DURBAN - Making tourism universally accessible to everyone-particularly those with disabilities - is more than just putting in a ramp at the entrance to a hotel, a B&B or an attraction.
Part of this is ensuring that venues have wider corridors to cater for wheelchairs, putting in toilet facilities for the disabled, having handrails in bathrooms, putting braille in lifts, installing visual flashing fire alarms for the deaf, providing hydraulic lifts in big tour buses, even lowering reception desks so that the receptionists are eye to eye with their disabled wheelchair-bound guests.
Airports, hotels, and other tourism facilities must cater to meet the needs of people living with disabilities.
Tourism service providers have long been urged to ensure that they remove all barriers-physical and non-physical-to make tourism accessible to all travellers.
The hospitality industry has agreed to position the country as a universally accessible tourism destination, implementing the best practices and systems, thus protecting an individual’s rights to travel with dignity.
The Declaration on Universal Accessibility in Tourism was signed at the annual Tourism Indaba trade show in Durban back in 2012.
An action plan was launched at the same time, with the principle of universal accessibility being incorporated into all government tourism policies and programmes.
It was agreed that everyone needed equal access to attractions and facilities-and that it was the right thing to do. Universal accessibility would also enhance South Africa’s global tourism competitiveness.
This will be a response to the Bill of Rights in the country’s constitution-which says that no one should be unfairly discriminated against-as well as the UN Convention of the Rights of People with Disabilities and the UN World Tourism Organisation’s global code of ethics for tourism
Statistics prove that apart from being a basic human right, universal accessibility can boost tourism numbers to a destination too.
With some 15% of people in the world living with disabilities and with an ageing population that needs wheelchairs and other assistance when travelling, the sector is worth billions of rand every year. More than one billion people globally are said to have some sort of disability, with more than 200-million of them experiencing severe difficulty in functioning.
The disabled and the ageing generally travel with family, friends or carers, so there is a multiplying ripple effect. It is a sector that cannot - and should not - be ignored.
The potential market for universal accessible tourism in South Africa is said to be about 30% of the population - and a portion of those have disposable income and can afford to travel -and that is a market that the industry should be tapping into.
Hospitality venues have gradually been implementing changes to cater for the disabled - and that includes people with hearing and sight issues as well as mobility challenges - and it is easier if the hotel owners build a new hotel.
The annual Lilizela Tourism Awards, recognizing service excellence in the tourism industry, also includes a category for hospitality businesses that cater for universal access.
Government’s National Parks, for one, are making great strides in making parks more usable for tourists with special requirements. They have installed ramps, specially adapted ablutions and accessible facilities have been provided in hides, on boardwalks and nature trails, at picnic sites, interpretive centres, restaurants and campsites.
And for the visually impaired, there are tactile exhibits, audio descriptions, sound booths and listening locations.
The Tourism Grading Council of South Africa has created a universal accessibility grading scheme for the accommodation sector, rating facilities based on access, signage and ease of general tasks.
We as Tourism KZN look forward to working with an increasing number of universally accessible facilities to promote our exceptionally beautiful destination, and ensure it remains accessible to all.
Phindile Makwakwa is the Acting Chief Executive Officer for Tourism KwaZulu-Natal.