Humanitarian Tourism - Tourism for people with special needs
There is a vast horizon, a wide field, a strong direction for a change to what is better, easier to use and more available to everyone. These are the criteria of the architectural environment, infrastructure and related services suitable for humanitarian tourism that started to grow and succeed in some countries. It has forced through a new humanitarian reality of the environment and services which must be accessible to disabled tourists. This is tourism for people with special needs, which I prefer to call humanitarian tourism, also known as 'accessible tourism'.
This new term started to appear and was widely used at the beginning of the third millennium, as a realistic translation of the "Disability Discrimination Act," aimed at putting an end to the discrimination suffered by disabled people. The act was adopted, in various forms, by many states such as the USA, Australia, Britain and Pakistan. Without exaggeration, one can say that since its appearance, this concept had a positive impact not only on tourism and tourists from countries that have adopted it, but on their whole population, whose daily life in made easier. It also has positive economic and social benefits so that urban and rural environments, and their related services, are more in keeping with human needs. In other words, they became more humane.
Humanitarian tourism quite simple means providing all services and facilities to enable people with special needs to enjoy their holidays or their leisure time without problems. They may be elderly, persons with a permanent or temporary disability (due to a fracture or surgery), people who need a specific diet, or people who need extra sensitive facilities and a certain level of comfort during their travel or residence. Emphasis should be placed on tourism for people with special needs. They are in urgent need of recreation, since they are prisoners of their health condition. We must therefore help them to overcome the challenges they face.
According to this definition, we are talking about an estimated at 600 million tourists globally. We should add to this figure the number of people helping them; their relatives, friends and carers. This constitutes a huge market for the tourism and travel industry that can be operated according to the high level of laws and criteria adopted by the state, as well as the strategies used by the private sector to attract this large section of tourists and encourage the industry (restaurants, clubs, hotels and transport services) to adopt the necessary measures to cope with them.
The need for tourism services for the disabled is considered an urgent requirement of the 21st century, as indicated by the resolutions of the World Tourism Organization adopted during its 56th session, which called on officials to be alert to all matters related to people with special needs, and provide the technical support to promote the concept of humanitarian tourism internationally.
If these measures and positive laws came late, even in so-called developed countries it was not so in monotheistic religions. Islam had not only declared human rights some 14 centuries ago, it also accorded exceptional attention to people with special needs. Many verses of the Koran obliged the faithful to be kind to this section of the population: "No blame is there on the blind, nor is there blame on the lame, nor on one ill (if he joins not the war)." (Surah Al Fatih/17).
In the tradition, there are also very eloquent Hadiths (sayings) of the Prophet (PBUH) on this subject. "People are as equal as the teeth of a comb"; "You are not victorious if you don't win your daily bread for your weak ones."
Throughout its long history Islamic civilisation has paid great attention to persons with special needs, preserving the rights that Islam has guaranteed for them. They were provided with special care homes and refuges as well as institutes of education.
This has paved the way for these people, not only to pursue their lives with confidence and tranquillity, but also to surpass their non-disabled fellow citizens in various fields of knowledge. Mohamed Ben Issa Attarmidi, a blind man was one of the great scholars of the exegesis of the Hadith, and Mohamed Ben Sirine, was a major interpreter of dreams, despite being hard of hearing.
It is a fundamental truth that the disabled have the right, like all others, to enjoy travel and tourism. It is up to tourism officials to take the required steps to change policies and practices so that various services and facilities are accessible to all.
Once again tourism proves it has the ability to change the world for the better in the field of humanitarian tourism, as in the case of peace tourism, which we discussed in the previous two issues.
The measures that we advocate for achieving this objective in any country are:
· Issuing and adopting a law against any discrimination or abuse on the basis of disability, in line with the culture and history of each country, consistent with the laws and concepts adopted by the UN in this regard.and taking account of positive experiences in this field.
· The ministry, or tourism board, of the country should proceed to set up a multidisciplinary committee comprising: urban planning, architecture, civil engineering, environment, scenery, lighting, sound, sociology, psychology and medicine. The committee will define the criteria to enforce during the construction and evaluation of tourist resorts, public parks, shopping malls, hotels and restaurants. These criteria must be consistent with those adopted at the international level and should take into account the specific culture and civilization of the country as well as its climate and geography. The standards should be illustrated by internationally recognized symbols, to represent these criteria, expressing the level of services reserved for people with special needs, such as ease of access, sight and hearing facilities.
· Co-operation and coordination must be established between the ministry (or board) of tourism and the ministry of transport and communication, to ensure seats for people with special needs on land, sea and air transport. Provision must be made for people with special needs in movement through airports, railway stations and ports. It should be realized that such facilities will be welcomed by passengers with push chairs for their children. Incentives must be given to private transport to ensure seats are reserved for people with special needs.
· Various steps could be taken to adopt the necessary requirements such as a decrease or exemption from taxes for a certain number of years for new hotels built in accordance with the criteria of humanitarian tourism in construction and interior design (of lighting and furniture), with one room in every 20 prepared for people with special needs. The same is true for restaurants and cafes, which provide toilets and easy access. This policy could be followed for ten years, as a preliminary, after which, these criteria would become mandatory, and construction permits would not be granted if they were not adopted.
· The humanitarian tourism option should also be available for integration into the existing infrastructure. It is possible and does not require large expenditure. The development of a tourism structure able to accommodate people with special needs does not necessarily require costly changes. Only 5% of the disabled are wheel chair users. Using simple tools and training staff, it is possible to provide services to 95% of people with special needs. Once the necessary changes have been made and certified by a specialist in humanitarian tourism, a certificate could be awarded and the premises listed in guides and brochures for those with special needs. Monitoring should be carried out every three years to ensure compliance with the criteria.
· Tourist boards and other organisations concerned with tourism should organize training sessions for the benefit of professionals in the art of dealing with, and helping, tourists with special needs. These sessions can held in one day or over several days and include practical advice and guidance to strengthen the confidence of staff who would be issued with certificates on satisfactory completion of training.
· The agencies responsible for tourism must find suitable partners, such as the Red Crescent and organisations and institutions concerned with social work to conclude agreements on services they can rent out to tourists with special needs.
· The minister (or board) of tourism should support the preparation of a comprehensive guide (to be available on the internet) of all facilities designed to accommodate people with special needs and the adoption of signs recognized at the international level in this field, with exhaustive explanations of the facilities and their staff. For example: Are the staff trained? Are there parking and access roads reserved for people with special needs? Are there any rental centres with equipment specially designed for the disabled? Are dogs trained to assist the blind allowed to enter the hotel? All these details allow people with special needs to choose the most suitable place for their holidays so that they can enjoy it with pleasure and security.
· The state must support charitable organizations devoted to people with special needs to provide them with holidays in collaboration with qualified tourism companies.
In addition to the social impact and international reputation, the adoption of humanitarian tourism by any state has important economic benefits. The companies and institutions that have incorporated these special services are competing to attract a large group of potential clients. Studies indicate that special needs tourists spend 30 to 200% more than ordinary tourists, and they are often accompanied by another person. Knowing that most people with special needs prefer to travel outside the peak season provides hotels with clients throughout the year and contributes to economic development.
When physical barriers to people with special needs are eliminated, there will be many options available to them to choose the type of tourism they enjoy, such as city tourism, rural tourism, education tourism, congress tourism, leisure and sports tourism. Everyone has a duty and responsibility to participate in humanitarian tourism.
May God guide us to success.