Building disabled-accessible facilities makes good business sense, experts say

The tourism industry would invest in inclusive facilities if it had more data on the number of potential customers it could attract

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Detailing the number of people with special needs in the country and region, with data on how many of these are potential tourists, will be key to convincing the industry to invest in inclusive facilities.

Roberto Castiglioni, member of the Access to Air Travel Advisory Group, UK Civil Aviation Authority advocated universal designs, so travellers with special needs could remain independent throughout their journey.

“Studies and statistics tell us that passengers with special needs travel by air more than ever before, alongside the number of the 60+ segment, who are also a population with the highest disposable income,” he said.

“There is a huge potential here. Meeting the needs of these categories isn’t just about doing the right thing, it also makes strong business sense and is a great business opportunity for Expo 2020 and beyond.”

A report published by the UK Civil Aviation Authority this year about accessible air travel showed there are eight million people with disabling conditions in the UK, of which 1.5 million fly.

Read more: Dubai's wheelchair access has improved but there are ways to go, says campaigner

“We have to understand why people don’t fly. For instance, there is a huge problem with wheelchair damage. Wheelchairs are not just pieces of equipment, they are someone’s legs and should be treated in the same way. There is also a lack of awareness that services are available and free, with many people with disabling conditions thinking they have to pay for assistance.”

In the UAE, too, there have been frequent calls for data on the number of people with varying disabilities so organisations can work towards planning for specific needs.

Recruiting people with disabilities at the airport is also an enabler.

“Anxiety levels melt down if you employ a person with a disability as frontline staff. This human component can change the environment. It helps create a connection so even if the airport is not fully accessible, they can tell another person with a disability what to do,” Mr Castiglioni said.

Hideto Kijima, a wheelchair user and president of Japan Accessible Tourism Centre, listed Singapore and Amsterdam as cities with easy access.

Hilly paths, ski slopes and beaches have not deterred him during his travels. Ramps and platforms made it possible for him to negotiate hilly pathways to Kyoto temple, while adaptive ski chairs made the slopes in France and Japan accessible, as have adapted chairs in beach resorts.

Dubai Municipality in August launched beach and water wheelchairs in Mamzar beach but information about such services needs to be on accessible websites, experts said.

While Mr Kijima praised Dubai Metro, like other wheelchair users he pointed out that pavements were too high in Dubai.

“The metro, hotels and malls are good, but you must think of public transportation and access between destinations because, unlike local residents, tourists don’t have their own cars, so we must be able to get to places,” he said.