The 3rd of December marks International Day of Persons with Disabilities as well as the start of Disability Awareness Month, in South Africa.
Observing both the International Day of Persons with Disabilities and Disability Awareness Month affords the tourism sector to once again place greatly needed emphasis on Universal Accessibility. Universal access affords all people an equal opportunity and access to services and products for their benefit, regardless of their social class, ethnicity, ancestry or physical disabilities. South Africa prides itself for being warm and welcoming and continuously strives to improve universal access in all of its tourism offerings.
It is estimated that one billion people worldwide live with disabilities, and face many barriers to inclusion in many key aspects of society. The United Nations Social and Economic Council (UNESCAP) estimates that the potential global market for Universal Accessible Tourism (UAT) is 650 million people with differing disabilities and 600 million elderly people. While this signifies a huge potential market for travel and tourism, it still remains vastly under-served due to inaccessible travel and tourism facilities and services, as well as discriminatory policies and practices.
“As a sector, we have a responsibility to continuously advocate for universal accessibility in tourism products, in order to ensure that we achieve the necessary levels of inclusivity. It is prudent for tourism service providers to consider the merits of accelerating measures to address the needs of this sector, based on the predicted demand which exceeds the current availability of universally accessible accommodation, services and facilities,” says South African Tourism Acting CEO, Sthembiso Dlamini.
Dlamini also urged all stakeholders within the tourism industry to be cognisant of universal accessibility and be inclusive and open up their businesses to more people.
“Universal access is of utmost importance. I would like to appeal to the role players in our industry to make universal access a priority by ensuring that all tourist attractions and establishments are not only graded but also universally accessible. This will not only elevate South Africa’s competitiveness as a tourism destination but also afford the same access opportunities and standardised experiences for everyone,” she said.
The theme for this year’s International Day for Person’s with Disability is “The Future is Accessible”, and the onus lies within each one of us to see to it that this indeed is the case for everyone, regardless of abilities.
Through the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa, we work in partnership with all our stakeholders to create awareness and encourage tourism operators to implement best-practice standards and to be universally accessible.
Accessibility is a central element of any responsible and sustainable development policy. It is both a human rights imperative, as well as an exceptional business opportunity. In this context, accessible tourism does not only benefit persons with disabilities, but it also benefits all of society.