All the member-countries of the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) have been celebrating, since 1980, the World Tourism Day on September 27 with a specific theme. This year the theme is 'Tourism for All: Promoting Universal Accessibility'. The approach of the theme of this year reflects the universal accessibility and rights of every human being to tourism activities. If we define more clearly, it is to make the tourism industry friendly to all types of people, irrespective of race, caste, creed, gender, age, ethnicity and persons of special needs. UNWTO wants this kind of tourism that engages a collaborative process among stakeholders and enables people with access requirements including mobility, vision, hearing and cognitive dimensions of access, to function independently and with equity and dignity through the delivery of universally designed tourism products, services and environments. This is, in fact, inclusive of all people including those travelling with children in prams as well as people with disabilities and seniors.
Much of the senior population has significant income and the desire to travel, both in their home countries and abroad, and their expenditure tends to be higher than that of tourists in general. Because many older people and people with disabilities are no longer active in the workforce, they have the possibility of travelling throughout the year, which helps reduce the seasonality of demand experienced by many destinations. The attention being turned to the Accessible Tourism market presents a challenge to the global travel industry in terms of improving policies and mobilizing the investment to carry out the necessary improvements across the board in the short and long term.
Currently around 10 per cent of the total world's population, or roughly 650 million people, live with a disability. In most of the OECD countries, females have higher rates of disability than males. In addition to this data, a rapid ageing of the population is under way. In 2009, there were more than 730 million people over age 60, equivalent to 10 per cent of the population, an increase of more than 20 per cent since 2000. By the year 2050 the number of persons over age 60 will increase to account for 20 per cent of the world population, with one-fifth of this group being over 80 years old. Due to the ageing population in industrialized countries, the rate of disability among people with the capacity to travel is increasing, adding to the demand for an accessible environment, transport and services - which adds to the market value of the accessible tourism segment.
In Germany, for example, about 37 per cent of disabled people decided not to travel in the past due to a lack of accessible facilities. Yet 48 per cent would travel more frequently if these were available and as many as 60 per cent would be ready to pay higher travel costs for improved accessibility. Design itineraries for customers, pointing out the various attractions, shops, food and drink outlets and accommodation that make up the "chain of accessibility" can support them throughout their stay. Also, it is essential that public spaces, pavements and local transport meets access requirements, enabling freedom of movement at the destination for all visitors.
With a right approach, the tourism sector of Bangladesh has an excellent opportunity to serve an important and growing market, win new customers and increase revenue at a time when other segments of the market may be weakening. Bangladesh is going ahead with various programmes to promote and develop its tourism industry. We must go ahead with well-planned and well-controlled tourism programmes and infrastructure suitable for all types of tourists. We must target all types of tourists with special focus on physically challenged, kids and aging tourists. The hotels and motels of Bangladesh must create facilities suitable to all types of tourists. Such as separate front-desks, toilets, walk-way, separate points at parks, museums and destinations across the country.
A person with special needs does not travel alone. At least one is with him as companion. So for the tourism service providers income become double.
What the major obstacles tourists faces in Bangladesh, that needs to be removed are may enumerated as follows: Lack of accessible facilities (buildings, outdoor environment, transports e t c) in the tourism service chain, and Lack of accessible destinations; Lack of reliable information about the level of accessibility; Lack of awareness and knowledge among tourism providers; Universal Design of infrastructure (hotel, transports, roads, airports, parks, museums and food service facilities etc.); Reasonable Accommodations; signage for horizontal and vertical movements; special parking zones; allocation of priority seats; stairs and ramps; necessary equipments for sports tourism, etc.
Disabled people tend to be loyal to an accessible destination, staying longer and spending more. According to figures from Open Doors Organization (USA), American adults with disabilities or reduced mobility spend about $13.6 billion a year on travel. In Germany, the direct turnover generated by disabled travellers is estimated at €2.5 billion, and rises to €4.8 billion when including indirect effects. In Australia disabled tourists contribute up to 16 per cent of tourism GDP and sustain up to 17 per cent of jobs in the tourism sector, according to research studies. These figures could rise even higher in future if the gap between the potential customer base and the actual number of travellers can be reduced.
To materialize the theme of this year, Bangladesh needs to do a lot. It needs to diversify its tourism products as well as make the entire infrastructure friendly to all types of tourists from the beginning of construction. We must focus also how to attract disabled people in tourism by creating better and inclusive infrastructure and providing good service.
The writer is Head of Public Relations, Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation.