The Ministry of Tourism is aiming to tap into a billion-dollar travel sector that has long been overlooked and will now begin to place accessibility at the heart of tourism development in The Bahamas.
Director in the Office of the Minister Janet Johnson explained that accessible tourism caters to visitors and residents alike.
It seeks to remove all barriers that would hinder and deny disabled persons and even some of our aging baby-boomer population, with their growing aches and pains, from enjoying easy access to everyday activities.
“It’s a win-win for everyone”, Johnson said.
“It’s a feel good initiative because we are doing the right thing while potentially benefitting from a relatively new and lucrative revenue stream.”
She explained that Barbados is leading the charge and benefiting handsomely with creative measures for disabled guests to experience the country and incentives for businesses that make accommodations for this segment.
Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe said this is an emerging market that The Bahamas has to adapt to.
“We want to ensure that when guests come to our shores they can enjoy what we have to offer,” he said.
“It’s an important aspect that we want our visitors to know that we take seriously. We in The Bahamas want your stay to be memorable.
“Part of that is to ensure that all members of family can access a particular space or take part in certain activities.”
The United Nations World Tourism Organization’s “World Tourism Day 2016 Celebration” slated for September 27 will be held under the theme Tourism for All – Promoting Universal Accessibility.
While the UNWTO annual conference takes place in Bangkok, Thailand, the organization has encouraged countries around the world to join the global campaign and raise the national consciousness for accessible tourism by conducting a symposium in their country.
As a part of this campaign, the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism will host a one-day symposium at the Melia Nassau Beach Resort on Tuesday, September 27.
International guest speakers and local experts have been invited to participate.
Infrastructure audits of the country’s facilities such as hotels, public spaces and ports of entry are being taken to see how we measure up.
Architects and those responsible for the country’s historic sites and attractions are being given an appreciation for the necessity to be more inclusive in their designs; tour operators will be apprised of the new rental amenities on the market that they can make available to disabled guests.
Officials said this is a major undertaking and noted that with awareness of universal accessibility and its benefits comes the question of costs.
It is hoped that the government will consider special incentives for private sector businesses to begin to retrofit their properties in order to cater to this emerging market segment.
Such retrofits would include installing individual handicapped male and female bathrooms, grab railings, increasing the width of doors, special retrofitted wings in hotels, chair ramps and signage so as to accommodate all visitors.
The government has been very sensitive to this segment of the population in recent years.
In 2014, parliamentarians passed the Persons with Disabilities Bill and have established a Secretariat for the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities.
The Bill, now an Act of Parliament, seeks to eliminate discrimination against disabled people, allow access to public buildings, transport and education. It also mandated that businesses that employ 100 people or more must employ a minimum number of disabled people.