September is World Tourism Month globally, and this year the theme has been announced as Universal Access (UA). As more destinations and tourism attractions provide more ways for the sight, hearing and mobility impaired to enjoy them, the more the industry will benefit. 

There are currently many initiatives seeking to provide access for the underprivileged in Cape Town to the great attractions, but there’s more to be done, suggests Enver Duminy, CEO at Cape Town Tourism.

“What so many of us take for granted, the seemingly simple task of planning and enjoying a holiday, is, for some, a giant challenge, if not almost an impossibility.

Sensitivity is central to UA planning and execution

September is World Tourism Month, and the theme for 2016 is “Universal Access”, or UA: This requires that everything must be accessible for people with mobility, visual, hearing, and other impairments in addition to providing for those with no significant disability such as visitors who don’t speak English for example, pregnant women, families with prams and toddlers, the elderly and breastfeeding mothers. It can also mean, in the South African context, those without the financial means to enjoy tourism attractions or activities.

Sensitivity is central to UA planning and execution. It covers a range of design elements such as the physical design of buildings, or additions to existing, ones, including ramps, steps, lifts, toilet facilities, emergency exits, lighting, signage and alarm systems. In addition, consideration must be made with regard to information available – it could be translated to braille, set in large print or converted to audio files. Adequate transport facilities should be available, especially in terms of access to shuttles, buses and trains.

It’s in part the responsibility of the cities concerned to ensure that everything from pavements to public buildings must accommodate those with disabilities, but then, for tourism businesses, it should also be addressed. The domestic Universal Accessibility tourism market is estimated to be approximately 600, 000 potential travelers, so the benefits of accommodating this market would be significant.

Restoring and maintaining dignity

There are responsibilities for tourism businesses to provide staff training in UA, so that those visitors with disabilities are provided for; staff can point out mobility aids, assist with communication tools and at check-in facilities and indicate other aids such as parking bays and toilets. This goes to restoring and maintaining dignity for those with disabilities, in addition to providing for the safety of these visitors.

Besides our disabled visitors, there are many locals who are unable to enjoy tourism attractions of experiences, even within their own cities. Fortunately, this is being recognized and steps are being taken to address this, but there’s much to be done in ensuring access for all.

Inclusivity and excellence

SANParks, Iziko Museums and Kirstenbosch have open days at many facilities where fees are reduced or waived, Table Mountain welcomes locals for a free trip up the Table Mountain Cableway on their birthday, all that’s needed is a green ID book, and the city occasionally has special events where train trips are free.

Schoolchildren also get exposed to many of the city’s attractions through school trips, perhaps some of those kids will be bitten by the travel bug and become tourism professionals. Universal Access provides opportunities. Many local tourism businesses are working with NGOs, the youth and schools to expose kids to tourism activities, too.

Tourism is not just about luxury experiences, there are many activities that can be enjoyed for free or at little cost; Cape Town’s parks, beaches, promenades, mountain trails and scenery are freely available, and some of these are providing more access for the mobility or sensory impaired.

Ideally, any destination should consider the needs of those who’d want to visit, and go to great lengths to accommodate those needs. In all things, tourism can strive for inclusivity and excellence.”

This article was first published in Traveller24 on 23 August 2016