Last year the World Responsible Tourism Awards at WTM featured a category dedicated to accessible tourism – and not only was this the first time it had been included in the Awards agenda, the category produced the joint-overall winner, awarded for demonstrating that truly inclusive tourism can enhance adventure tourism for everyone. It was a clear indication of how important accessible tourism has become to the responsible tourism industry.
But what is responsible tourism? Quite simply, it’s tourism which aims to make better places to live in, as well as better places to visit. And for us as tourists it makes for a much more memorable holiday experience – centred on the belief that if we treat local people and places with respect they are much more likely to choose to allow us to be part of their lives, to share their culture and traditions and to find the hidden places which make their part of the world so special. The World Responsible Tourism Awards at WTM, announced in London each November celebrate the shining examples of some of the most enduring responsible tourism experiences worldwide, showcasing their stories and achievements and once again, accessible tourism is firmly on the agenda.
Inclusive eco tourism enhancing adventures for everyone
In 2014 Campo and Parque Dos Sonhos, in the lush hinterland of Sao Paulo, Brazil won the gold for their innovative and highly inclusive approach to adventure tourism. In a country where 10 years ago disabled people barely left their homes until basic laws allowing them access to public areas were passed, this former coffee plantation turned adventure park is not only raising the bar locally, but worldwide too. Their success lies in their firm belief that truly inclusive tourism is not only better for their less-able guests, but actually enhances the experience of everyone, allowing families and friends to enjoy every activity together, from abseiling and canopy walks, to horseriding, swimming and even river tubing.
Eco-visionary and local entrepreneur Jose Fernandes Franco was already going leaps and bounds beyond his legal obligations when Brazil’s new legislations passed – not only making bedrooms, bathrooms, restaurants, swimming pools, and all of the common areas accessible with the usual ramps and hand bars, but also installing tactile floors, tactile maps and menus for visually impaired people, a reservation center for deaf guests and kennels for guide dogs. Outdoor adventure equipment at the park has all been modified to allow all guests, of all capabilities to participate, enjoy and explore together and staff are specially trained to welcome and assist guests with all types of disabilities.
Working completely on organic principles, the former plantation still grows all its own food, and the land still used as an organic dairy farm. With over 4000 visitors with disabilities in 2013, and visitor numbers increasing it is not surprising that the successful eco and ethical approach of Campo & Parque Dos Sonhos has inspired its local council to develop accessibility initiatives in its local city. A very worthy Awards winner.
On the lookout for inspirational accommodations
This year the focus will shift from tourist attractions, destinations and the likes of Campo & Parque Dos Sonhos to hotels and accommodations. And once again, leading accessible tour operator Enable Holidays is backing the category. Lynn Kirby, managing director explains, “As one of the pioneers of accessible travel, Enable Holidays is pleased to support initiatives that are helping to open up more of the world to disabled people. By sponsoring the Best Accommodation for Disability Access category in the World Responsible Tourism Awards, we are helping to promote the need for truly barrier-free holidays and keeping this important issue at the top of the agenda”.
The 2015 Awards are now looking for places to stay around the world that set the standard for accessible tourism practices, and serve as an example to the tourism industry. This is not only about wheelchair access, but about an ethos of accessibility that runs into the core of each business. Accommodations and hotels with inspirational accessible stories are now being invited to submit themselves for consideration in this year’s Awards, and we are now calling on Disability Horizons readers who have stayed in some of these fantastic places to get in touch and encourage them to participate. We want you to help shine a light on some of the world’s best, and most inclusive ethical tourism experiences, to help us discover those accommodations pioneering authentic travel, rooted in places and cultures, landscapes and environments, and most importantly accessible to all.
Accommodations can submit themselves at www.worldresponsibletourismawards.com/submissions, and tourists also click the link to tweet at or email the accommodation they think deserves global recognition and to win an Award.