Transed 2010 Plenary Full Paper Accessible Tourism (Simon Darcy)


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Darcy, S. (2010, 2-4 June). Plenary Address - Accessible tourism: A question of trust, strategic knowledge management and a commitment to sustainability. Paper presented at the 12th International Conference on Mobility and Transport for Elderly and Disabled Persons (TRANSED) - Sustainable Transport and Travel for All, Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Drawing on the last 15 years of research, policy and industry engagement, a way forward for accessible tourism is presented. The solution is based on the development of strategic knowledge management to provide a reliable foundation for trust on which to make informed choices for accessible destination experiences. First, demand research is examined to understand what consumers with disabilities seek when planning their trips and the experiences they desire when travelling. Second, the plenary connects the demand requirements of consumers with disabilities to that of the supply-side approaches of the industry and suggests that government coordination roles at national and regional levels have very important roles to play in developing a triple bottom line approach to accessible tourism. Lastly, an argument is presented that suggests that only by understanding accessible tourism as part of social and environmental sustainability can a sound foundation be put in place to develop the economic potential of this group.

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Transed 2010 Plenary Full Paper Accessible Tourism (Simon Darcy)

  1. 1. Accessible Tourism: A question of trust, strategic knowledge management and a commitment to sustainability. Darcy, Simon University of Technology, Sydney: Australia SUMMARY Drawing on the last 15 years of research, policy and industry engagement, a way forward for accessible tourism is presented. The solution is based on the development of strategic knowledge management to provide a reliable foundation for trust on which to make informed choices for accessible destination experiences. First, demand research is examined to understand what consumers with disabilities seek when planning their trips and the experiences they desire when travelling. Second, the plenary connects the demand requirements of consumers with disabilities to that of the supply-side approaches of the industry and suggests that government coordination roles at national and regional levels have very important roles to play in developing a triple bottom line approach to accessible tourism. Lastly, an argument is presented that suggests that only by understanding accessible tourism as part of social and environmental sustainability can a sound foundation be put in place to develop the economic potential of this group. Keywords: accessible tourism; strategic knowledge management; triple bottom line sustainability; trust; INTRODUCTION Good morning and may I say how excited I am to be in Hong Kong giving a plenary address for TRANSED 2010 on accessible tourism. Personally this trip is everything that accessible tourism should be about: the trepidation of planning for a trip; the expectation of the experiences that are to unfold; the excitement as the door on the plane closes, the anticipation of the unknown; the wonder of the new countries, cultures and attractions; new friendships formed; the old friendships renewed; and after returning home - the reflection on memories that one will hold for life. As a first-time visitor to Hong Kong, I have not been disappointed. For many years, I had dreamt of coming up to Hong Kong for the world-renowned Hong Kong 7s rugby union and experience in the international festival of nations that compete in this competition. I had family and friends who attended, I had watched it on TV but for a variety of reasons, I was never able to travel to the festival. However, with the invitation from a friend, Joseph Kwan, with the help of my new friends from the organizing committee, with the assistance of my wife Fiona and attendant Jan this time the trip came together. Twenty minutes is a very short time in which to present a plenary that examines the title of the presentation. However, the reason that I am here is that I believe that it is important to position accessible tourism within mainstream business discourses as
  2. 2. that is where disability, access and accessible tourism must be addressed. If it is not addressed within mainstream business discourses then disability, access and accessible tourism will always be regarded as an add-on, “special needs” and all the other devaluing terms that place us in a second rate position to the rest of the population. To draw on a number of disability advocacy phrases, we are sick of living a “disability apartheid” where our lives and our experiences are regarded as not as important as the nondisabled. We not only want to be included as the slogan, “nothing about us without us”, signifies but we want to be regarded as valued members of society and citizens in every sense. Not just as a market segment, not tolerated just because of human rights agendas but understood that we are all part of an interdependent social fabric that is richer for our existence. There is no doubt that in many areas of our lives we are in a much better position than we were 50, 40, 30, 20 or even 10 years ago. Yet, disability is a dynamic construct that continually evolves to include new dimensions of access that were not considered previously or did not have as high a profile. I draw your attention to learning disabilities and mental health as areas that are dominating the accessibility agenda of higher education that were not even discussed a decade ago. DEFINITION Of course, any field of study requires a definition. It is interesting that while accessible tourism has been developing as an area of academic study and industry practice, there has been relatively little discussion defining the field. Most study has focused on the experiences of people with disabilities while travelling without an articulation of the defining elements of the field. My own Ph.D.(Darcy, 2004) took such an approach where it drew its definitional inspiration from the theoretical areas of disability studies (see Gleeson, 1999; Oliver, 1996), leisure constraints (see Daniels, Drogin Rodgers, & Wiggins, 2005; Jackson & Scott, 1999), tourism systems (see Leiper, 2003; Leiper, Stear, Hing, & Firth, 2008) and human rights approaches (see Darcy & Taylor, 2009; United Nations, 2006). However, while these theoretical areas influenced the approach to and types of research undertaken on disability and tourism they did not contribute towards conceptualising accessible tourism in its own right. Through a series of research projects, the following definition is presented as a more fully developed understanding of the field. Accessible tourism is a form of tourism that involves collaborative strategically planned processes between stakeholders that enables people with access requirements, including mobility, vision, hearing and cognitive dimensions of access, to function independently and with equity and dignity through the delivery of universally designed tourism products, services and environments. This definition adopts a whole of life approach where people through their lifespan benefit from accessible tourism provision. These include people with permanent and temporary disabilities, seniors, obese, families with young children and those working in safer and more socially sustainably designed environments (adapted from Darcy & Dickson, 2009, p. 34). The major components of this definition include: recognizing stakeholder contributions; that disability involves a series of dimensions including mobility, vision, hearing and cognitive dimensions to access; that anyone’s participation should be based on the underlying principles of independence/equity/dignity; that any member
  3. 3. of the public may require accessible tourism provisions over the lifespan; and that the provision of accessible tourism is safer and more socially sustainable. Yet, the major breakthrough in this definition is that accessible tourism needs to be part of strategically planned processes and that it will not occur through ad hoc, one off inclusions as accessible destination experiences require planned development and specific targeting of tourists requiring access provisions. Quite simply, while areas may attract tourists who have access requirements, until destination managers specifically developed a strategic approach to accessible tourism experiences then they cannot truly regard themselves as having an interest in the accessible tourism market. I will now go on to explain how an understanding of demand, supply, regulation and the coordination sectors need to be set within a broad triple bottom line approach to destination management. These understandings then build on the definitional elements of accessible tourism just outlined to frame a strategic knowledge management approach to accessible tourism that is the only way to build trust amongst the group. DEMAND I do not have to tell you that there are approximately 650 million people living with disabilities and that by 2050 this number will increase to approximately 1.2 billion (World Health Organization, 2007). These figures are important to get authorities to understand the sheer size of the group that we are discussing. An increasing proportion of this group are gaining the ability to travel through their socio-economic status where it has been estimated in the US and in Australia that the accessible tourism market is worth $13 billion and $4.8 billion respectively (Dwyer & Darcy, 2008; HarrisInteractive Market Research, 2005; Van Horn, 2007). Approximately 11% of domestic tourism and 7% of inbound tourism is directly attributable to accessible tourism. Yet, the demand-based research on accessible tourism is conclusive – people with disabilities travel less than the general population not because of their impairment but due to the structural constraints they face (Daniels, et al., 2005; Darcy, 1998; Turco, Stumbo, & Garncarz, 1998). These constraints are a product of the disabling environments, practices and attitudes that they are subjected to. While many people with disabilities enjoy tourism experiences, there is a major dissatisfaction and latent demand due to the barriers and constraints faced by the group. Some dimensions of access are far more marginalised with people with mental health and those who are blind or vision impaired the most marginalised (Darcy, 2003, 2009). Some of the major constraints faced include: • Lack of detailed information in the planning phase; • A wholesale and retail travel agent sector that do not service the group; • Web 2.0 environments that are not accessible; • Transport systems that disadvantage people with mobility disabilities; • Inaccessibility of destination environments; • Accommodation/lodging sector that do not offer an equality of experience.
  4. 4. Lastly, even when travel planning information is available there is a significant lack of TRUST by travellers with disabilities about the accuracy of the information (Darcy, 2009). People with access requirements are not catered for by the mainstream travel planning sector and research carried out in Hong Kong conclusively showed that there were significant issues with travel agents’ approaches to servicing people with disabilities (McKercher, Packer, Yau, & Lam, 2003). This work was supported by work in other parts of the world where people with disabilities have been told by travel agents that they are better off organising their own trips. What other group would be told that their business is not wanted? This example leads on to the supply side industry approaches to disability and accessible tourism. SUPPLY The tourism industry, albeit with a small group of dedicated providers, have largely ignored the inclusion of people with disabilities and accessible tourism products and services within mainstream development and planning unless they have been required to be compliant through human rights and building code provisions. One excellent indicator is the level of marketing and promotion that the industry does to people with disabilities as a homogeneous group or targeted marketing based on dimensions of access provision. Across the sector, it is almost nonexistent. One continual bugbear of the supply sector is the evidence of return on investment (ROI) for access provisions (Healey, 2008). While this in itself does not recognize the human rights imperative of international agreements and national signatories, there is no doubt that an evidence based approach to showing a business case for accessible tourism is required. For too long there has been a mantra about the economic potential of disability and accessible tourism as a market segment but with a little evidence of this from the supply perspective. Some recent research and government case studies had started to provide this evidence-based business case (Darcy, Cameron, & Pegg, 2010; Darcy, Cameron, Pegg, & Packer, 2008; Employers Forum on Disability, 2007; Lipp, 2005; Robinson & Dechant, 2005; UK Department for Culture Media and Sport, 2010; UK Department for Work & Pensions (DWP), 2007). Where the industry does provide access to product and services, it does so without a consideration of the equality of experience where provision is through the backdoor, and a lower level of service provision or provided in the worst locations rather than across all levels of service provision. I will come back to the equality of experience later. Lastly, where people with disabilities are employees within the tourism sector they face discrimination in hiring practices and in their inclusion within where they are employed in the sector (G. A. Ross, 1994; G. F. Ross, 2004). REGULATION My research has always recognized that tourism industry works within mainstream human rights, building codes and standards of service practice. As such, most strategically planned accessible environments have been brought about through a combination of international human rights agreements, national signatories, a regulation sector that provides mechanisms to redress inequity when it occurs and a vigilant disability advocacy sector to lobby on the behalf of people with disabilities. If any one of these considerations is absent then the paper on which the human rights
  5. 5. provisions are provided is all but useless. I could give examples in the Australian situation where allocating the Federal court as a cost jurisdiction has all but "crippled", and I use that word deliberately, the spirit and intent of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA). This is simply because the complaint case provisions under the Australian DDA have no common law precedent where Federal court actions do. Without precedent, the same circumstances could arise in an establishment next door the following day for the same type of discrimination because complaint cases have no fault standing and are not publicised. Yet, this quibbles in comparison to other parts of the world where the human rights provisions are not implemented at all, the building codes have far less stringent inclusions on access and mobility and there are virtually no means of redress for people when they are discriminated against. For those here from other parts of the world where these provisions do not exist, then I implore you to advocate developing such provision as a foundation for developing accessibility generally and as a precursor to accessible tourism provision. Those of us from nations where these rights are evident need to support our brothers and sisters with disabilities from other nations to ensure provision for all. COORDINATION So how do we move forward to better match the requirements of accessible tourism travellers, satisfy the return on investment required by the supply sector and start to develop truly sustainable accessible tourism development. The first point of call is for a responsibility for providing accessible tourism to be “owned” by government coordinating roles. By this I mean, the tourism industry is notorious for its fragmentation and governments across the Asia-Pacific and the Globe, including the recent developments in the US, now recognize this and provide significant amounts of money to promote to inbound tourism markets. In the same way, the fragmentation of the industry does nothing to serve the accessible tourism market. Local, regional and national tourism authorities must work in collaboration to take responsibility for accessible tourism within a triple bottom line framework. TRIPLE BOTTOM LINE SUSTAINABILITY In coming back to a quality of experience, this concept is inextricably connected to triple bottom line sustainability (Dwyer, 2005). Disability access provision generally and accessible tourism, have significant contributions to make to the economic, environmental and social metrics of the triple bottom line (Darcy, et al., 2010). Most tourism marketing authorities recognize triple bottom line approaches in their master plan processes. Tourism destinations must address these three legs of the sustainability stool if the industry is going to contribute and not destroy the elements that make it attractive to tourists in the first place. Many tourism businesses now seek to transform themselves into more efficient and effective operations. Issues relating to governance, long-term sustainability and effective destination management are known critical factors for business success, yet they are addressed in a piecemeal fashion by the majority of operators. Most businesses change their service and product offerings only to achieve basic revenue driven targets, be they related to the concepts of total quality management,
  6. 6. organisational change and restructuring (Kotter, 1998). Yet, Elkington (1997, p. 109) argued that ‘if any business was to prosper over the long term, it must continuously meet society’s needs for goods and services without destroying natural or social capital’. Too few tourism operators have yet to give any real attention to the broader concept of the triple bottom line (TBL), to business activities that are considered socially and environmentally sustainable rather than their financial bottom line (Dwyer, 2005). Many approaches to tourism development that do not include accessible tourism dimensions cannot hope to meet social sustainability requirements. By excluding the beneficiaries of universal design approaches to sustainable tourism environments including people with disabilities, those that are ageing and families with young children it has been estimated that they are excluding 31% of the population (Darcy & Dickson, 2009). STRATEGIC KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT Knowledge management is recognized as a foundation to post industrial societies. Others have already demonstrated the importance of information systems (Eichhorn, Miller, Michopoulou, & Buhalis, 2008) to accessible tourism and the provision of specific information to particular industry segments such as the transport and accommodation sectors (Darcy, 2009). To this end, the starting point for developing destination management approaches to accessible tourism is through a framework for the strategic knowledge management of accessible tourism. Tourists with disabilities are not naïve and they are not expecting perfectly accessible environments. However, what they do expect is the provision of accurate, detailed and readily accessible information that will allow them to make an informed decision as to the accessibility of all aspects of the tourism system for their needs. STRATEGIC KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT’S CONTRIBUTION TOTRUST As identified in the demand side research, in most cases people with disabilities do not trust information provided by the mainstream tourism industry. With a strategic knowledge management system in place, the expectation of consumers can be managed, as there is no more serious a management issue that not meeting customer expectation. Now, travellers with disabilities are regularly disappointed – not by the destination that they are visiting – but by the information provided not meeting their accessibility needs when experiencing the destination. This becomes a major issue where a disgruntled customer becomes an issue for the manager of the airline, accommodation or attraction but more importantly will communicate their poor experiences through negative word-of-mouth. While this is a problem with all customers, travellers with disabilities can attract more media attention than the average customer and this can result in reputational or brand damage for the company involved ("Air Canada ordered to pay deaf-blind passenger $10,000," 2009; Butson, 2009). If people have a good experience, the research suggests that they will tell two to three people but if they have a bad experience the research suggests that they will tell significantly more people (Anderson, 1998; JJ Brown & Reingen, 1987). Yet, this is a far more significant an issue for industry in the age of Web 2.0. Social media provides an instantaneous means for people to communicate their displeasure. However, for the accessible tourism market and for the tourism industry providing good quality products and services it also provides an
  7. 7. instantaneous means for people to communicate their satisfaction (J Brown, Broderick, & Lee, 2007). A WAY FORWARD… Strategic knowledge management of accessible tourism information provides a way forward for the tourism industry and destination management systems to begin to develop responses for accessible tourism. As a starting point, this requires no new infrastructure as most businesses and tourism marketing authorities already have Web-based approaches to destination management. What is required is a decision to provide honest, detailed and accessible information about accessible destination management experiences to the accessible tourism market. I can guarantee that if systems are in place, the information that is needed to make access choices is available and it is in a format that is accessible then there will be an increase in use by people with access needs. There are some wonderful examples of approaches from different parts of the world including South Africa, Spain, Canada, the US, the UK, Hong Kong and Australia. There has been a tremendous commitment across the Asia-Pacific to bring awareness to these issues through a series of conferences that have occurred over the last decade, Bali 2000, Taipei 2005, Japan 2009 and now TRANSED in Hong Kong 2010. This is a wonderful commitment to raising awareness of accessible transport and accessible tourism. I implore the governments of these countries to “own” the coordination responsibilities to develop accessible tourism, as I believe they have the opportunity to be at the forefront of international best practice. I look forward to meeting everybody over the next few days and at some stage inviting you down to Australia for TRANSED or another of accessible tourism conference where we can showcase the best in the Asia Pacific. REFERENCES Air Canada ordered to pay deaf-blind passenger $10,000. (2009). Canwest News Service. Retrieved from Anderson, E. W. (1998). Customer Satisfaction and Word of Mouth. Journal of Service Research, 1(1), 5-17. doi: 10.1177/109467059800100102 Brown, J., Broderick, A., & Lee, N. (2007). Word of mouth communication within online communities: Conceptualizing the online social network. Journal of Interactive Marketing, 21(3), 2-20. Brown, J., & Reingen, P. (1987). Social ties and word-of-mouth referral behavior. Journal of Consumer Research, 14(3), 350-362. Butson, T. (2009, 25 November). Jetstar sorry for Fearnley affront, Newcastle Herald, p. 3. Retrieved from fearnley-affront/1686691.aspx Daniels, M. J., Drogin Rodgers, E. B., & Wiggins, B. P. (2005). "Travel Tales": an interpretive analysis of constraints and negotiations to pleasure travel as experienced by persons with physical disabilities. Tourism Management, 26(6), 919-930.
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