June 13, 2005

Dubai Makes a Move Toward Inclusion

Not long ago I continued with the topic of "Theme Parks, Imaginary Worlds, and Real Access" and asked if the DubaiLand theme park would subscribe to Universal Design principles.

What follows is not a direct answer but one that bodes well for the future of Inclusive Destination Development in Dubai. I develop on this news in the article A Fair Sheikh for Travelers with Disabilities.


The Dubai government says it plans to ensure that the US$ 100 billion dollars worth of tourism projects emerging in the emirate cater to the needs of disabled travellers, and has called on all its stakeholders to join in the "creation of a society that cares". Noting that "we are all at some point in our lives, disabled people," the government says that building a vision for the future as a preferred tourism and business development centre has to include a "future for the disabled as well".

Under the slogan "Tourism For All", the initiative was launched at the Arabian Travel Mart 2005 which saw the convening of the First International Tourism Development Forum for People with Special Needs in the Middle East While the philanthropic motive is strong, the profit motive is equally so Organisers say that sales of special equipment alone could total 300 million dirhams (about US$ 82 million).

According to a report compiled by the World Bank, disabled people represent 10-20% of the total population in each country, or about 610 million worldwide. This number is expected to rise due to wars, poverty, insufficient health care, low birth rates and increasing senility. The report pointed out that the number of people with special needs is estimated at 40 million in Europe, over 54 million in US and 11 million in Russia. [Please see more detailed statistics below].

Organisers cited figures estimating that the Arab world has about 30 million disabled people, mostly victims of traffic accidents, health problems and old age. They felt that the value of missed opportunities lost by Arab tourism reaches $3 billion a year -- if only 10%, i.e. 3 million spent approximately $1,000 per person on travel, the total spending would create tens of thousands of jobs.

The forum was aimed at raising awareness among the industry about the need to improve the interaction skills of front-line employees in airports, airline companies, tourism companies, and shopping malls to deal with individuals with special needs; sensitise construction and engineering companies; and boost services provided to disabled people by airports, airlines, hotels, parks trip organisers, shopping malls, taxi companies, and car rentals.

Department of Civil Aviation President Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum said that catering to people with special needs was a "gap which has to be covered. This gap has tremendous social responsibility and economic implications... We have to look into every aspect of the requirements and make sure that the visitors are well looked after and satisfied. "

He said that although the Arab world has much to offer in terms of culture, and heritage, invention and leisure centres, "lack of facilities for individuals with special needs prevent them from enjoying it. I would like to call upon all those involved in the travel and tourism industry to come together and work as strategic partners. Hotels, travel agencies, airlines, airports, shopping malls , public transport -- each one has its own responsibilities. However, together we can achieve more."

Mohamed Ali Al Abbar, Chairman of Emaar Real Estate, said it was long overdue that the requirements of people with special needs are debated openly, overcoming social, cultural or religious barriers. He noted that things should move faster now there is "a strong commitment from the top". He recommended an annual benchmark, a specific plan of action and time frames to chart progress. "When we are under pressure and benchmarked we move faster than talking and committing," he said.

A senior official of Dubai municipality said building regulations were designed to ensure a better environment for people with special needs. He said the municipality has different regulations for public buildings, commercial buildings, hotels and ramps and corridors. Some of the generic regulations, he said, included the need for ramps with a proper sloping ratio, reservation of 1.3% of the total parking space for the disabled, at least one unisex toilet accessible to a wheelchair user and at least one elevator designed according to the international standards.

As for the hotels, he said the municipal regulations applied to those of three stars and above. Inspection trips conducted by municipal officials indicated that most of the new emerging hotels in Dubai were up to speed. One hotel, he said, had nine rooms designed for the disabled, as against the regulatory requirement for at least 2-3 rooms. Other regulations included properly designed bathrooms, emergency exits, handicapped car-park spaces, sloping ramps, etc. "No permits are being issued for any building unless these facilities have been provided according to our standards," he said.

The forum also heard from German-Iranian architect Yasmin Mahmoudieh who has won numerous awards for the design of a number of disabled-friendly hotels in Switzerland, Germany and across Europe, and is presently working on what she said will be a 'spectacular project' in Dubai.

Ms Mahmoudieh said there can be 'no shortcuts' when it comes to designing hotels for the disabled. Architects have to focus "more on the emotional factor and atmosphere" and involve a lot of research for suitable materials, lighting and colours. She said such hotels have to have proper furniture and also cater to the fact that many people with special needs travel with families who use the normal facilities.


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Posted by rollingrains at June 13, 2005 06:15 AM