Compatibility of accessibility and tourism – is it there?

Destination Garden Route - accessible tourism

The other day an article in our local newspaper caught my eye. It was about our local mountain biker and bike shop owner who saved a visiting French tourist’s holiday: he fixed her wheelchair tyre – something which apparently the cycle shops in the Mother City had not been able to do.  Don’t get me wrong, I salute Jacques for being able to help this visitor.  But the mere fact that it made the newspaper shows our country still has a long way to go to be a tourism destination easily accessible for people living with disabilities.

My brother, back then

It takes me back some 40-odd years, to my brother, who was not ‘just’ in a wheelchair, but dependent on 24-hour assistance from the nursing staff to get through life. I must admit this was in The Netherlands, but he would go on holiday! He would go with the other people he lived with in the home for otherwise-abled people.  And their ‘entourage’ of nursing and supporting staff and a few family members or volunteers.

And I grew up thinking that was the norm: I was going on holiday, why wouldn’t he?  I still think that way, and believe travelling and going on holiday should be accessible for a most diverse audience: locals and international visitors, rich and not-so-rich, fully able-bodied and also those needing some assistance in whichever way. 

Accessible Garden Route?

After the Knysna Cycle Tour this year (see also our blog post about Accessible Garden Route written just after) our office was approached by a group of parents who wanted to cycle along the Garden Route back to Cape Town with their otherwise-abled kids. It is challenging to find accommodation that could fulfill their requirements.  The bigger accommodation establishments generally have one or two rooms with some extra space to move a wheelchair, or extra handles and seats to use the bathroom and shower.  Braille signs for the visually impaired, or light signals for the hearing impaired, however, are a ‘luxury’ we have not yet come across in this part of the world. 

The question beckons: why we don’t have that (yet)?  Do tourism establishments not value the business this segment of the market can – and when available, will – bring?  Does the travel industry think that accessibility and tourism don’t belong in the same sentence? 

Bottom line is: is accessibility high enough on the tourism agenda?  I guess we all know the answer…