I am taking a break at the halfway point through my Ten points to Accessible Information series. The series will resume soon.
New Zealand tourism has to do more than grudgingly meet minimum standards, or international visitors will not return, and they will tell others of their bad experiences.
Where is customer service?
I don’t often write about physical access as it is not my area of expertise. But a friend of mine recently had some difficulty with public transport after completing the Rail Trail. The reasons that were offered for the refusals to take her powered wheelchair on public transport reminded me of how much disabled people are still seen as a problem to be avoided rather than valued customers to be served like anyone else. The so-called number-eight wire mentality and the innovative ‘can do’ attitude beloved of kiwis was sadly lacking in this instance. Not to mention simply providing good old-fashioned quality service to a fare-paying customer.
Accessible tourism is becoming increasingly ‘business as usual’ abroad and we are being left behind. The Rail Trail is promoted as an iconic twenty-first century southern experience, but this won’t wash internationally if the infrastructure to support it is still in the dark ages.
Accessible tourism should be the norm
I decided to have a look around the Interweb to see what I could find about accessible tourism in New Zealand. I found a few specialist tour operators whose websites vary in the quality of their accessibility. I would rather see general tourism services applying accessibility principles, but good luck to those providers for offering an accessible service where it would otherwise be lacking.
There is also a good New Zealand-based Accessible Tourism blog which keeps a watch on the accessible tourism scene in NZ and keeps up to date with international developments. It recently reviewed a report Domestic Tourism Market Segmentation prepared for the Ministry of Tourism which recognises baby boomers as a market segment, But the report identifies disability as a barrier to travel and the blog says
“the report reinforces the idea that it is a person’s disability that is a barrier, rather than environments such as inaccessible transport and accommodation that are disabling.”
Tourism Ministry out of touch
Oh dear. The Ministry should know of the New Zealand Disability Strategy and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD,) which NZ has ratified. Both of these take a different view of barriers. The approach taken by the report explains a great deal
I checked for information on “accessible tourism” on the very modern New Zealand.com – where you would expect to find it. I found none. I then tried the Ministry of Tourism site which gave me seven search results of which the first six were totally irrelevant and the seventh took me to an uninformative page with a link to “travel information for those with special needs” which is actually on NewZealand.com listed under “key facts”. This left me utterly confused.
Why was it so hard to find? Because “Travel information for those with special needs” s not what most disabled people would look for.
This outdated page is indicative of the attitude. It reads as if disabled people are inconvenient parcels that have to be conveyed from one place to another and put up with, not welcomed, or even accommodated, (sorry about the pun.)
No one in my wide NZ and international (travelling) networks is likely to feel that the term “special needs” is acceptable when the generally recognised term is accessible tourism. Other travellers might have ‘wants’ or even ‘desires.’ Someone else has arbitrarily decided that disabled people have ‘special needs’ (for ‘special’ read second class).
The tone of the page is grudging. It does not reflect an understanding of the audience. With inspiring headings such as
- Disabled Facilities
- Accommodation for the disabled
- Transport for the Disabled, and
- Food Allergies
it is hardly an enticing read.
The tourism market is growing and the potential customer base is ageing, and with that come higher rates of disability. In tough times we need to see the market as it is and behave accordingly.