Removing barriers and making tourism accessible to the 650 million persons with disabilities around the world who represent a huge untapped market for the travel industry will be the focus of a three-day United Nations gathering set to begin tomorrow in Bangkok.
The meeting, organized by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) in cooperation with Thai authorities and Disabled People International Asia-Pacific, brings together representatives of the travel industry, policymakers and people with disabilities to examine the growing market for accessible tourism in the region.
The recently adopted UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities promotes accessibility of persons with disabilities and their participation in leisure and sport as a matter of right.
According to ESCAP, a significant portion of the world’s 650 million people with disabilities are travellers with special needs. There are also 600 million older persons around the world – a number that is expected to double by 2025.
For those with special needs, tasks such as getting on and off airplanes, finding an accessible bus, taxi, hotel room, bathroom, or restaurant could all be a challenge.
The Commission notes that a growing number of countries in the Asia-Pacific region are paying attention to accessible tourism. “In the ESCAP region, there are at least 400 million people with disabilities and a growing number of older persons. It is reported that 400,000 people used wheelchair rental services at the Hong Kong International Airport in 2006,” said Aiko Akiyama, Social Affairs Officer at ESCAP.
But more attention needs to be paid to removing the different kinds of barriers that inhibit people with disabilities and reduce their mobility, and as a result prevent them from enjoying travel.
“American adults with disabilities or reduced mobility currently spend an average of $13.6 billion a year on tourism,” noted Scott Rains, an expert on disability issues who will be one of the main speakers at the meeting. “Creating accessible cruise ships, accessible ship terminals, accessible ground transportation, and accessible tourist destinations is not charity. It is good business.”