Inclusive tourismAccessibility in tourism should form a core element for a sustainable development policy.
Towards the end of 2019, Nepal was all set to welcome throngs of people from all walks of life; the government and the tourism industry as a whole were all geared to welcome tourists with great fanfare and optimism. Alas, it was not to be. Unaware of the consequences at first, it is now clear for all to see the devastating impact Covid-19 has had on the tourism industry. The hardest hit was without any doubt the airline and hotel industries. People were restricted from moving out of their homes, let alone the thought of travelling for leisure.
The pandemic has deeply affected the psyche of the people. It has inculcated fear even amongst the staunchest sceptics who have dared to defy what they thought to be nothing more than an unfortunate anomaly. It’s not just the virus the globetrotter needs to be aware of; there is no guarantee that your trip will fit into your original budget by the time you have concluded it. The speed of change in government restrictions can completely alter your experience.
What the current situation offers a country like Nepal, heavily reliant on tourism, is an opportunity to get its house in order. It offers scope for reflection which would not have been possible in the hustle and bustle of life pre-pandemic. It is safer to follow accepted practices and thus miss out on greater unconventional opportunities that can completely pass by without anyone batting their eyelids. Recent reports have increasingly suggested concentrating our efforts on making tourism more accessible. What it means is that efforts should be directed at providing all people, but more importantly, people with disabilities, an opportunity to enjoy their experience. To quote the UN, “Accessible tourism is the ongoing endeavour to ensure tourist destinations, products and services are accessible to all people, regardless of their physical limitations, disabilities or age.”
There are over 1 billion persons with disabilities, and counting spouses, children and caregivers of persons with disabilities, it represents almost a third of the world population. This offers a huge previously untapped potential for Nepal’s tourism industry. On Wednesday, International Finance Corporation, the private sector lending arm of the World Bank Group, stated in its report that tapping the accessible tourism sector can be a big boost to Nepal’s tourism industry. However, the report also states that while 95 percent of the hoteliers are aware of accessible tourism as a concept; it remains rather under-funded to cater to the needs of the disabled.
The existing facilities are rather rudimentary, limited to lifts and ramps. Of the hotels that were surveyed, an abysmal 17 percent had signs to assist those who are visually impaired and 74 percent lacked Braille signage for the guests. The numbers were worryingly at a skimpy 9 percent when it came to staff that had basic knowledge of sign language. Most hoteliers cite cost as being the biggest drawback to ramping up the existing infrastructure to provide access to tourists. It can only be surmised as a backward step in the opposite direction.
It is time for Nepal’s tourism industry to go back to the drawing board and rejig their thought process and provide a fresh perspective in not just looking at it as a cost issue but rather as an investment opportunity that would help reap boundless rewards in the foreseeable future. Accessibility in tourism should not just be about economics, it should form a core element for a sensible, responsible and sustainable development policy.