In this article, UAS Valais tourism management student Gaia Boeri gives us an overview of 'accessible tourism' in Switzerland and elsewhere.
According to the World Health Organisation, 1 billion of the world population is considered disabled. WHO’s definition 2019: “A disabled person is anyone who has a problem in body function or structure, an activity limitation, has difficulty in executing a task or action; with a participation restriction”.
Do these people travel?
“Accessible travel” is becoming a first concern for the tourism industry and the World Tourism Organisation (UNTWO) is convinced that it should be a priority for all tourism companies. Also the new European Package Travel Directive came into force on July 2018, states that a company can be considered a package organiser only if it informs people with reduced mobility about the suitability of their trips for them and only if it considers all the needs of these persons.
But, what does it really mean travelling with a disability?
Cory Lee, author of the travel blog “Curbfree” and diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy at the age of two, challenges his readers with the following questions:
- How can I fly as a wheelchair user?
- Which hotels are the most accessible?
- What beaches have powered beach wheelchairs?
- How do I charge my wheelchair in a foreign country?
- Does travel in a wheelchair require a higher budget?
Cory affirms “Travel with disabilities is 4 times more expensive, it takes more organisational time and equipment. But I’m a big believer that travel is the best teacher, so my goal is to show you why is important to travel as a disabled person”.
How do travellers with disabilities visit our country?
Switzerland does not apply the 2018 Package Travel Regulations. According to the Lonely Planet, Switzerland is one of the most accessible countries for travellers with physical disabilities. Trains and buses are well equipped with boarding lifts and ramps and most hotels have disabled access.
Furthermore, Switzerland Tourism presents an entire section for “Guests with special needs”, where people can find useful advice about travel by train, car, possible excursions or useful addresses like the Mobility International Switzerland Centre (MIS) where collect practical information.
Specifically, in the Valais region, there are very beautiful paths accessible to wheelchairs users to experience the incredible landscapes of the French-speaking part. Associations like PluSport and Valais Family bring together different location, from Martigny to the Oberwallis, to offer disabled people the possibility to practice winter sports.
Initiatives around the world
All around the world the tourism industry is trying to create more approachable environments to encourage accessible tourism. South Australia launched in 2018 the “Excellent in Accessible Tourism” award to reward tourism organisations that would develop products and services for disabled people the most. The Scandic hotels, located all over in Nord Europe have introduced mobility outdoor scooters to facilitate the discovery of the area for their customers with special needs. The Canadian Rockies have inaugurated a new wheelchair-friendly luxury train to offer disabled people a way to see the incredible natural attraction.
The philosophy Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey”, but for disabled people, the journey can represent the hardest part of travelling.
However, Accessible travel does not consist only in people with disabilities, but every individual is likely to have additional necessities at some point in lives and most of our planet has not been thought to be faced with different abilities and special necessities. Tourism agents and companies must consider re-shape the industry to meet future customers’ demand.
Lonely Planet. (2019). Accessible travel in Switzerland. Retrieved December 2019, from https://www.lonelyplanet.com/switzerland/travellers-with-disabilities
Tourismus, S. (2019). Guests With Special Needs. Retrieved December 2019, from https://www.myswitzerland.com/en-ch/planning/transport-accommodation/guests-with-special-needs/
TravAbility. (2018). Tourism Trends | TravAbility. Retrieved December 2019, from https://www.travability.travel/category/tourism-trends
Valais/Wallis Promotion. (2019). Wheelchair-accessible paths | Valais Switzerland. Retrieved December 2019, from https://www.valais.ch/en/activities/hiking/wheelchair-accessible-paths
Title picture © Freepick