When it comes to accessible tourism, it all comes down to having the right information in the right place. These were the key points to emerge from a NSW Government Accessible Tourism Forum held at Parliament House recently. A collaborative approach was crucial towards making products and services more accessible and more mainstream was the general view among those attending, which included people with disability, and representatives from government, business and academia.
Having tourism operators provide access information into mainstream tourism databases like the Australian Tourism Data Warehouse or commercial providers like Bookings.com is critical for trip planning and marketing as it allows people here and overseas to locate the correct information for their access needs, Professor Simon Darcy from the UTS Business School at the University of Technology Sydney, told F2L. He said it comes down to delivering the right information to consumers, because they need to have this available before making an informed choice.
“We recently carried out research through 500 consumers where trip planning requires a great deal of information, before booking transport linkages and accommodation. Accessible accommodation becomes the anchor for holiday and business travel plans where hotel rooms with roll in showers or inclusions for people who are blind or hearing impaired are vital.” He emphasised it was also important, not just for a return on investment but the right information helps to drive more business and stops bad worth-of-mouth. “There are a lot of accommodation providers out there who do not understand what the consumer wants, how to present information about their rooms and distribute that information through tourism channels. Conversely, many people with disability aren’t specific enough when looking for accessible accommodation. For both the supplier and consumer having people make an informed choice as to whether products and services meet their needs is a more satisfactory outcome because it’s better that they don’t book a hotel if it is not going to meet their needs than to turn up and have a bad experience.”
Donna Rygate, CEO, Local Government NSW, acknowledged the importance of disability support groups, adding that while some councils are doing well others have a way to go.” Local government is a broad church and local cooperation is vital to the success of any community projects.” As to the question of looking at experiences from overseas her view is that local government is incredibly inventive. “If there is a good idea from anywhere in the world most would be happy to look at it. “If it fits local circumstances and meets a local need and helps us in our goals to create great communities.”
Andrew Bowring, business head at online restaurant listing service Zomato is not surprisingly a strong advocate of the digital approach. “Digital gives more voice without relying on friends and family. We need more trusted voices for people with disability so people can come along and say: “you know what, this is a great venue with easy access to seating, accessible toilets, etc.”
Bruce Cameron from Easy Access Australia would like to see greater funding commitment from government. He said this could be demonstrated by gathering and providing information through existing Australian platforms like Tourism Travel Warehouse which makes that information accessible and available to everyone, everywhere. “Rather than creating a separate website because that is not the way to go. It’s about inclusion and including all the information in existing warehouses.” Cameron also noted the absence of the Australian Hotels Association and the Tourism and Transport Forum at the event, who he said are some of the biggest arguers when it comes to accessible tourism.
Speaking confidently about the potential offered by accessible tourism was Jim Longley, deputy secretary, Ageing, Disability and Aged Care, NSW Department of Family and Community Services. Longley predicted accessible tourism will be the biggest growth area to flow from the NDIS. And he said this extraordinary opportunity can be simply confirmed by two statistics: the annual budget for NDIS services in NSW for which he is responsible is approximately $3.1 billion dollars and the number of people receiving services or packages at full rollout will be nearly 140,000. “There will also be a lot of people with disability with resources at their disposal,” he said. Another element is the changeover that has funding going from government directly to the person with disability who will demand services, whenever and however they want. “That empowerment is absolutely vital,” Longley said, “but we have to be careful the system does not become over bureaucratised and the power stays with the people with disability. We need to grasp the opportunity and develop it to the full, spread the word, and get the message out there.”
Accessible tourism has to be one of the key strategies or pillars for government, according to Bill Forrester from TravAbility, a destination information website for people with disability. “There are some outstanding overseas success stories not being picked up locally, and the minute you have that degree of influence with the big tourism groups then industry starts to think, what’s this all about and how do we get involved. In the UK one of the biggest consumer campaigns was around ‘relics, romance and ramps’ that promoted five accessible tourism regions. Germany launched their accessible tourism promotion in the Tower of London and chose to do this because of the opportunities for accessible tourism in the UK. I think we have to make people aware it is a product not a liability.” When it comes to council efforts Longley said there are some great examples where councils are really picking up on the benefits of accessible tourism. “For example, Shoalhaven Council offers a suite of experiences and it’s all about inclusion, not just the facilities but involving the community as a whole to welcome people,” he said.
Speaking at the event, the NSW Minister for Disability Services and Ageing, John Ajaka, said accessible tourism is a large and growing opportunity for the tourism and hospitality sectors. “However, if we are going to make our community truly inclusive, we need to identify and remove existing barriers to make our world-class destinations and tourist attractions more accessible.”
To further support accessible tourism, the NSW Government has commissioned the University of Technology Sydney Institute of Public Policy and Governance to identify innovative and practical ideas that will enhance accessible tourism in NSW. Accessible tourism was worth $8 billion and represented 11 per cent of the NSW tourism market in 2010.