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Inclusive Destination Development of Eldourado and the PETAR Region: Some First Steps


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Inclusive Destination Development of Eldourado and the PETAR Region: Some First Steps

  1. 1. Inclusive Destination Development of Eldourado and the PETAR Region: Some First Steps Scott Rains, Exploring the intersection between disability and tourism can be confusing. I have just finished translating Brazil’s first national study on domestic tourism and disability into English. It includes a common complaint running through it that I wanted to makes us aware of at the start of our conversation. There were 69 subjects interviewed in the study. They were distributed among five regions of Brazil and included travelers with disabilities including cognition, sight, hearing, and mobility. The unanimous conclusion could be paraphrased like this, “ When we want to travel we cannot find sufficient relevant information to help us plan adequately. What we do find we do not trust because generally, beyond the fact that the information is incomplete, it is incorrect. And, after arriving at the destination, we don’t find tourism and hospitality professionals trained in serving those with disabilities as customers.” The key statement is, “...we don’t find tourism and hospitality professionals trained in serving those with disabilities as customers.” They are saying that regardless of whatever architectural accommodations there may be what is lacking is a culture of inclusion. For this reason it seems valuable to examine three points at which confusion predictably enters into discussions on this subject or disability and tourism: ● What is tourism from the point of view of those who work in the tourism sector ● What is disability from the point of view of those with lived experience of disability ● Why accessibility is not sufficient if a destination lacks a culture of inclusion To begin let’s recall what we sell in tourism. Our product is an experience. Now I have colleagues who say, “No Scott. What we sell is a dream.” They are wrong. To sell that experience we use marketing to engage imagination and emotions - the ability to dream. Yet whatever confuses their own marketing with that high quality of service that our clients deserve will not have a sustainable business. Even worse is that when the marketing
  2. 2. doesn’t reflect reality it is the destination that suffers. Any marketing needs to communicate truthfully the reality of a destination to allow the traveler to imagine themselves in it and conclude, I want, and I can have, that experience.” To do this it is necessary to understand how we understand ourselves as people with disabilities. We are consumers of a product that we know, without a shadow of a doubt was conceived, developed and is being promoted by and for those who have no personal experience of disability. Think about that. Think about the skill and sophistication we develop in reading physical and cultural environments, yes and advertising too. It comes from a lifetime living like a stranger in even our home environments that were designed as if we were an afterthought or non-existent. The success of people like José Fernandes Franco at his Parque dos Sonhos in Socorro Brazil comes from individuals overcoming their personal handicap of having no firsthand experience of disability and in the process proving our viability as a market. It prove something else as well. We call it the Social Model of Disability: Progress for us as people with disabilities is when society recognizes that their understanding and imagination is underdeveloped. Disability is an interaction between physical, intellectual or sensory functionality and the environment. Reinvent the ways of modifying the environment and you eliminate disability. Clearly an individual’s functionality doesn’t change. Changing the individual in that way is the role of medicine and nobody else’s business. This reinvention is social. It is corporate. It begins in the imagination. It begins with the realization that to have differences and diversity in functionality is natural, normal - and is not going to disappear by being ignored by the market. To the contrary, it is an opportunity. One description of our objective for this event could be summarized as “How do we develop Eldourado as a favorite destination for travelers with disabilities? Maybe as the gateway and central hub of this geologically and culturally unique swath of the Atlantic Forest. Even though I cannot be there with you during these discussions on how to put this into practice, I know that the visitor experience that we are going o develop together, if it is to be sustainable, depends on the will of the community of Eldourado and the network of quilombo communities in the Ribeira Valley region. They must develop that culture of full inclusion of residents with disabilities. They are going to discover, as have so many other destinations around the world, that these will be the beacons consistently attracting travelers with disabilities. I am rooting for you!