Experts highlight accessible tourism potential in NepalInvesting in disabled-friendly infrastructure and services can help hoteliers and entrepreneurs tap the accessible tourism market in Nepal, report says.
Chinese mountaineer Zhang Hong reached the summit of Everest in the spring climbing season and returned safely, becoming the third blind climber internationally and the first in Asia to step foot on the world’s highest peak.
On May 24, Zhang fulfilled his dream regardless of his physical handicap. The 46-year-old climber was supported by four Nepali high altitude guides.
“The blind man generated jobs for four people at least. His expenditure was higher than that of other climbers as he required special care,” Ang Tshering Sherpa, chairman of Asian Trekking, told the Post.
Foreigners pay $11,000 to obtain a permit to climb Everest and spend anywhere between $40,000 and $90,000 for the entire expedition.
“We have immense potential to tap the accessible tourism market,” said Sherpa. “It’s a huge market globally.”
Accessibility in tourism is a social right—everyone should have access regardless of where they come from, regardless of their physical limitations, disabilities or age. But according to industry insiders, accessible tourism is a billion-dollar market from which only a few countries are reaping benefits.
Although Nepal has been a favourite destination for many disabled people, particularly in adventure tourism, accessible tourism has not grown due to limited infrastructure to host them.
Tom Whittaker became the first amputee (he lost his right foot to a car accident) to climb Everest in 1998.
American Erik Weihenmayer is known as the first visually impaired person to scale the world's tallest mountain on May 25, 2001.
Sudarshan Gautam, a Nepali-born Canadian, is the first double-arm amputee to climb the world‘s highest mountain on May 20, 2013. Gautam has been convicted of being a co-conspirator in a human trafficking case.
Arumina Sinha is the first Indian female amputee to climb Everest. She achieved the feat on May 21, 2013. Xia Boyu from China, a double amputee, scaled Everest on May 14, 2018.
The potential of accessible tourism in Nepal has not been assessed.
On Wednesday, International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector lending arm of the World Bank, unveiled a study report which says investing in disabled-friendly infrastructure and services can help hoteliers and entrepreneurs tap the accessible tourism market in Nepal, a growing segment globally.
The report entitled "Open to All: A Survey on Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities in Nepal’s Hotels" has covered 90 star-rated hotels in major cities. The study was conducted by the Society of Economic Journalists–Nepal, in collaboration with the National Federation of the Disabled–Nepal, with financial and technical assistance from IFC.
There are almost a billion people with disabilities worldwide and they should have access to travel opportunities, according to Lonely Planet, the world’s largest travel guide publisher. It has launched the Travel for All project which provides accessible travel information.
“With almost a billion people in the world—that’s almost 15 percent of the world’s population—having a physical, mental or sensory disability, we believe it’s important to ensure their access to travel opportunities is not limited,” said Lonely Planet.
“It’s time for us to mainstream accessible tourism which could be a huge market,” said Wendy Werner, IFC Country Manager for Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan, during the launch of the survey report in Kathmandu on Wednesday. “Accessible tourism is not only a human right, it also makes business sense. Tourism needs a proper infrastructure.”
According to the report, while 95 percent of the participating hoteliers are aware of accessible tourism as a concept, they have not invested in the necessary measures to ensure accessibility for persons with disabilities.
The existing facilities in most hotels are limited to ramps and lifts. Only 17 percent of the surveyed hotels had signs to help visually-impaired guests and 74 percent of the hotels did not have any Braille signage on door plaques and room directories, according to the survey.
Further, only about 9 percent of the hotels had staff who were trained in or had basic knowledge of sign language while only 33 percent of the participating hotels had extra wheelchairs for guests.
The poor numbers have been attributed to a range of factors including old structures, remote locations and fewer guests with disabilities. Many of the surveyed hotels also cited extra costs as a key deterrent to building ramps, purchasing wheelchairs, or providing other accessible infrastructure and services, the report said.
“There are only a few hotels in Nepal whose infrastructure is disabled people-friendly,” said Raju Basnet, general secretary of the National Federation of the Disabled–Nepal. “In most hotels, employees are not ‘friendly’ or they are not aware of accessibility needs.”
There are no proper statistics regarding tourists with any form of disability visiting Nepal. Globally, accessible tourism accounts for a big share.
According to the IFC study, people with disabilities are travelling more than ever—a 2015 United States market study showed that disability travel generated $17.3 billion per year. A follow-up survey in 2020 found that disability travel contributed $58.7 billion to the US travel industry.
In the European Union, accessible tourism contributed 3 percent of GDP in 2012. By 2025, it can generate possible revenues of 88.6 billion euros. In Australia, it contributed around $10 million to the tourism industry in 2011. By 2018, the accessible tourism market was worth 10.8 billion Australian dollars.
“Inclusive tourism is only set to increase in the coming years. Life expectancy is growing, which will lead to a growth in less mobile, elderly travellers. If Nepal’s tourism industry can focus on accessible tourism, it will be able to attract significantly higher numbers of visitors,” the study said.
Accessible tourism is still at its infant stage in Nepal. According to another research entitled "The Emergence of Accessible Tourism in Nepal: Prospects and Problems" published by the National Federation of the Disabled–Nepal, the formal development of accessible tourism in Nepal began with the visit of the late Dr Scot Rains, an American travel writer, consultant and advocate for disabled people, in May 2014.
Rains, an expert on accessible tourism who died in 2016, arrived in Nepal at the unofficial invitation of Four Seasons Travel, which has been working for the promotion of accessible and inclusive tourism in the country.
Subsequently, the Wounded Heroes Trek to Nepal was conducted in 2016. The event was organised in Nepal to celebrate the essence of World Tourism Day 2016 which had "Tourism for All" as its theme. The trek was also an attempt to initiate action to make the country an accessible destination for all and raise awareness about accessible tourism in the country.
Asia Try was another event held in 2016 with the aim of accelerating a barrier-free society for people with disabilities and promoting their rights for inclusion in all aspects of their lives.
More than 200 persons with severe and profound disabilities and their attendants from Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Cambodia, Mongolia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and India participated in the campaign, according to the National Federation of the Disabled–Nepal.
Likewise, the International Conference on Accessible Adventure 2018 was another event for promoting accessible and inclusive tourism in Nepal.
Despite the several challenges that Nepal has been struggling with to make its tourism sector accessible for all, it has made significant strides in a short span of time. Some of the achievements are worth noting:
The Nepal Tourism Board has constructed a 1.3-km trail access for all from Deurali to Naudanda of Kaski. The trail is known as the first of its kind in Asia.
The government has also accorded priority to disabled-friendly infrastructure.
According to the amended standards issued for hotels and resorts by the Tourism Ministry in December 2019, all star-rated hotels and resorts should have disability-friendly toilets, one dedicated room for disabled people and mandatory ramps for wheelchairs in the lobby and outside the hotel premises.
Shreejana Rana, president of Hotel Association Nepal, said that one dedicated room for disabled people was not enough.
“Government policy should focus on creating disabled-friendly infrastructure. And for us, there is huge room for improvement. Although accessible tourism is relatively new in Nepal, we are confident that with adequate support, we can push ourselves to explore and attract this growing segment of tourists to our country.”