Tapping Into the Accessible Tourism Market after COVID - Editorial by The Himalayan
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It could take some years before tourist arrivals in Nepal reach pre-pandemic numbers. Nepal's tourism entrepreneurs would do well to use this slack period to explore ways to put the country's tourism back on its feet sooner than later.
Reprinted from 'The Himalayan', Editorial, 27 August 2021.
It could take some years before tourist arrivals in Nepal reach pre-pandemic numbers, although people have been travelling in droves in Europe and America by throwing caution to the wind.
Even if COVID-19 were to come under control anytime soon, tourists might be wary about travelling to this part of the world.
So instead of lamenting about the misery that has befallen this country, Nepal's tourism entrepreneurs would do well to use this slack period to explore ways to put the country's tourism back on its feet sooner than later. And this means looking for new tourism schemes or at a different kind of visitor who has eluded our attention until now.
Why not, for instance, tap accessible tourism to target persons with disabilities for a change? There are a billion people living with disabilities around the world, which make them a valuable untapped market.
Currently about 2,000 tourists with disabilities are said to visit Nepal annually, according to the National Federation of the Disabled-Nepal. And it thinks the numbers could go up to 10,000 if facilities and conditions become more conducive for disabled people.
While the potential for accessible tourism is there, a survey report has revealed that hotels in Nepal have not invested in the required infrastructure to ensure accessibility for persons with disabilities.
The report – Open to All: A Survey on Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities in Nepal's hotels –covered 90 star hotels in the major cities. Not much thought has been given to accessible tourism in the country largely because of the extra costs that go into building ramps, buying wheelchairs and adding services like putting up signs for the visually-impaired or braille signage on door plaques and room directories. Also, the tourist numbers are too few to make it profitable for the hotels to invest in added infrastructure for tourists with disabilities.
But then, tourists comprising different segments or markets have always started with a trickle. The first Chinese tourists to visit this country about 15 years ago numbered less than 1,000, only to take up the top slot among foreign tourist arrivals until the pandemic devastated Nepal's tourism industry in 2020.
Accessible tourism is also inclusive tourism, where everyone "regardless of physical limitations, disabilities or age" can be a part of the tourism experience. Over the decades, disability has not barred tourists and adventurers from experiencing Nepal's mountains. From amputees to climbers who were blind, they have scaled the world's tallest peak, Everest. If they can climb peaks, they might as well be equally thrilled to go on a trek to Nepal's hinterlands or go bungee jumping or on a safari in Chitwan National Park.
But before those with disabilities can come here in large numbers, there must be plenty of publicity abroad, while the hotels should start adding or improving facilities meant for them or training some of their staff on sign language.
Hotels apart, if the government is really serious about accessible tourism, then cities and villages will also need to come up with accessible infrastructure and services, which would also benefit Nepalis living with disabilities. (Abridged).