World Tourism Day 2016 – Promoting Universal Accessibility

Bangkok (Thailand) – September 27, 2016 – (travelindex.com) – In 2015, 1 186 million people travelled internationally in a single year, up from just 25 million in 1950. Such exponential growth offers limitless opportunities for socio-economic development and job creation, but it also poses significant challenges.

Yet, we should never forget that for some segments of society exploring the world is still only a dream.
According to the World Health Organization, 15% of the world’s population lives with some form of disability. This represents about 1 billion people, many of whom may be unable to enjoy the thrill of travel and the incredible diversity of our planet.

At UNWTO we believe that facilitating travel for all, including people with disabilities along with families with young children and senior citizens, is a basic, cross-cutting and integral element of any responsible and sustainable tourism policy. This is why World Tourism Day, 27 September 2016, is dedicated to promote and advance universal accessibility in travel and tourism.

UNWTO’s commitment to Tourism for All is guided by the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism. Article 7 of the Code recognises that “direct and personal access to the discovery and enjoyment of the planet’s resources constitutes a right equally open to all the world’s inhabitants”.

Failure to consider accessibility in tourism is a denial of a human right: the right to travel.
Accessibility for all should be at the heart of tourism policies and business strategies. Yes, as a human right — but also as a great market and business opportunity that helps to ease travel facilitation and develop quality, sustainability and competitiveness.

As more individuals enjoy the opportunity to travel, the tourism sector gains more travellers, longer seasons and new sources of income. Society as a whole benefits from new job opportunities, more tax revenue and an accessible environment for both locals and visitors.

Conversely, in today’s increasingly responsible travel environment, destinations that fail to meet accessibility conditions risk being pushed out of the market. European Commission estimates that the European travel sector could cash in on 142 billion euros if it provided accessible infrastructure, accommodation, and adapted offers to those who need ‘good access’.

Sooner or later, all of us will benefit from universal accessibility in tourism. Our society is getting older. The percentage of us aged over 60, which in 2000 was 11%, will reach 22% in 2050. This will represent 2 billion people and 2 billion further business opportunities for the tourism sector.

Put simply, this is a market being overlooked by too many in our sector.
That said, there are increasingly good examples of facilities and destinations that consider the diversity of the human condition in terms of age, mobility, sensory and intellectual impairments, or health condition.
For example, the Prado Museum of Madrid, Spain has displayed six 3-D images of paintings that can be touched with the hands, designed for the visually impaired yet open to all audiences who, if not visually impaired, can opt to use blindfolds or opaque glasses made available on the spot.

Combining innovation and technology with art for the purpose of social inclusion, the project makes a fine example of ‘tourism for all’. A blind person is no less able to perceive the reality of a painting than a person of sight, through analysis of the 3-D image combined with an audio guide.

This is just one of the examples that we are proud to feature in our report ‘Good Practices in the Accessible Tourism Supply Chain’, produced for World Tourism Day 2016 by UNWTO, the European Network for Accessible Tourism (ENAT) and the ONCE Foundation.

Each of the six good practices included in the report combine a forward-thinking mind-set, socially inclusive policies, Universal Design techniques and the use of new technologies and information tools to introduce accessible tourism practises that allow travel for all.

But much remains to be done. Accessibility in the digital realm for example remains a weak spot for many tourism providers. Digital communication can actually reduce, rather than expand, access to information for those with visual, hearing, mobility or cognitive impairments.

Information on accessible products and services should be improved, and stated in an accurate manner and in accessible formats, in order to ensure each traveller can assess the information according to his or her own needs. A good practice example in this regard is Lonely Planet’s Accessible Travel Online Resources Guide, a global resource produced in cooperation with ENAT that lists ‘Accessibility Information Schemes’ worldwide.

Another persistent challenge is that public funding is often scarce and/or cannot be provided over a long period of time. Accessible tourism for all, then, depends to no small extent on other sources of revenue, particularly from local private sector partners.

With this in mind, it is essential to build strong partnerships among public authorities, the private sector and organizations that work with people with disabilities. The Prado Museum exhibit resulted from collaboration between the Museum Department of Education, the AXA Foundation, ONCE Foundation, and private company Durero Estudios SL.
Yet, the first requirement is a change in attitude. On behalf of UNWTO, I call for all tourism companies, service providers and destinations to work together to remove all barriers, mental and physical, to enriching and compelling travel experiences.

If accessible tourism can become part of every tourism experience, our sector will be perfectly placed to continue its unprecedented growth in social and economic terms. But more importantly, everyone will be able to enjoy the wonder of travel throughout their lives. And that will make our sector a driver of a better world.

Written by Dr. Taleb Rifai, Secretary-General, World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), a United Nations Specialized Agency