tourists with learning disabilities. Other facilities that should be improved upon include ramps, handrails, tactile signage, accessible toilets, dedicated staff, doctors and nurses, personalized assistance, airport and train station transfers, wheelchair-accessible local transport, accessible restaurants/bars, adapted hotel rooms, access to a pedestrian environment, and availability of disability equipment – such as toilet raisers and electric wheelchairs on rent.
Art galleries, museums and photo exhibitions can also be made available for those with visual impairments through the use of new technologies such as 3D printing. Of course, all of this has to be accompanied by strong sensitization programmes for staff and able-bodied travelers. All these facilities also need to be cost-effective, especially as people with disabilities usually get the short end of the stick in terms of employment opportunities and wage levels.
It remains a fact that India is still novice as far as accessible tourism is concerned. Though the country realizes the potential and importance of such tourism, there is still some years to go before it becomes a barrier-free tourist destination. However, there are a few places in India especially the metropolitan cities and of course the state of Kerala, which has been putting extra efforts for becoming disabled-friendly travel places in India. For now, the below mentioned 3 destinations can be considered welcoming for disabled and special needs tourists in the country.
An epitome of development, Kerala has always been in news for its unconventional ideas and efforts, perhaps this is why this state in South India decided to offer disabled and special needs tourists a warm welcome and a comfortable stay. Kerala’s Kochi Fort (Ernakulam), last year in 2016 was declared as the first disabled-friendly heritage site in India. The place provides facilities for people dealing with visual, hearing, mobility or cognitive impairments. The fort has been furnished with specifically designed ramps and non-slippery tiles on the walkways for convenient movement to the disabled, the elderly, and those on wheelchairs. In fact, the state also boasts of one of its districts, Kannur where around 28,000 government offices have also become barrier-free. A tourist village in Kerala, Akkulam, which is in its phase 2 of development is also likely to become disabled-friendly destination. There are fair chances that the state as a whole will become the first accessible tourism destination in India soon.