Asia-Pacific Dec 2, 2015
KATHMANDU, NEPAL: Tourism experts have urged Nepal to tap its immense potential by promoting “accessible tourism”- the fastest growing business opportunity in the tourism industry to ensure tourist destinations, products and services are accessible to all people, regardless of their physical limitations, disabilities or age.
Nepal has little knowledge and many misconceptions about this market segment of tourists with access needs and this needs to be changed, they said at an interaction titled Accessibility Matters: Oppo-rtunities for Inclusive Tourism in Nepal, organised by Four Season Travel and Tour in partnership with US Embassy and International Development Institute, on Tuesday.
“People with disabilities are also passionate to travel and can pay any amount,” said Sagar Prasai, an activist associated with the Nepal National Federation of Disability. “It’s difficult to find a place in Nepal for people with disabilities as the tourism industry here has not realised that the potential,” said Prasai. There are large numbers of hotels in Nepal but only few have wheelchair ramps, Prasai noted, where as in the west they have very strict compliance issues to be disable friendly. “Even most of the hotels here do not have guidelines,” he said.
There are over a billion people with disabilities worldwide. According to Lonely Planet, the world’s largest travel guide publisher, 50 percent of people with disabilities would travel more if suitable facilities were available to them wherever they travelled. A study shows that in North America alone, people with disabilities spend more than $13 billion each year on travel.
Participants said that Nepal lacks the basic needs such as toilet. When the ordinary people do not have a proper access to toilet in the public places, building toilets for differently abled is a long way off, they said.
“It’s time that Nepal raised voice for the equal rights and inclusive tourism to attract more people with disabilities,” said William Holton, cultural affairs officer at the US Embassy in Nepal. “We believe that people with disabilities deserve equal opportunity in the society.”
Neeta Keshari Bhattarai, president of the National Association of the Hard of Hearing, said the travel and tour operators need to train guides to communicate with people with disabilities. “People with vision and hearing disabilities suffer a lot since there are no signages in the public places,” she pointed out, adding that the tourism industry needs to learn to meet the needs of travellers with vision and hearing disabilities. According to Pankaj Pradhananga of Four Season Travel and Tour, foreign tourists with disabilities are eager to visit Nepal as many of them like doing soft adventure activities like trekking. “Hence, accessible tourism has a huge potential in Nepal if the industry takes into account the needs of people with disabilities,” he said.