Promoting tourism accessibility in Bangladesh

World Tourism Day (WTD) is celebrated on September 27 every year. All member countries of United Nations observe this day in a meaningful manner. The theme of this day this year is “Tourism for all – promoting universal accessibility.” This theme highlights the disability issues in the context of tourism aspects. This will focus on creating global awareness in disability and universal access in tourism. It is estimated that more than one billion people of the world are disable where more than two billion people are directly affected by disability complexities. Tourism is the largest growing service sector in the world. In 2015, international tourist arrivals reached 1,184 million that generated US$1.5 trillion of export earnings. World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) forecasts that by 2030, international tourist arrivals will reach 1.8 billion. Thailand, located at the heart of mainland Southeast Asia, with coasts on the Gulf of Thailand and Andaman Sea, is the official host of WTD this year. The country has a reputation as the “Land of Smiles”. Thailand has shown rapidly increasing trends in tourism in recent years. The country became the most visited in Southeast Asia in 2015, which attracted 30 million international tourists. Tourism plays a greater role in the development and prosperity of Thailand.
Universal Accessible Tourism (UAT) refers to the ability of all people to have equal opportunity and access to the tourism service or products, from which people can be benefited, regardless of social class, ethnicity, ancestry or physical disabilities. Accessible tourism is made to guarantee that tourist destinations and services are accessible to all, regardless of a person’s cultural profile, their permanent or temporary limitations (physical, mental or sensory), or the special needs required by them (e.g. the needs of children or the elderly). According to universal accessibility standard, tourism packages and products should be designed to meet and exceed the needs of people with disabilities, senior citizens and families travelling with children. South Africa is the prompt example for promoting international trend in universal accessibility of tourism through ensuring equal opportunities and access for all types’ people. The country is showing potential market for universal accessible tourism that represents around 30 per cent of the population and a portion of the 30 per cent has adequate disposable income to travel which represents an untapped segment of the market. United Nations Social and Economic Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) indicates that global market for Universal Accessible Tourism (UAT) is 650 million people with differing disabilities. Many elderly people, families and people with disabilities are keen to travel, but wide variation in the level of access within destinations, combined with poor information and negative experiences are discouraging the potential customers.
‘Tourism for all’ concept is a combination of the ‘accessible tourism’, ‘sustainable tourism’ and ‘social tourism.’ Accessible tourism avoids all forms of discrimination to attain the strong collaboration of all stakeholders’ involvements in tourism. Sustainable tourism is respectful to the culture and environmental diversity of the place, which ensures the wellbeing of local communities considering both present and future needs. The term ‘social tourism,’ on its part, demands that no one be excluded on the basis of a different culture, on a lack of resources, or because they live in less-developed regions. Therefore, it is necessary to promote a “tourism for all” that is ethical and sustainable, physically, economically and socially accessible.
Many countries in the world are contributing by introducing accessible tourism development in their countries. India is promoting accessible heritage tourism for adapting to sensitive cultural monuments to enable all visitors to enjoy cultural heritage sites. Japan is introducing barrier-free tour centres for all age groups through the application of accessibility-improvement measures working with public and private sector. South Africa is promoting awareness of the contributions of the tourism industry in communities for active participation of all people of the society.
The theme this year is demanding and important for Bangladesh. Tourism is one of the raising service sectors in this country. The government declared 2016 as ‘Visit Bangladesh Year’ to promote and expand tourism activities all over the country. Most of the tourism destinations in the country have failed to manage proper arrangement for accessible environments and services for all groups of tourists. Lack of proper information and necessary arrangements are common barrier for people with disability to travel. The tourism service providers are still not succeeded to raise awareness and skill level to provide appropriate services with disable people, elderly and young children.
The tourism destinations and organisations develop forums for students to connect with tourism activities and businesses. These forums give them opportunities to learn and celebrate the significance of tourism industry. The tourism destinations should be managed accessible environments and services to improve the quality of tourism products and services. Government can formulate responsible tourism policy and strategy which will ensure accessible tourism development in the country. Tour operators should provide necessary information about their products and services so as to easily find on their websites. The hospitality suppliers should provide accommodation facilities with universal principles to all categories of tourists with disabilities. They can communicate with people with disabilities and their organisations to collect and exchange information for strengthening tourism services to meet consumer needs. The tourism staffs need to train about accessible services to inform and advise people with physical disabilities. Local communities can create accessible activities with disable people in tourism destinations to promote universal accessibility in tourism industry.r
Dr Md Anowar Hossain Bhuiyan teaches at National University. Email: anowaranu@yahoo.com