It’s about more than just access, it’s about making people with disabilities feel welcome and ensuring they feel valued when they visit New Zealand.
This was the message from the Minister for Disability Issues, the Hon Tariana Turia, when she opened the New Zealand Tourism Research Institute’s (NZTRI) inaugural Access Tourism Conference in October.
As a research institute of AUT University, the one-day conference was hosted at the university and included speakers from Australia. Access Tourism is tourism, travel, and hospitality for people with disabilities, seniors, and others needing better access to tourism products and services. New Zealand’s much acclaimed tourism market lags behind our major competitors in this respect.
The Minister's take on Access Tourism
The Minister opened the conference by congratulating NZTRI and AUT for its “bold and proactive decision in identifying access tourism as a critical issue worthy of our attention”.
“Accessibility is one of the three main themes of the Ministerial Committee on Disability issues. We believe there are key areas of improving access such as transport, travel, the built-up environment, the information highway, and attitudinal change,” the Minister says.
“I am determined, as Minister for Disability Issues, that we should make accessibility a more visible goal for all.”
The NZ situation
Conference organiser and NZTRI researcher, Dr Sandra Rhodda, says 17 per cent of the NZ population have a disability and this number is bound to go up as NZ has an ageing population and disability increases with age.
“People with disabilities are in fact the largest minority group in the world. And their collective voice is getting louder, more cohesive and stronger,” Dr Rhodda says.
In Australia the Access Tourism market is worth around $4.8 billion to the Australian economy and Dr Rhodda says New Zealand is losing out on this very lucrative market by not ensuring our cities and attractions are fully accessible. “It’s an important economic and tourism sustainability issue, not just a disabilities issue.”
The conference included presentations on Rugby World Cup access issues, the world access tourism situation, hearing and sight disabled tourists, wheelchair users, transport and the law.
A more accessible NZ
The Minister urged people to start thinking about accessibility and to start with small changes: “we can do the audits on our marae, our classrooms, our supermarkets, our libraries to ensure that everything is accessible.
“At local and central government levels we can provide support with transport options such as low-floor buses, taxis and modified rental cars, upgraded signage, accessible venues, toilets, pathways, loan equipment and services, and online guides to what is accessible.”
She also talked about the role of manaakitanga – our hospitality as hosts. “How can we make all of our guests feel welcome in this beautiful land of ours? I believe that Access Tourism provides us with many solutions to do exactly that.”
For more information on the conference or to listen to the minister’s speech and other presentations at the conference, please visit NZTRI.