As we approach the holiday season, many of us will travel to spend time with our families, friends and loved ones, all the while taking for granted how easily we are able to travel with relative ease. Unfortunately, this is not the case for everyone.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 15% of the world’s population (approximately 1 billion people) is estimated to live with some form of disability. Furthermore, according to the United Nations, the ageing population is expected to more than double by 2050 and to more than triple by 2100, rising from 962 million globally in 2017 to 2.1 billion in 2050 and 3.1 billion in 2100.
Yet still many cities, public transportation systems, and tourism destinations and attractions have not adapted to handle the challenges faced by people with disabilities or limited mobility.
For example, my parents spent almost the last decade of their life with limited mobility and eventually had to use wheelchairs for assistance. The simple trip to the nearby shopping mall required planning and occasionally presented some challenges.
In my extensive travel this year, I have been paying more attention to numerous travel related facilities and often question how easy or difficult it would be for someone with a disability to travel to this particular destination. I have seen both extreme cases where the destination is completely inaccessible and others that are very accommodating such as Astana, Kazakhstan, host to PATA Travel Mart 2019. The city is relatively new and was built with “accessibility in mind”, something that most cities in Asia have not yet adopted.
With the prospect of over 1.9 billion potential travellers, you would think that big travel tech companies would pay more attention to this market. Sadly, the number of online travel agents (OTAs) integrating accessible tourism criteria or offering accessible tourism products are still very limited.
Nevertheless, there are a number of young start-ups managed by people with disabilities that are developing dedicated websites, products and services addressing this issue; however, most struggle to raise capital and get investments due to the lack of understanding in the potential of this market. Here are a few organisations I recommend that you learn more about: Travel for All (travel-for-all.com), Handiscover (handiscover.com), Trekkable (trekkable.co), AbiliTrek (abilitrek.com) and my favourite Wheelmap (wheelmap.org).
(Former Secretary-General of United Nations, H.E. Ban Ki-Moon)
I am also reminded of the words of the Former Secretary-General of United Nations, H.E. Ban Ki-Moon, had told us earlier this year during the PATA Annual Summit in Gangneung, Korea (ROK). “Stand up for those who are left behind. Raise your voice for the dignity of those that cannot. The basic principle of the UN Sustainable Development Goals is to leave no one behind.”
As you travel for the holiday season or in the coming weeks and months, I encourage you to observe and think of the challenges someone with disabilities would face or that you may yourself experience one day as you get older.
If you wish to know more about this topic, I invite you to join me at the “Rehabilitation International Asia & Pacific Regional Conference” in Macao, China from June 26-28, 2019.
In the meantime, I wish you all a wonderful holiday season with your family and friends and may 2019 be a healthy and prosperous year for all.