Accessible tourism is not limited to just making tourist sites barrier-free, it should include roads, shopping areas, eateries, toilets and hotels.
Ridhima (25), a student from Delhi, loves to read travelogues and fancies travelling. She has only visited few tourist spots in Delhi as the rest are not accessible on her wheel chair. Her family is ever willing to spend money on a holiday but the choices are limited within the country as they have found that a lot of destinations are not barrier-free.
Accessibility is a major challenge that often deters tourists with disability from visiting their coveted holiday destination, heritage site or pilgrimage. Mobility is a fundamental right and an inseparable part of everybody’s life. Accessible tourism is not just about giving equal rights to the disabled but it is also a big untapped lucrative market of national and international tourists who will readily spend money if provided with hassle-free travel.
“Travelling is a therapy that helps the disabled come out of their confines and monotonous life. Just like everybody else, they and their families do want to visit different places but they don’t know how to plan barrier-free travel. India hardly has any accessible tourist destinations,” says disability rights activist Anjlee Agarwal, who is co-founder and executive director of Samarthyam.
The organisation made Delhi’s Dilli Haat disabled friendly. Dilli Haat was redesigned into universal design (a design which is accessible for all) in 2006. The ticket counter was lowered, wheel chairs and shopping bags were provided, tactile surfaces were installed on pathways.
Accessible tourism, however, is not limited to making tourist sites barrier-free. “Accessibility includes making transport facilities, roads, shopping areas, ATMs, eateries, toilets and hotels, barrier-free. Four and five star hotels are generally accessible but what about low-budget hotels? Not all can afford such expensive hotels. It must cater to a trans-generational population,” says Anjlee.
The different kinds of tourism emerging in India include medical, heritage and wildlife along with beach tourism and graveyard tourism (tourists from Europe and America come to India to look for their ancestors’ graves and pay tribute).These tourists can be disabled, old or can have other ailments.
Accessible tourism will provide complete family experience to the disabled, senior citizens and people with illness. “Many countries have fully accessible tourist destinations. The Osaka Castle in Japan is totally accessible where glass elevators and wooden ramps blends with the ethnic theme. Niagara Falls in Canada, beaches in Colombo, the street market of Bangkok and Hong Kong have universal design,” adds Anjlee.
According to her, small investments like audio guides for the blind, providing wheel chairs in the temple premises, big-tyre motor scooters to drive through sand on a beach, ramps and Braille signage will attract more tourists.
Government can also provide tax incentives to accessible tourism service providers, star-rating to hotels, certification and awards to encourage the service providers.
In India, places like Matrimandir in Puducherry, Konark sun temple in Odisha, Akshardham temple in Delhi, Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu, the Taj Mahal in Agra, Botanical Gardens in Bangalore are among the very few accessible tourist destinations. Ginger Hotel chain and Lemon tree hotel chain are among the accessible budget hotels.
Heritage sites like Red Fort and Qutub Minar have audio guides for the blind so that whenever they reach the designated point, the audio censor detects it and provides information about the place. It makes the visit more enjoyable for the blind.
Accessible tourism is a social responsibility which will fetch more profits as well, adds Anjlee.