The Minister for Tourism stated that accessible tourism is one of the major issues that is currently being addressed by the global tourism industry. He remarked that with the number of international travellers exceeding 1 billion, countries are increasingly treating tourism as an important part of their national development strategies, viewing tourism as an effective driver of economic growth and inclusive development, creating jobs and wellbeing for their respective communities.
Dr Edward Zammit Lewis commented that given such scenario, the provision of safe, convenient and economical transport and other tourism-related infrastructure must also be seen a key factor for the success of tourism.
“In this context, accessible tourism for all is not only about providing access to people with disabilities, but about creating universally designed environments that can support people that may have temporary disabilities and mobility issues, including families with young children, and the ever increasing ageing population. In parallel, it also creates a safer environment for employees to work in,” said the Minister for Tourism.
Dr Edward Zammit Lewis noted that travellers with disabilities represent a growing tourism market and tackling effectively accessibility within the tourism sector will result in a number of advantages that will generate a further competitive advantage.
Moreover, the Minister explained that expanding the market by improving products and services associated with accessibility, will boost our market potential and improve our image by enhancing the quality and competitiveness of our tourism offering.
“Perhaps if we focus on meeting the needs and expectations of ALL our visitors, we will be ready for the time when terms such as ‘accessible,’ ‘barrier-free,’ ‘universal,’ will stop being used, and we will be talking solely of real ‘quality tourism’ – that is, offering a comprehensive service appropriate to each and very category of client,” stated Dr Edward Zammit Lewis.
During his address the Minister for Tourism noted that this growing focus on ‘Accessible Tourism’ presented a challenge to the global travel industry, including Malta’s, in terms of improving policies and mobilising the required investments to carry out the necessary improvements across the board, both in the short and long term.
He affirmed that with the right approach, the Maltese tourism sector has a golden opportunity to serve an important and growing market and win new customers and stated that all tourism operators should view measures to improve accessibility as an opportunity, within the context of the refurbishment of their properties.
Towards this end, Dr Edward Zammit Lewis said that the Malta Tourism Authority (MTA) and the Ministry for Tourism, together with the National Commission for Persons with Disability (KNPD), drafted an ‘Audit Report’ process that will encourage and guide hoteliers to improve accessibility within their properties.
He emphasised that the Tourism for All initiative addressed the needs of persons with different impairments and focused on the hotel sector to enable establishments to reach a higher standard in terms of accessibility, thus giving the opportunity to hotels to be officially recognised for their accessible facilities.
Dr Edward Zammit Lewis also recommended that operators throughout the whole service chain ensure that their staff receives the necessary training and skills development in order to become more aware of the needs of guests with disabilities or mobility issues and be able to meet such needs and also how to interact effectively and professionally with these guests.
The Minister announced that in collaboration with KNPD, the Institute of Tourism Studies (ITS) is currently working to equip both lecturing community at ITS, and more importantly current and future students with the right set of competencies.
He explained that ITS is collaborating with KNPD in order to review its programmes to update competencies towards inclusion practices, develop training sessions for ITS academic staff and finally contribute to stakeholder dialogue for inclusion at a national level.
During his address Dr Edward Zammit Lewis also made reference to initiatives intended to promote further accessibility in tourism undertaken by the Malta Tourism Authority, he said that the Authority had been investing in beach wheelchairs and intended to purchase more beach wheelchairs so that by Summer 2016 there would be at least one beach wheelchair available on all sandy beaches in Malta and Gozo.
In his concluding remarks, Dr Edward Zammit Lewis said that he trusted that all hoteliers viewed this initiative as an opportunity to increase their competitive edge, he reiterated that the importance of enhancing quality along the entire tourism value chain, was a primary objective of the National Tourism Policy that will contribute to our country’s future tourism competitiveness and the long-term sustainability of the sector.
“Time is ripe to add accessibility as an additional star that a hotel can be awarded – if and when it qualifies for it. This should indicate and certify at international level that the accommodation package is meant to be open to all.”
This was Parliamentary Secretary Justyne Caruana’s main proposal when addressing a business breakfast on Accessible Tourism for All . She added that in itself it endorses the operators’ own efforts to secure full accessibility to all within their premises. They will prove that they are aware that the least thing holiday-makers would ever accept is to have issues that can obstruct in anyway their plans.
In her speech, the Parliamentary Secretary for Rights of Persons with Disability and Active Ageing Justyne Caruana, stressed the need for more awareness that society is made of different people with a variety of skills and aspirations.
“World and local economies can be best measured against the wellbeing of society,” she said, adding that this is the Maltese Government’s basic idea for the fair society it is building. With a committed political will and stakeholders’ input the country can further prosper in coming years.
“It is essentially a scenario where no one is excluded, a reality that commits us to set standards for equal life opportunities – no matter the age or ability,” Dr Caruana said.
Tourism being a major service industry, accessibility ought to be a paramount. The sector serves a million plus visitors to our islands each year, with a multiplier effect that strongly contributes to our Gross Domestic Product. “Stakeholders know well that, however successful any of their operations may be, it will always be most beneficial for them to review and update the interlinked components of those activities, particularly the accessibility factor,” she added.
The Parliamentary Secretary described visitors as having various tastes and levels of interest, but likewise different needs and expectations, which no entrepreneur can ignore.
She said a committed operator will always be reviewing his check-list for what visitors expect as regards travel facilities and safety assurances. “The emphasis lies on facilities which should be accessible to all, irrespective of age or disabilities,” Dr Caruana added.
Dr Caruana dealt at length on accessibility as a fundamental human right, implying that facilities and services are to be inclusive, thus securing equal rights and opportunities to persons with disabilities.
“It sounds anachronistic in this day and age to even talk of accessibility, as it should be a foregone conclusion, after decades of debate worldwide. “We still face cases where a change in mentality is imperative,” she added.
It was for this purpose that the Parliamentary Secretariat for Rights of Persons with Disability and Active Ageing and the Ministry for Tourism have been presented with a detailed set of regulations that ought to be adhered to if stakeholders ever expect their product to factually mean – “Tourism for all.”
Referring to the wide spectrum of purposes of travel, Dr Caruana highlighted that the flair or need for travel has no age. “With longer life expectancy on such a fast increase, we will experience an ever growing crowd of older visitors.
Similarly, with the rise of global awareness for rights of persons with disabilities, it will be unheard of to offer a side or back entrance to those who have mobility or any other disability,” she underlined.
The Parliamentary Secretary reiterated that facilities providing accommodation are to meet what people expect as to their likes and needs. She said that time is ripe to add accessibility as an additional star that a hotel can be awarded – if and when it qualifies for it.
Guaranteeing accessibility would effectively ensure the viability of all investments in the industry. The additional star for accessibility would eventually be the crowning reward for thinking outside the box and think of patrons as persons with a variety of abilities and disabilities.
Dr Caruana also dealt on what is now known as the Silver Economy which is an opportunity that arises from the public, private and consumer expenditure related to population ageing and their specific needs. In fact silver economy is being considered as the 3rd largest economy in the world.
Adaptation to an ageing society requires increased independence and social inclusion, where health and social care are crucial to effectively enable active and healthy ageing. Those aims could be greatly facilitated by better connectedness with peers, carers, employers, medical professionals and hoteliers. Dr Caruana added that it is an opportunity for creating more jobs in various sectors related to old persons and those with disabilities – tourism included.
The Parliamentary Secretary specified that the guiding components will basically require age and disability-friendly environments and mainstreaming of accessibility, thus offering a holistic product that meets all aspirations.
“Full inclusion is at the very heart of our agenda as government. Within the Maltese socio economic context, accessible tourism is pivotal to ensure full social and economic participation of the elderly and persons with disability,” she said, concluding that “benefits are there to be reaped by both providers and consumers, ensuring that in a fair society, tourism is for all.
Participants were also addressed by Ms Daniela Bas, United Nations Director for Social Policy and Development (DSPD), Ms Marina Diotallevi, Programme Manager Ethics & Social Responsibility from UNWTO, who both travelled purposely to Malta to attend this initiative and by representatives from the Malta Tourism Authority, the National Commission for Persons with Disability, the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association, the University’s Department of Gerontology and Youth and Community Studies, and the Institute for Tourism Studies.
Source: Gozo News