Dubai Forum on Accessible Tourism

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In October, The Dubai Inclusive Development Forum took place.  The Forum included international experts in the field of Accessible Tourism, and sessions considered best practices and opportunities for inclusive tourism to thrive, not only in Dubai but across the Gulf region.  Contributors included Dr Ivor Ambrose, consultant and managing director at European Network for Accessible Tourism (ENAT); Rehabilitation International, New York, secretary general, Venus IIagan; and Victor Calise, commissioner, New York City Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities.  Present where a number of local hotel operators.

The Forum heard that there is a growing population of people with disabilities, believed to be about one billion people worldwide. They are looking to travel, and the onus is on TAs, governments of countries, suppliers and most importantly the hotels, to provide easy accessibility.  Research from VisitEngland notes that accessible tourism in that country accounts for 14% of the overnight hotel occupancy with growth in the value of three time that of tourism in total.

Although the industry is driven by the private sector, governments have a major role in regulating the travel and tourism of a country. “Governments ensure there are laws in place for accessibility. When a place is being built, for example, it needs to be accessible ready. New York had 54 million visitors last year, do we know how many of those were people with disabilities? A lot of surveys and studies need to be done by government, which at this point is not too frequent,” said Calise.

Hotelier Middle East contacted a few hotels to discuss the issue, and operators seem to have geared themselves up to match up to the supply of inclusive tourists. Salalah Rotana Resort general manager Hossam Kamal said: “A number of rooms in the resort have been designed specially to accommodate guests with disabilities and elderly guests. All rooms are located on the ground floor making them easily accessible by wheelchair. Room amenities have been positioned lower for easy reach such as the key card slot, lighting control switches, towel rack, storage cabinets and wardrobe.”    The Ajman Palace Hotel in the United Arab Emirates has a slightly different approach. The hotel goes all out to ensure they pamper their guests, offering them deluxe rooms located near the elevator for easy access.  “We have special Braille telephones with jumbo dial pads, Deafgard vibrator pillow alarms and vibrator room alarms that help guests enjoy a comfortable stay,” said Ferghal Purcell, general manager of the Ajman Palace Hotel.

Illaghan and Calise stressed the importance of adequate training amongst hotel staff to best serve tourists with disabilities. It is evident that hotel operators have sensed the market and are providing adequate facilities for tourists looking to travel.  The Millennium Airport Hotel Dubai for example notifies the staff at Dubai Airport to keep a wheelchair on hand as soon as a relevant booking has been made. The hotel staff is in constant communication with the airport representatives and the latter ensures that the reception and bell boy are geared up to offer dedicated service to the incoming guest.  The hotel’s general manager Simon Moore said “Priority is given for guests with special needs in order to fully satisfy their requirement.”   Dusit Thani Dubai has a well-defined programme in place. Aside from the ‘Disability Awareness Training Programme’ conducted, the hotel has 25 first aiders who are trained for emergency situations.   An Emergency Response Team (ERT) is also in place at the hotel. Front liners are also trained on how to welcome, check-in and out and escort guests who are physically challenged. Guests who require special attention are discussed during daily morning operation briefings and are written on the ERT board, a company spokesperson told Hotelier.

Calise was impressed with Dubai, and the potential and promise that comes with a developing city.  “Dubai has a great opportunity to market Expo 2020 as the first fully accessible World Expo” he said.

Source: Hotelier Middle East.  Follow on Twitter: @EUaccesstourism @ri_global @NYCCalise @NYCDisabilities @VisitEngland @DubaiExpo2020 @HotelierME

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