People with disabilities an untapped market for tourism industry, UN

Bangkok meeting to promote accessible tourism in Asia-Pacific

People with disabilities represent a huge untapped market for the travel industry. How to make tourism accessible to them will be discussed when representatives of the industry meet with policy makers and disabled people in Bangkok, 22 – 24 November 2007.

The meeting, at the United Nations Conference Centre, is organized by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) in cooperation with the Ministry of Tourism and Sports and the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security of Thailand, Bangkok Metropolitan Administration and Disabled People International Asia-Pacific.

There are 650 million people with disabilities worldwide, a significant portion of them are travellers with special needs. In addition, there are 600 million older persons in the world, and their number is expected to be doubled by 2025.

“American adults with disabilities or reduced mobility currently spend an average of $13.6 billion a year on tourism”, says Dr Scott Rains, an expert on disability issues who will be one of the main speakers at the meeting. “Creating accessible cruise ships, accessible ship terminals, accessible ground transportation, and accessible tourist destinations is not charity. It is good business”

“In ESCAP region, there are at least 400 million people with disabilities and a growing number of older persons. It is reported that 400,000 people used wheelchair rental services at the Hong Kong International Airport in 2006”, says Aiko Akiyama, Social Affairs Officer at ESCAP.

While a growing the number of Asian-Pacific countries are paying attention to accessible tourism, barriers of many kinds still inhibit people with disabilities and reduced mobility from enjoying the travel experiences. Getting on to and off airplanes, finding an accessible bus, taxi, hotel room, bath room, or restaurant could all be a challenge. In addition, ignorance of and prejudice against persons with disabilities can spoil their travel experiences.

The recently adopted UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities promotes accessibility of persons with disabilities and their participation in leisure and sport as a matter of right.

The conference, which also brings experts from outside the region to share their experience, will discuss ways to remove barriers and to promote accessible tourism in Asia–Pacific. Thailand’s Minister of Tourism and Sports, Mr Suvit Yodmani, Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, Mr. Poldej Pinprateep, and the Governor of Bangkok, Mr Apirak Kosayodhin, will attend the opening. Field trips will be organized for the participants to see how some of Thailand’s tourist sites are dealing with accessibility.