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Making Tourism More Inclusive For All

8 October 2018 at 5:24 pm
Luke Michael
When Martin Heng travels overseas as a person with disability, he needs to find an accessible hotel room, work out if public transport is wheelchair-friendly, and accept some shops and restaurants will be nearly impossible to enter.

Luke Michael | 8 October 2018 at 5:24 pm


Making Tourism More Inclusive For All
8 October 2018 at 5:24 pm

When Martin Heng travels overseas as a person with disability, he needs to find an accessible hotel room, work out if public transport is wheelchair-friendly, and accept some shops and restaurants will be nearly impossible to enter.

These are just some of the common frustrations shared by people travelling with a disability, but according to Heng, travelling could be made a lot easier.  

“It’s about ensuring all links in the tourism supply chain are made accessible, from airports and airlines to public transport to tourist attractions to shops and bars,” Heng told Pro Bono News.

“All too often there are gaps in the chain that makes travelling with a disability frustrating, to say the least.”

Heng – who suffered a damaged spinal cord and quadriplegia from a car collision while cycling – is chair of disability information service IDEAS and Lonely Planet’s accessible travel manager.

He is a strong advocate for inclusive tourism, which is about creating an environment where people of all abilities feel welcome and included when travelling.

Heng said this was not only about making things more accessible, but about providing clear information so people could plan ahead and make an informed choice.

He said it was incredibly irritating when he visited a venue’s website and couldn’t get information about the layout of facilities and bathrooms.

“It’s simply not good enough to hide this information away under FAQs and not to make photographs of bathrooms in accessible rooms freely available,” he said.

“What’s even worse is that hotel staff, when asked, usually have no idea what facilities their establishment has to offer. That’s a simple training issue that can be addressed quickly and cheaply.”  

Heng said it was important to remember inclusive tourism was not all about wheelchairs, as less than 10 per cent of the disability community were wheelchair users.

Instead, the most important thing was for businesses to provide disability awareness training.

“When someone with a disability comes into your establishment all you need to do is ask, ‘how can I help?’ Even within different disability groups, such as multiple sclerosis or spinal cord injury, the range of abilities varies greatly,” he said.

“There is no one better qualified than the visitor to answer that question, because only they know what their needs and abilities are and how best to meet them.”

“Life could be made so much easier for people with disability with so little effort on the part of tourism operators and town planners, not to mention local, state and federal governments – and in all cases the local populations will also benefit.”

Given that people with disability account for almost 20 per cent of all tourism spending in Australia alone, Heng said inclusive tourism could help businesses maximise their reach and revenue.   

“The importance of inclusive tourism, then, is not just a human rights issue, but also an economic imperative. Frankly, perhaps sadly, it’s the latter that’s more likely to shift the dial than the former,” he said.    

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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  • Chris Maclean says:

    Good article Luke and agree that inclusive tourism is an important development for a range of stakeholders. Local Government NSW (LGNSW – the peak body for all NSW councils) acknowledges this and has developed an online Inclusive Tourism course for councils, tourism operators and businesses with the aim of making tourism more inclusive and to tap into a significant market share. The course can be accessed through this link on the LGNSW website:
    The link also contains some good resources for business, operators and councils. Worth having a look and I encourage anyone interested or involved in this area to do the 40 minute course as an intro to inclusive tourism practices.

  • Elias lebbos -CEO Travellers Aid Australia says:

    Great article Luke.
    Its a reminder that people living with a disability have the desire to travel and do travel.
    With regard to market size, lets not forget the multiplier effect when travelling with family, friends or carers.
    Travellers Aid Australia has collaborated with William Angliss Institute to develop an online Disability Awareness Training module to assist the sector in providing a simple package to build confidence in front line staff and encourage them to step forward and not back when a person with a disability presents. Check it out at

  • Gayle Moreland says:

    I’m just experiencing travel with a disability for the first time – while there is accommodation with roll in showers, they fail to provide beds which a hoist can fit under. How do I lift my hubby from his wheelchair to the bed and out again????

  • Timothy Ritchie says:

    Good call Heng. I have found many websites and travel advisory curation to be misleading. We all own the responsibility to create narratives about the effective ways to develop greater capacity within enterprises. The movement created by Okanagan Valley B.C is but one example of what can happen as a result of engagement.

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