Barrier-free tourism for people with disabilities

Md Ziaul Haque Howlader

25 February, 2020 12:00 AM printer

Barrier-free tourism for people with disabilities

There are approximately one billion persons with disabilities in the world, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). This equates to approximately 15% of the world population having physical, mental or sensory disability.  In addition to this data, a rapid ageing of the population is underway. In 2009, there were more than 730 million people aged over 60, equivalent to 10% of the population, an increase of more than 20% since 2000.  By the year 2050, the number of people aged over 60 will increase to account for 20% of the world population, with one-fifth of this group being over 80 years old. Due to the ageing population in industrialised countries, the rate of disability among people with the capacity to travel is increasing, adding to the demand for an accessible environment, transport and services - which adds to the market value of the accessible tourism segment.

Much of the senior population has significant income and the desire to travel, both in their home countries and abroad, and their expenditure tends to be higher than that of tourists in general. Because many people with disabilities and elderly people are no longer active in workforce, they have the possibility of travelling throughout the year, which helps to reduce the seasonality of demand experienced by many destinations. The attention being turned to the Accessible Tourism market presents a challenge to the global travel industry in terms of improving policies and mobilising the investment to carry out necessary improvements across the board in both short and long terms.

With a right approach, the tourism sector of Bangladesh has an excellent opportunity to serve an important and growing market, win new customers and increase revenue at a time when other segments of the market may be weakening. Bangladesh is going ahead with various programmes to promote and develop its tourism industry. We must go ahead with well-planned and well-controlled tourism programmes and infrastructure suitable for all types of tourists. We must target all types of tourists with special focus on physically challenged, kids and aging tourists. The hotels and motels of Bangladesh must create facilities suitable to all types of tourists. Such as separate front-desks, toilets, walkways, separate points at parks, museums and destinations across the country.

A person with special needs does not travel alone. At least one person escorts him. So, for tourism service providers income becomes double.

What the major obstacles tourists face in Bangladesh, that needs to be removed are - lack of accessible facilities (buildings, outdoor environment, transports et cetera) in tourism service chain, and lack of accessible destinations; lack of reliable information about  the level of  accessibility; lack of awareness and knowledge among tourism providers; universal design of infrastructure (hotel, transports, roads, airports, parks, museums and food service facilities  et cetera); reasonable accommodations; signage for horizontal and vertical movements; special parking zones; allocation of priority seats; stairs and ramps; necessary equipment for sports tourism, et cetera.

Disabled people tend to be loyal to an accessible destination, staying longer and spending more. According to figures from Open Doors Organisation (USA), American adults with disabilities or reduced mobility spend about $13.6 billion a year on travel. In Germany, the direct turnover generated by disabled travellers is estimated at €2.5 billion, and rises to €4.8 billion when including indirect effects. In Australia, disabled tourists contribute up to 16% of tourism GDP and sustain up to 17% of jobs in the tourism sector, according to research studies. These figures could rise even higher in future if the gap between the potential customer base and the actual number of travellers can be reduced.

In Germany, for example, about 37% of disabled people decided not to travel in the past due to a lack of accessible facilities. Yet 48% would travel more frequently if these were available and as many as 60% would be ready to pay higher travel costs for improved accessibility. Design itineraries for customers, pointing out various attractions, shops, food and drink outlets and accommodation that make up the “chain of accessibility” which can support them throughout their stay. Also, it is essential that public spaces, pavements and local transport meets access requirements, enabling freedom of movement at the destination for all visitors.

To materialise the theme of this year, Bangladesh needs to do a lot. It needs to diversify its tourism products as well as make the entire infrastructure friendly to all types of tourists from the beginning of construction.  We must focus also how to attract disabled people in tourism by creating better and inclusive infrastructure and providing good service.


The writer works at Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation (BPC) as a Manager.