It’s more than just about providing an accessible path for wheelchairs — it’s about giving people information to help cut uncertainty and empowering them to try new experiences.
One in five Aussies has a disability and, with a rapidly ageing population, that number is growing.
People with a disability travel at the same rate as everyone else, yet the options available to them, while getting better, are still limited.
These numbers mean inclusive tourism is big business.
According to the My Travel Research 2018 report, Understanding the Opportunity for Australia in Accessible Tourism, the overnight inclusive tourism market is worth $8 billion. To put that into perspective, Chinese tourists spent about $10.4 billion while in Australia last year.
Inclusive tourism is where people of all abilities feel welcome and included. It’s more than providing an accessible path for wheelchairs (only 4.4 per cent of people with a disability are wheelchair users). It’s about giving people the information that helps them reduce uncertainty about what to expect and empowering them to try new experiences.
Access and inclusion are also important for people with mobility difficulties, those travelling with babies and young children, and people who have difficulties communicating or for whom English is a second language.
“It is outrageous common sense that as our population ages the incidence of disability increases. Couple with this the trend to holiday or adventure in an intergenerational way, and to plan travel around events and festivals, (and) providers can choose to engage huge loyalty from large markets,” says IDEAS (Information on Disability and Education Awareness Services) marketing and business development leader Jenelle Becker.
What is a disability?
Disability is part of humans’ brilliant diversity but what counts as a disability?
It usually means anything that affects up to 20 per cent of usual human activity, understanding, seeing, hearing, getting around, and communicating. The most common disability is physical (almost 84 per cent), which affects mobility or dexterity but there is also intellectual, mental illness, sensory (ability to see or hear), neurological, learning, physical disfigurement, or immunological.
Marion Hailes-McDonald, assistant director-general of Disability Services with the WA Department of Communities, says while destinations or venues that are not accessible or don’t promote accessibility are a major barrier for people with disability, it’s also a loss of economic opportunity.
It’s a sentiment echoed by IDEAS.
“Providers in the tourism and travel sectors should recognise the dollars they will miss out on should they not make easy adjustments that remove barriers to people with disabilities and their families booking and purchasing their offer,” Ms Becker says.
Ms Becker says with the right information and effective trip planning you can hire almost anything at many destinations within and beyond Australia, including hoists, mobility devices of all kinds from scooters to wheelchairs, oxygen supplies and tanks.
“Access to attractions is improving all the time, such as in national parks in Australia, accessible walking tours in Auslan and for sight-impaired people, access to beaches, surfing, accessible nippers, cruising, and adventure travel,” she says.
Travability co-founder Bill Forrester sees so much growth in the inclusive tourism market that he has staked his business on it.
Travability is one of a growing number of international inclusive tourism experts. It covers everything from itinerary planning to booking, to hiring equipment, specialising in catering for travellers with a disability.
Mr Forrester wants to see a shift away from inclusive travel being a disability rights issue, in favour of an economic argument, based on the value and competitive advantage to be derived from the sector for the mainstream travel industry. He says accessible tourism is on track worldwide to make up 25 per cent of the total tourism spend by 2020, largely driven by baby boomers.
On the up
Ms Becker says inclusive travel is growing throughout the world.
“Major cities in Europe are providing access to their historic centres and attractions. India, parts of Asia such as Japan and Singapore with good public and transport infrastructure lead the way and parts of Africa are also ramping up this aspect of tourism as an economic lever,” she says.
Ms Becker says cruising has been a major growth sector in accessibility for decades, and specialist providers are a growing market. “Specialist providers, venues and operators are wising up to the opportunities of travelling with Nanna, expanded families travelling together, and people experiencing music, art, collections, festivals, nature and sites available to all,” she says.
It’s difficult to pin down exactly what to consider when planning a trip because needs differ. Access WA (accesswa.com.au) has a wealth of information to plan a local trip — across parking, accommodation, national parks, food and dining, tourist attractions, and even beaches.
While there has been plenty of progress in WA, people still encounter issues across Australia and beyond.
“The critical bugbear for them is fragmented and often inaccurate information, poor product knowledge by hotel staff and attraction managers, and sometimes poor attitudes,” Ms Becker says. “For instance, many accommodation providers have accessible rooms but don’t promote them. The details of the features of accessibility for these rooms might be buried in the FAQs on a website, or not even be known by the reservation team, which might be centralised anywhere in the world.”
Ms Becker says nothing beats the power of a photo in showing detailed information.
Disability certainly doesn’t stop Travability’s clientele. Some of its activities include mountain biking in Whistler, diving in Mozambique, and safaris in Africa.
Mr Forrester advises that when researching a trip to call direct to confirm exactly what is available.
The Companion Card
Many transport operators, businesses and venues in Australia are now registered with the Companion Card program.
The free card allows free entry or event ticket for the holder’s companion.
It covers a wide array of venues from the West Australian Symphony Orchestra to the WA Museums in Albany and Geraldton.
WA’s first cardholder Peter Darch has racked up a decade worth of travel experiences from cheering on the West Coast Eagles in Perth to tackling the Eureka Skydeck in Melbourne.
“My Companion Card has allowed me to go out with my circle of friends or with family or support workers,” says Peter, who has been a quadriplegic and wheelchair user since he was 16.
“When you always have to buy two tickets the cost becomes very prohibitive and it has a big impact on your quality of life, as you’re not able to do the things you enjoy.”
To see if you qualify and to apply for the card visit wacompanioncard.org.au or phone 1800 617 337.
For the 20 per cent of Australians who have a disability, a visit to our State’s natural wonders is becoming easier. The Parks and Wildlife Service has upped the ante over the past few years to ensure access to everyone, including people with disabilities and the aged. Here are a few ideas:
- Torndirrup National Park: A breathtaking viewing structure at The Gap and Natural Bridge.
- Walpole-Nornalup National Park: The facilities at the Tree Top Walk are universally accessible and wheelchair hire is available.
- Nambung National Park: View the Pinnacles Desert from the wheelchair-accessible path and lookouts, plus the Pinnacles Desert Discovery Centre is universally accessible.
- Mt Frankland National Park: Take in the view from the Wilderness View lookout or have a picnic in the wheelchair-accessible shelters.
- Fitzgerald River National Park: There are many new recreation sites in the east of the park, such as the sculptures at Barrens Beach and the Cave Point lookout and you can stay at the accessible Four Mile camp ground. Plus take a visit in winter to Point Ann to spot the whales.
- Yanchep National Park: Access the gardens and barbecue facilities on wheelchair and pram-friendly paths, and visit Loch McNess and the koala-viewing facility.
- Stirling Range National Park: Enjoy Bluff Knoll from the lookouts and picnic facilities.
- Karijini National Park: There is plenty to learn at the Karijini Visitor Centre and there is the wheelchair-accessible lookout at Hamersley Gorge.
- Cape Range National Park: Camp beside the Ningaloo Marine Park at Kurrajong or Osprey Bay in assisted access camp sites with accessible toilets.
- Monkey Mia Conservation Park: A wheelchair-accessible deck allows up-close viewing of the dolphins at feeding time.
- Camping: Accessible camp sites, toilets and camp shelters have been constructed at Logue Brook, Potters Gorge, Lucky Bay, Conto Field, Osprey Bay, Nanga Mill and Credo camp grounds giving people with disabilities and their families a range of camping options.
If you use a wheelchair or mobility aid don’t rule the beach out. There are more than 30 beaches — on the city coastline, including Rottnest, and regional beaches from Broome to Esperance — that provide beach wheelchairs and/or beach matting over summer.
(Top image: Negotiating the zip-line at YMCA Camp Manyung. Picture: Travability Images)
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