Catering to disabled visitors remains unrecognized as a profitable business in Greece, although it could significantly contribute to the expansion of the tourism industry in this country.
The numbers are impressive: 127.5 million travelers worldwide rely on accessibility while 89.3 million have the financial means to travel abroad for pleasure. The size of the tourism market that targets the disabled reaches 166 billion euros. Of course Greece has the potential to draw in a small portion of that money, but its tourism services directed toward people with disabilities are currently inadequate and difficult to find. While there are hotels and other businesses in Greece that do offer basic facilities for people with physical disabilities, including the visually impaired, the majority remain off limits for these potential customers.
Complete accessibility means catering to a broad range, from people with sensory impairments to those with physical or cognitive disabilities. This includes the autistic, the color blind, as well as some senior citizens.
In order for an establishment to be considered accessible, it must satisfy a wide range of criteria that cater to every form of disability. For example, an accessible hotel must have unhindered access from its outdoor area into its main area, as well as throughout the main area; have elevator buttons in both tactile characters and Braille; have accessible toilets and other fittings of a certain height for the physically disabled; have rails in the halls for the visually impaired and the elderly; have appropriate safety signs for the color blind; have appropriate illuminated safety signs for people with hearing impairment; ensure that carpets are of the appropriate thickness in order to allow for wheelchair mobility; and allow guide dogs inside the premises.
“After improvements were made in Athens’s infrastructure in preparation for the 2004 Olympic Games, it is a decent city regarding accessibility, while the historic center is also disabled access friendly. Generally, however, Greece’s image is disappointing when taking into account that it is a country with a strong tourism industry,” says Vicky Vraka, marketing director of Greece4all, the first multilingual web-based application in Greece for the promotion of local, accessible facilities and services for tourists. Visitors to the Greece4all online platform can find reviews from the site’s moderators, who are also people with disabilities, as well as information about accommodation, food, sightseeing, transportation and healthcare in tourist-oriented areas.
In Athens, cultural venues carry off the palm in terms of accessibility, while hotels, mainly those with a four- or five-star rating, have received good grades on accessibility as well. Problems with accessibility have been noted in accommodation and cafes, which generally do not provide accessible toilets, even when there is satisfactory accessibility and mobility within the main areas of the establishment.
Most owners’ efforts to carry out ambitious alterations to improve the accessibility of their establishments are hindered by the costs. Moreover, there is no legal framework to reward such efforts. Many owners, however, do not realize that “providing completely accessible facilities and disability-friendly destinations is not a philanthropic act, but a business investment,” says Vraka.
The champions of disability-friendly tourism are the Scandinavian countries. Importantly, accessibility is a matter of principle for these countries and their citizens, regardless of whether a person is disabled or not.
Greece4all has been drawing up maps that highlight accessible routes in the center of Athens. This will make visitors’ time spent in this country easier, as they can now enjoy their stay, and go about visiting sights and appreciating the city’s entertainment and cuisine in an unhindered fashion.