The World Tourism Day this year that is, on 27th of September 2016, embraces the concept of accessible tourism with the theme “Tourism for All: Promoting Universal Accessibility“. Millions of people travel across the world each year to get to know more places, people, and culture, and enrich their lives. The process might not be equally easy for everyone. Different barriers come along the way and restrictions may apply according to age group, backgrounds or disabilities. As such, the most difficult restrictions may be to people with disabilities due to lack of information on accessible places, lack of required services and universal designs, to name a few.
Having a limited budget restricts people from going to many places in their wish list. Being blind limits a person from seeing the grandeur of mountains or oceans. Having a fractured limb limits the length they can walk. Having a weak or transplanted heart can limit the elevation they can reach when trekking. These lists of limitations may go on and on.
Tourism and its complications
But it does not mean that they cannot plan the travel with what they can afford, or feel and hear the sound of ocean and vibrant mountain culture, or get around in wheelchair, or go till the places they are comfortable with. Everybody deserve going to all the places they want. We just need more packages with special priority to people who need assistance.
Accessible tourism is the ongoing endeavor to ensure tourist destinations, products and services are accessible to all people, regardless of their physical limitations, disabilities or age. It encompasses publicly and privately owned tourist locations. According to World Tourism Organization Network, (WTO), accessible Tourism for all is about the creation of environments that can cater for the needs of all of us, whether we are traveling or staying at home.
May that be due to a disability, even temporary, families with small children, or the ageing population, at some point in our lives sooner or later, we all benefit of universal accessibility in tourism.
According to ENAT, the European Network for Accessible Tourism, accessible tourism includes:
- Barrier-free destinations: infrastructure and facilities.
- Transport: by air, land and sea, suitable for all users,
- High quality services: delivered by trained staff.
- Activities, exhibits, attractions: allowing participation in tourism by everyone.
- Marketing, booking systems, web sites & services: information accessible to all.
The various problems faced by travelers with disabilities may be inaccessible web sites, lack of accessible airport transfer, hotel rooms, restaurants, restroom, street or sidewalks, lack of wheelchair accessible vehicles, lack of professional staff capable of dealing with accessibility issues, and also lack of technical aids and disability equipment such as wheelchairs, bath chairs and toilet raisers.
Accessible Tourism in Nepal
While the concept of accessible tourism is relatively new, and much study has not been done in Nepal, there have been some instances of consideration. As mentioned in earlier accessible tourism articles covered earlier in this magazine, Hyatt Regency Kathmandu is considered the number one accessible with universal design. They have three accessible rooms in three different floors. Hyatt even has a chair for shower. Soaltee Crowne Plaza has well-designed ramps with four accessible rooms on the ground floor. Hotel Himalaya has one accessible room, Gokarna Forest Resort has few relatively accessible rooms on the ground floor. Some of the wheelchair users from Asia Try enjoyed rafting in Trishuli River. Sightseeing is possible in all the beautiful places of Nepal. Paragliding, ultra-light flights, canyoning, jeep ride and bull cart ride in Chitwan are accessible and enjoyable too.
While searching about accessible tourism in Nepal, I came across a very commendable program brought forward by Himalayan Education and Development (HEAD) Program based in Humla, which is one out of two districts not connected by road. In such a remote place, HEAD’s Executive Director Chhitup Lama has introduced this program especially for visually-impaired people. Lama is blind himself, and this program also gives opportunity to the blind locals in the form of guides.
He said that the blind people, who have been living there forever, know the topography of the place. Therefore know better about guiding other blind. The difficulty is in the steep hills, falling of me rock near grazing cattle, and the local bridges which are quite narrow, made of wood and without ropes. But the visitors who have come have enjoyed the meetings with local people, and they also offer cultural music programs. It’s true at there is still much to do to make any Himalayan places truly accessible, but initiations like these definitely help start.
Himalayan Friends Trekking is so considerate while taking people with heart transplants and breathing difficulties. There are beautiful locations that is accessible without going too far up in the Himalayas. Phuri Kitar Sherpa of Himalayan Friends Trekking says that going up till 4000 meters is not too difficult. Even so, they also prepare for immediate departure in case of any emergencies. The different kinds of herbs and tea present in these regions also prove be beneficial in curing some breathing aliments! Sherpa’s friend Jordan Moe, who always tries coming back for treks in Nepal, also said that the pace of walk adopted also determines the comfort level while trekking uphill.
The world Tourism Day with the slogan — Tourism for All: Promoting Universal Accessibility – will definitely scale up the interest in the issue by all the travel agencies and travel board of directors. This might improve the accessibility in most of the places. Some places are also inaccessible due to civil or other kinds or war going on in the country. Security should be a really important priority. Other places are inaccessible to physically disabled people.
The World Tourism Organization has also published various brochures to spread the word about accessible tourism. UNWTO Recommendations on Accessible Information in Tourism, Accessible Tourism for All: An Opportunity within Our Reach, Manual on Accessible Tourism for All: Public Private Partnerships and Good Practices (2015), Manual on Accessible Tourism for All: Principles, Tools and Good Practices, Module I: Definition and Context (2014), to name a few. All these efforts will definitely help in making a lot of places more accessible than before.
Text- Image Nepal Travel Magazine | Sep-Oct, 2016
Image – https://goo.gl/fJ1AJF