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President's Message: 12 June 2017

photo of Anna Grazia Laura, ENAT PresidentPhoto of Anna Grazia Laura, ENAT President, elected June 2013

Rome, 12 June 2017.

Dear Friends,

I normally avoid starting any intervention or message with the mention of challenges and problems which still confound the full development of accessible tourism for all. It is however a fact that, despite the efforts made by the European Commission, NGOs  and many national and international tourism organizations, the provision of universally designed tourism services is still not fully realized in Europe, nor in other destinations and regions of the world.

Tourists’ demands for quality, comfort and convenience are still focused on the three main elements of a good service: attractive and affordable products, staff understanding and -  above all - availability of detailed and reliable information, enabling the customer to make their travel choices with confidence. All these three elements must be included in a unified strategy, where public and private organization are tuned to the same objective in order to promote destinations - friendly destinations, usable destinations - destinations that are open to all.

I believe that the main challenge on the supply side is the general lack of a “destination” vision at all levels. We have seen many initiatives from different bodies, both public and private to improve and give visibility to single components of the tourism service chain (hotels, restaurants, cafés, museums, natural parks and so on).  However, it is much more seldom that we find an overall destination strategy, with an agreed roadmap and plans that address a medium- to long-term time frame.

There are many declarations, manifestos and documents at European level, both from the EU Parliament, the Commission and other relevant bodies, aiming to reach full inclusion goals by year 2020. However 2020 is approaching at an imposing speed and the 3 years that are still in front of us, would probably not be enough for sound results.

However, some good practices, which follow this concept, have seen the light!

ENAT has contributed to a number of experiences aimed at guaranteeing the quality of the tourism offer in all its diverse aspects. Here, we can mention just a few of our recent initiatives.

In Europe a common definition of accessibility criteria is still lacking but some relevant work has begun in the area of international standards. A new ISO Working Group on "Accessible Tourism for All”, was established earlier this year under ISO Technical Committee 228 Tourism Services, to help develop a Standard on “Tourism for All”.  ENAT has been accepted as an official Liaison Organisation to assist in this work. Participating in this working group will allow us to offer our advice and the opinions and experience of our members to make a constructive contribution to this voluntary Standard for the tourism sector.  

Another significant challenge is to encourage all EU Member States to work towards establishing accessible, inclusive and sustainable tourism, and the recognition of the visitors’ rights and requirements. Good will is often not enough for a satisfactory development of accessible products and services but the European Commission has been very active in launching calls for proposals to sustain innovative projects to promote inclusive participation for all.

How tourism businesses can best meet customers’ expectations is a question that raises many issues concerning business management and staff training. How does the personnel understand their customers, how do they learn about hospitality and what makes good customer service? During recent months ENAT members and partners have worked on several European Commission funded projects on training and skills addressed to different job roles in the tourism industry. These range from tourist guides to general managers of SMEs, to marketeers and product managers creating tourism packages based on different thematic areas; each project bringing us closer towards satisfying the desires of all tourists by helping them enjoy accessible experiences.

We are also working on the definitions of an ENAT Quality Label for those services which commit themselves to improve their accessibility and apply the principles of Universal Design in their tourism businesses. The first phase of a pilot initiative has been completed in County Kerry, Ireland and we plan to define the criteria and the methodology to obtain the Quality Label, which will then be offered to the market as a global quality assurance tool for the delivery of accessible tourism and travel experiences.

Let me also mention the “ENAT NTOS’ Learning Group”, which we created on the initiative of some National and Regional Tourism Organisations to share experiences, build a common understanding and set concrete goals for the improvement of tourism destinations that are moving towards accessible and inclusive tourism. Following a very successful 1st meeting hosted by VisitScotland in Edinburgh in 2016, leading tourist boards in the field of accessible tourism have begun sharing market data, discussing their respective strategies and creating partnerships for developing new tools and methods to address the challenges they have in common. Added to this, the Portuguese Tourism Authority, Turismo de Portugal engaged ENAT experts to produce an Accessible Tourism Destination Management Handbook for its regional destination management authorities. This Handbook has now been shared with the NTOs’ Learning Group.

I am also pleased to announce that the online directory, Pantou.org, where accessible tourism suppliers of all kinds can present their business profiles free of charge, is now evolving from a European to a Global platform, inviting service providers from outside Europe to register their services. This will widen the opportunities for accessible tourism businesses and tourists to discover each other - wherever they are. Indeed, we expect Pantou – which means “everywhere” in Greek, will fulfil its promise to publicise accessible tourism services in all regions and countries. 

Image of cake with ENAT logo icing and candles 10 yearsFinally, we have noted that ENAT has just reached a milestone, as it is 10 years since we launched our Website on 12th June 2007. (How time flies)!

In this time we have recorded the growth and variety of accessible tourism services in Europe since the inception of ENAT as a multi-stakeholder network within a European “pilot project”. Our non-profit association, founded in May 2008, has grown to include members and partners from around the world and we have consistently reported on the wide range of activities conducted both by ENAT members and other fellow travellers on the road to inclusive tourism for all.

While we have seen many successes there are, indeed, still many challenges to overcome but the tourism sector as a whole seems more ready to embrace change and innovation today, as more and more destinations and tourism providers see the undeniable potential of the accessible tourism market.

Anna Grazia Laura.


 

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