Accessible Tourism in Nepal

 

Accidents are inevitable. An able person can be disabled the other minute. Human beings enjoy traveling. Just because someone is having a disability doesn’t mean he any more desire for travel. But with his disability he is very limited, he has limited options for traveling. Accessible tourism is a concept that ensures the tourism destinations are accessible for all people regardless of their physical limitations. It considers the requirements of the differently able people such as mobility, vision, hearing and cognitive dimensions.
It is estimated that there are 1 billion people with disability all over the world. This shows the huge potentiality of accessible tourism. Accessible tourism requires collaboration among all the stakeholders involved in tourism activities for example Government, tour operators and people with disability themselves. Despite the high potentiality accessible tourism market, it still unserved because of inaccessible travel and tourism facilities and services.

People with disability face lots of barriers while traveling. It can be a big challenge for them. Some of those challenges can be untrained professionals who are unaware of accessibility issues, lack of accessible airports and transportation, inaccessible hotels, toilets, and public places and limited information about accessibility in travel websites.
Accessible tourism means “Tourism for All”. According to Lonely Planet, 50 percent of people with disabilities would travel more if suitable facilities were available to them wherever they traveled. Studies show that around 88 percent of people with a disability take a holiday each year. In the US, the Open Doors Organisation estimates that $17.3 billion is spent by adults with disabilities on travel each year.

Talking about Nepal, Tourism being a backbone of Nepalese economy, our economy would definitely benefit from such a potential market. Nepal is known as a country rich in nature and culture. Nepal is considered to be an exotic destination in the Himalayan region. Our country was opened for International Tourists in 1951. With the successful climb to Mount Everest by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa in 1953, Nepal caught the attention of the global travel market as an adventurous destination. Tourists’ arrival to Nepal has continuously grown (since 1962 as recorded data) except few notable setbacks like the civil unrest for the pro-democracy movement in 1990 and the civil unrest led by armed conflict (1996-2006).

Talking about accessible Tourism, Nepal has very limited knowledge and many misconceptions about this market. It is assured by UNCRPD that tourism is a right for everyone yet accessible tourism still remains as a distant dream in Nepal. The Global Code of Ethics for Tourism adopted by the World Tourism Organization in 1999 states: “Tourism activities should respect the equality of men and women; they should promote human rights and, more particularly, the individual rights of the most vulnerable groups, notably children, the elderly, the handicapped, ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples.” It is hard to find the official records of the first international tourist with the disability who visited Nepal as accessible tourism is a very new concept in the Nepalese tourism industry. Lack of accessible infrastructure is the main challenge for accessible Tourism products in Nepal. It’s high time for the tourism stakeholders to be serious on this segment gave the enormous economic and social benefits. If the infrastructures are developed in the right manner, Nepal can definitely attract people with disability and the elderly population too.
The 2015 earthquake had a very bad impact on Tourism of Nepal but it has somehow taken its pace now. Rebuilding is still going on and hence it is the right time to build these infrastructures accessible tourism friendly. If we can grab this opportunity and bring disabled tourist to Nepal we can definitely get more such tourist as they generally travel on ‘word of mouth’ and they tend to stay longer and spend more. The 2015 earthquake not only devastated the infrastructure, but it also left 4000 Nepalese with a physical disability. It is also important for the Nepal government to think about these people and rebuild the infrastructures according to their need too. Accessible tourism not only promotes the tourism sector, it actually promotes the relationship between disabled people organization and tourism entrepreneurs.

Though Nepal has accessibility laws it lacks the implementation. Hotels are not disabled friendly. They lack ramps for a wheelchair. We have a misjudgment that people with disability are poor and they can’t afford travel. But this is not true, Nepal is a lifetime experience and anybody would like to visit our country and they can afford too if the accessibility is to their need.
As a result of the movement going on Nepal for accessible tourism a collective work was organized in Kathmandu by International Development Institute from Washington DC in October 2014 that agreed to organize a quarterly workshop on accessible tourism. In Dec 2015, it was decided to organize a wounded heroes trek to Nepal. The trek was endorsed by Nepal Tourism Board that received the number of tourists with prosthetics who climbed to Annapurna Circuit with nurse, prosthesis and a physician. Similarly, Soarway Foundation was a partner in this trek. The foundation wants to inspire Nepalese with own physical disability by reminding them they are not alone.

Similarly, the first Accessible Trekking Trail in Nepal has started its operation which is 1.3 Km long created for travelers with physical and mobility difficulties. Despite the limited resources tourism entrepreneurs are somehow considering accessible tourism as an important issue and Nepal has started working on it. People are being aware of the benefits. It’s high time we should make effective policies. We should start awareness programs for tourism stakeholders. Though it seems quite difficult to do it’s not impossible. It’s the right thing to do.

Contact the Author: banipoudyal@yahoo.com

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