Pretoria – Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom says the tourism industry must become fully adapted to catering for people with disabilities.
He said there is an urgent need to provide accessible airport transfers, wheelchair-adapted vehicles and appropriately designed streets and pavements to accommodate people with disabilities.
“Hotel rooms, restaurants and other facilities must cater to the needs of the blind, the deaf and people with physical disabilities,” he said.
Addressing a public lecture in Bloemfontein on Monday during Tourism Month, Minister Hanekom said the overall challenge is to provide for the specific needs of domestic and international tourists with disabilities.
“We want all our people and our tourists to have equal access to our attractions and facilities. We also want them to enjoy the dignity they deserve, so they are not kept from enjoying the things that most of us take for granted,” the Minister said.
Minister Hanekom said his department and SA Tourism (SAT) are working hard on promoting domestic tourism. SAT has been allocated just over R100 million a year for the next few years, specifically for domestic tourism.
“Our overall challenge is to provide for the specific needs of domestic and international tourists living with disabilities. Facilities in public places, like washrooms and waiting areas at bus stations, should be designed for universal accessibility,” the minister said.
Minister Hanekom said his department has surveyed provincial Tourism Departments and government-owned provincial parks and found a lack of technical knowledge on what needs to be done to achieve compliance.
“More training is required to enable staff to serve people with special needs. South Africa will become even more competitive as a barrier-free global destination when our infrastructure, facilities and attractions are suitable for use by all tourists.
“The biggest opportunity of all is to make a positive difference in the life of that one person who will now have access to a place they could not visit before, to expand their experiences and open up their lives in fresh and exciting ways,” Minister Hanekom said.
Minister Hanekom said many South African establishments demonstrate excellent compliance with universal access principles.
Most SANParks camps provide ramped access and many have accessible ablution facilities with selected accommodation units that have been adapted for use by tourists who have mobility or visual impairments.
The Department of Tourism has also engaged Blind SA, Deaf SA, the National Council for Persons with Physical Disabilities in South Africa and the South African Disability Alliance to improve access for local and international tourists.