What Does It Take To Create Inclusive Travel?


Sandra Vassallo of e-bility.com in Australia agreed to help me think through strategies for engaging the travel and hospitality industry in a dialogue on universal design.

Readers are adding their own insights under Comments below. Initial interviews with Tourism Board representatives from various nations can be found in the February 28, 2004 post.

We're interested to learn how systems serving disabled and senior travelers have evolved in other areas and how well they are working. Basically, "Why does it make business sense to create inclusive travel? What studies, business models and policy mechanisms are already in place ? What else is needed in order to make serving us financially sustainable?"

Quote from Sandra Vassallo:

In Australia, the local, state and federal governments play a big role in policy development and funding of tourism programs (I suspect this is the same in other countries - although I'm not sure). With this in mind it might be worth inviting government representatives to attend/be involved in the workshop.

One aspect of accessible tourism I have found that (in my view) is critical to its success, is that both the community and the services/amenties/facilities need to be designed with accessibility in mind. This requires a joint commitment by service providers (eg accommodation, restaurants, shops, attractions) and council (pathways, parking, parkland etc).

Most Councils in Australia have an "Access Committee" and in many of the tourism centres their brief includes residents and visitors - several of these committees have published local access guides and provide community funded resources such as beach wheelchairs that can be hired for a small donation (used for repairs and maintenance of the equipment). They also offer to assist local businesses in making their services more accessible.

Generally speaking, a proactive and committed council is an important ingredient in raising community awareness and effecting positive change.


In Brasil, the tourism industry is not formally prepared to attend people with disabilities with few exceptions such as expensive hotels and airlines.
Nice natural tourism resorts lack infra-structure of accessible washrooms and accessible routes. Historical sites are simply not accessible due to the general resistance and belief that accessibility compromises aesthetics and historical value. Nevertheless, the same inaccessible historical buildings contain electrical wiring, light bulbs and fans, which do not respect historical value either.
Usually, accessibility is restricted to inclusion of handcrafted steep ramps made of steel, concrete or wood structure on top of existing stairs. When large bathrooms with wide doors are available, usually the toilet supposed to be accessible lacks important features such as well-sized grab-bars or out-swing doors. Currently, the Brazilian market does not provide truly accessible vehicles like adaptable vans with fully automatic mechanisms nor reliable lifts to access adapted historical sites.
In terms of service, people in Brazil rely very much on the "jeitinho" (reads jaytiño), an informal, improvised, friendly (but irresponsible) way to solve problems. That leads to situations in which people with disabilities become dependent on untrained attendants or volunteers.
The strong push on legislation and code regulations made by advocacy of the disability community has started to create legal instances in which tourism managers become sensitive about providing accommodation of special needs. However, lack of information is everywhere and no one is willing to invest on technology and trainning. Disability organizations are NGOs and cannot affort participating at Committees that do nothing to pay for time and expertise of disabled advocates. Therefore access committees for tourism do not last long enough, and generally focus on responding to immediate needs of identified group of disabled people.
It is important that the pressure of international market influence investments in the Brazilian industry. Wealthy disabled clients, and the elderly groups along with international tourism agencies can set higher standards for local tourism. This way, chances are that there will be some improvement on technology for accessiblity and better services. In the meantime, if disabled tourists decide to visit Brazil, I would say to them they will be challenged on their ability to be flexible and cope with unexpected problems. They will soon learn to practice "jeitinho" and fill integrated in Brazilian culture.

Editor's Note:

Marcelo's credentials are impeccable. He is a Brazilian, who also happens to have a disability, with doctoral-level familiarity in the field of Universal Design and staff status at the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University. In these areas he is my mentor.

My limited experience in Brazil confirms everything that he reports. Having first visited in 1974 I can attest to the tremendous improvements made since then. The history of the Brazilian campaign for inclusivity is an instructive case study that is little-known in the English-speaking world.

Now, what is the appropriate international forum of stakeholders that will shift the business climate and regulatory environment toward an inclusivity that is win/win?

On a humorous note, I include the following photo essays from my recent trip to Brazil.

With fluency in the art of "jeitinho" you will see that I negotiated Rio, Iguaçu Falls, Santa Catarina Island, Recife and environs, and explored the "Baroque Trail" -- making the pilgrimage to Ouro Preto, Mariana, and other cobblestoned "extreme-wheelchair- sports-venues" of Marcelo's native Minas Gerais!

I would go back in a heartbeat.





It's all well and good getting people to submit their ideas and opinions but this won't get the job done. This needs a fully committed approach
from a business perspective as businesses need to see that they can generate income from making investments by making themselves accessible.
At the same time, you need to find ways to promote, service and sell these facilities, so it's a 'complete package' you're offering.

David Player
Wheeling Around The Algarve

Rua Casa do Povo 1
Apartado 3421
8135-905 Almancil
Algarve - Portugal

Tel: 00 351 289 393636
Fax: 00 351 289 397448
Mobile: 00 351 91 7007007

Editor's Note:

The above is an excerpt from personal correspondence, posted here with Dave's permission. Self-described as a "man of few words", he is also a man of many accomplishments in this field.

Dave's business sense is keen and his word-of-mouth stature among his peers is high.

For anyone seeking focussed consultation in the area of inclusive travel I recommend Dave. (For the scholars among the readership: Dave's work would make an excellent case study or thesis.) His experience in the Algarve, Portugal dates back to 1992. His reach as a consultant also includes central and northern Portugal, the Azores, Madeira, Italy, and, quite soon, Poland.

Take a look at his site at Wheeling Around the Algarve ( www.player.pt ). Dave knows how to put together a package and market a destination - hospitality, transportation, sports, leisure activites -- even real estate for sale.

New Zealand has a lot to offer people with disabilties as long as they are willing to accept a little help and DON'T understate their needs when making arrangements.
Our small population meens we don't have some of specialised equipment people in some countries are used to. Particularly in the way of accessible vehicles.
We have strict laws now on accessibility in all new buildings. Our accessible accommodation is second to none, but here again all disabled needs are different. Some may not be met by legal building codes. You know your limitations.
We know many people with severe disabilities who have come and had a ball. We know others who's trips here have turned to custard (not trips we have arranged) because they did not plan well enough.
Our suggestion is to contact us with any questions you may have.


Allan Armstrong
Accessible Kiwi Tours

Editor's Note:

It may be a mistake that a disabled traveler makes once - hopefully only once - but "Communicate your needs and limits honestly" is an invaluable piece of advice from Allan. Carry it along everywhere as a piece of your luggage!

In the interest of "full disclosure" I will admit to having taken Allan's advice to contact him about New Zealand travel details. After doing so I announced to my travel partners, "I found the guy I want to work with for our trip to New Zealand!"

People's travel style and requirements differ. There is at least one other excellent Australia/New Zealand accessible tour operator in California whose dynamism and customer-service skills have earned him a solid, loyal US clientelle. Evaluating my needs and limitations in light of Allan's experience, knowledge, orientation, and access to ammenities I'm satisfied that I've found an excellent choice for my jaunt to New Zealand.

But, however you get there, interview your tour operator beforehand with openness about your situation and get the fit that's right for you. It's your vacation but it's our entire community of people with disabilities - and the businesses who partner with us to make accessible travel sustainable - who will benefit from you having the best experience possible!

Editor's Note:

I have cross-posted the following Comments by Irene because they seemed important enough to this thread also that I did not want them to be overlooked.
From 2/28/04 item on Bay Area Travel Show

Statisticians in Queensland, Australia, have been doing some work in compiling data for the tourism industry (it being one of the major sources of income in this state). You can view these on a fact sheet "Disability Tourism" available online through www.tq.com.au/research.
This sheet also provides some other leads. The conclusion I came to was that it is up to individuals like me who have some background in what "accessible" really means, to publish their findings. We cannot wait for local government authorities or local tour operators to grab the bull by the horn, because the bull's horns are a bit of an unknown, even taboo. The generation that is responsible for decision making has not had much personal experience with wheelies etc. because they were still locked up during their formative years. Hence the speedy & well-designed tourist facilities found at many places that ARE accessible, have been the result of a really pushy wheelie or two who had political clout. A couple of examples are Alice Springs in the Northern Territory and Noosa - both had wheelchair users in local government!


From 2/26/04 item on Cruise Lines:

Indeed the cruise industry has the advantage. I have only last year participated in an 8-day cruise from Sydney to New Caledonia. My partner-in-crime&marriage deliberately made it a policy to sit at a different table every meal, and listening to co-passengers, asking questions about their cruise experiences. Once bitten by the cruise bug, very few people (if any??) never go on a cruise again. As a matter of fact, most of our companions on the cruise were cruise veterans, & some would go twice a year! If that is not an indication that the cruise industry is on the right track, I don't know what is. As a matter of fact, our experiences on this cruise made us decide to go into the travel business and provide holidays for those who might find it difficult to get around.

Although I agree that economic incentives will probably motivate business owners to do *almost* anything, I think this approach can really backfire when you are talking about promoting accessible tourism. I’ve had extensive experience with this, and have worked with both tourism boards and individual businesses to try and encourage them to become more accessible. I try to do this realistically, by saying that it won’t be an overnight goldmine, but it will ultimately broaden their customer base and generate goodwill. I’ve had good success with that approach.

Unfortunately the accessible tourism industry has been presented as this “get rich quick” easy option (which is unfair to business owners). They make access improvements and then expect to just be rolling in the dough. Well, it doesn’t quite happen like that. Then they become frustrated, bitter and mad. In the end, they are less of an advocate than before -- they are almost “anti-access”. They tell their colleagues “I spent all that money on access and I only had four people in wheelchairs book that room last year.”

So that approach can really backfire.

I just hate seeing all these big figures released, followed by a pitch of “tap into the market”.

Yes there are a lot of people with disabilities, but I think we also have to recognize that in the US 34% of PWDs also have an annual income of less than $15,000. It’s a perspective thing.

I think Simon Darcy’s Access To Anxiety study is very useful. It really gives some insight on the market (at least in Australia). And once you understand what the market wants, then you will be able to provide services that travelers want (and will pay for).


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