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15 Oct, 2007

Bangkok to Host Tourism Disability Conference

An International Conference on Accessible Tourism (ICAT 2007) for people with disabilities is to be held in Bangkok between November 22-24 to highlight the need for improved facilities and services for a growing but still largely neglected market segment.

“With a generation of permanently disabled people having experienced increasing degrees of employment, education, and leisure, those of us with the means to travel belong to a consumer group that is only starting to be noticed,” Scott Rains, one of the conference organisers and publisher of the Rolling Rains Report, a newsletter on travel for people with disabilities.

The conference is being backed by Thailand’s Ministry of Tourism and Sport, the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, UNESCAP and Disabled Peoples’ International Asia Pacific (DPI-AP). It will be held at the UNESCAP convention centre.

There is no registration fee for participants with disability but they have to take care of their own personal expenses as well as of their personal assistant. Accessible bus will be provided for airport pick up and send off. Facilities such as accessible toilets, accessible water fountains, and accessible lifts are available in the convention center.

Essential sessions of the conference programme will be translated into Braille. A large-print programme will be prepared. English will be the official language, accompanied by a sign language interpreter during the conference.

Mr Rains says the conference will contribute to processes of change and development lines of tourism businesses to ensure a favorable environment for attracting tourists and travelers with disabilities and retired, ageing people, including access to built environments and public transport as well as training and employment.

Says Mr Rains, “Travel the world today and you will find that there is a hunger for community and solidarity among people with disabilities. Wherever you go you will find unique opportunities to learn from and contribute to local manifestations of disability culture.”

He adds, “When we travel we represent more than ourselves because we are part of a community. The very fact that you have a disability and travel suggests something about your economic condition. It indicates that you have credit, savings, education, maybe a profession that requires travel, but most importantly the ability to make decisions about the course of your life for yourself. That combination of means and dignity are potent means of social transformation.

“Leisure travel means moving beyond mere survival mode. A small but growing percentage of us have made the transition to economic stability but we are not equally distributed around the world. Travel spreads us around which is to say that it spreads around living examples of an alternate lifestyle; ambassadors of choices still out of reach for some.

“How we chose to spend those resources – even through our leisure activities – has profound impact.”

Mr Rains cited research showing American adults with disabilities or reduced mobility currently spend an average of US$ 13.6 billion a year on tourism. In 2002, these individuals made 32 million trips and spent US$ 4.2 billion on hotels, US$ 3.3 billion on airline tickets, US$ 2.7 billion on food and beverages, and US$ 3.4 billion on trade, transportation, and other activities.

Out of a total of 21 million persons, 69% had traveled at least once in the previous two years, including 3.9 million business trips, 20 million tourist trips, and 4.4 million business/tourist trips. In the previous 2 years, out of a total of 2 million adults with disabilities or reduced mobility, 7% had spent more than US$ 1,600 outside the continental United States. In addition, 20% had travelled at least 6 times every 2 years.

A study by the Open Doors Organization estimated that in the year 2003, persons with disabilities or reduced mobility spent US$ 35 billion in restaurants. According to the same study, more than 75% of these people eat out at restaurants at least once a week. The United States Department of Labor reported that a large and growing market of Americans with disabilities or reduced mobility have US$ 175 billion in purchasing/consumer power.

In the United Kingdom, the Employers’ Forum on Disability estimated 10 million adults with disabilities or reduced mobility in the UK, with an annual purchasing power of 80 billion pounds sterling. The Canadian Conference Board reported that in 2001, the combined annual disposable income of economically active Canadians with disabilities or reduced mobility was 25 billion Canadian dollars.

A UN survey also found that by year 2050, the numbers of ageing population will rise to 2,000 million and 54 percent of them live in Asia region.

The conference is supported by Pattaya City, Asia Pacific Disability Forum, The Redemtorist Foundation for People with Disabilities and the Council of Disabled People of Thailand. The conference website http://www.dpiap.org

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