Thailand plans to create unique tourism routes in each of the country’s eight major regions specifically designed to cater to the needs of travellers with special needs.
This year’s theme for World Tourism Day 2016, ‘Tourism for All – Promoting Universal Accessibility’, was the catalyst and inspiration for the plan. After completion it would expand Thailand tourism offering in line with existing promotions to make travel around the country inclusive to all tourists regardless of impairment or disability.
H.E. Mrs. Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, Thailand’s Minister of Tourism and Sports, announced the innovative initiative during World Tourism Day 2016 celebrations in Bangkok.
She said: “Amazing Thailand means Amazing Thailand for all. In order to create a quality tourism experience and equality for every visitor, this will first be launched on a trial basis in Khon Kaen and then replicated around the country without any missing links from arrival to departure.
“It is not just for physically disabled travellers, but for sight or hearing impaired tourists, the elderly or anyone with special needs so that everyone is able to enjoy travelling to all regions of Thailand.”
There are some facilities in every major tourism hub around the country, such as toilets that display the handicapped logo, but maybe 50% of them aren’t working, according to Mrs. Kobkarn.
“We have to retrain and educate tourism service providers on how to properly look after and respect all types of special need travellers, like how an aging population of those over 60 years old that are travelling worldwide require special services. While those in wheelchairs are obviously the most visible they represent only 6% of the special needs tourism market worldwide.”
“To better understand the challenges I personally tried to reach the hotel in a wheelchair and it wasn’t possible. I learned that physically handicapped have pride and want infrastructure that empowers them to be able to travel and move as independently as possible.
“So it all starts with ‘Universal Design’ to make sure proper facilities are in place, but one size doesn’t fit all. There must be public and private sector co-operation that apply cultural standards that are also suited for local populations.”
She also pointed out the exhibition set up by Thailand’s Ministry of Tourism and Sports for the World Tourism Day 2016 in the pre-function area of the Siam Kempinski Hotel Bangkok. Athletes from the most recent Rio 2016 Paralympics were the most-high profile and attracted media interest as they proudly displayed metals won during the competition.
There were also practical displays promoting ‘Universal Design’ concepts for all, not just for the mobility impaired. These exhibits included SIM card access booths for the hearing impaired, advanced handicapped toilet design by leading sanitary ware manufacturers and a three-dimensional rendering of Bangkok’s Grand Palace that would allow sight impaired tourists to use their sense of touch and get a feel for Thailand’s most iconic tourism attractions.