State governments around Australia have rolled out targeted initiatives to change perceptions and help tourism businesses to provide greater destination experiences for visitors of all abilities
Queensland has designated 2023 to be the Year of Accessible Tourism, part of the Towards Tourism 2032 strategy to provide better destination experiences for visitors of all abilities, as well as provide legacy outcomes – including built infrastructure and skills development for tourism operators – across the state in preparation for Brisbane Olympics 2032.
Annastacia Palaszczuk, premier of Queensland, said: “Almost one in five people have a disability and spend about A$8 billion (US$5.2 billion) on tourism services annually. Dedicating 2023 to The Year of Accessible Tourism will drive change and create opportunities for both industry and travellers and create a legacy our state can be proud of.”
The strategy gets A$12 million in government funding, of which A$1 million has been designated to raising awareness of accessibility needs and services, another A$1 million to promoting accessible Queensland visitor experiences, and the remaining A$10 million is set aside for the Accessible Tourism Fund for small and medium businesses to build infrastructure and install technology to assist travellers with an impairment.
Queensland’s minister for tourism, innovation and sport and minister assisting the premier on Olympics and Paralympics sport and engagement, Stirling Hinchliffe, said: “These grants will support upgrades of accessible visitor infrastructure and technology that will further enhance Queensland’s reputation as an all-abilities destination of choice. More and more people with a disability and their families are looking for travel options that can cater to their needs.
“We want this year to be the transformation that creates an enduring legacy for Queensland as an inclusive, world-class visitor destination.”
The Accessible Tourism in Queensland project is already operational in Brisbane, the Gold and Sunshine Coasts, Fraser Coast, North and Far North and Outback Queensland.
Differently-abled visitors are able to experience Gold Coast beaches, with Burleigh Beach offering accessible beach matting, mobi-chairs and beach wheelchairs; explore underground lava tubes at Undara Volcanic National Park; and get up close to marine life on the Great Barrier Reef on a day cruise to the floating platform at Agincourt Reef which has a chairlift for easy water access.
Moreover, as part of Queensland’s submission to the International Olympic Committee in mid-2021, the state is committed to promoting greater inclusion, diversity and accessibility in the planning and delivery of the Brisbane 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Initial strategies include enhancing accessibility through urban planning and accessible tourism by embedding universal design principles in regional plans to enhance urban amenity and public transport solutions, and increasing career pathways by partnering with the industry to create new and innovative jobs for people with a disability while encouraging business owners to embrace inclusion.
Although Queensland may be leading the charge, other states including Tasmania, Northern Territory, and Western Australia are not far behind.
Sarah Clark, CEO of Tourism Tasmania, stated: “The accessible tourism market is fast-growing, and in Tasmania, there is an increasing understanding and appreciation of travellers’ diverse needs and desires. It’s a journey, and we’ve made some great progress.
“With accessibility forming part of the Tasmanian tourism industry’s positive impact agenda, Tasmania’s attractions, experiences and accommodation offerings are increasingly able to cater to accessibility needs and provide more information about how their tourism offering is inclusive for everyone.”
Moreover, Tasmania has partnered with Vacayit to provide 50 in-depth audio guides about its restaurants, farm stays, distilleries, cruises, markets, festivals and heritage sites on the free Vacayit app. Produced for blind and low-vision travellers, the guides combine rich sensory descriptions and engaging storytelling with helpful travel advice. These can also be read as transcripts for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Tasmania’s spectacular tracts of nature, evident from its 19 national parks, can be enjoyed by travellers of all abilities. Motorised wheelchairs and scooters are already permitted on tracks like the Russell Falls track in Mount Field National Park, and Cradle Mountain Rainforest Walk. Some parks also offer all-terrain TrailRider wheelchairs for complimentary hire (though bookings are required in advance), enabling travellers to explore more rugged tracks.
However, to make tourism more accessible across the entire industry, Tony Quarmby, executive director marketing at Tourism NT, said: “It needs to become a part of every business’ DNA. There shouldn’t be a special place on a website or a standalone accessible itinerary – it should be integrated into everything that tourism businesses do and put forward to the consumer.”
Input is also obtained from the community. For example, Tourism NT’s sample five-day itinerary in the Top End was created with the assistance of Sarah Skopellos, a manual wheelchair user and disability advocate who has lived in Darwin for 30 years. Another five-day itinerary in the Red Centre was created with the help of Justine Petrick, who has experience as a carer for an immediate family member with wheelchair needs, and vast knowledge of the National Disability Insurance Scheme and aged care system.
“Our goal at Tourism NT is not to have accessibility as a standalone pillar but rather a part of everyday operations for NT tourism businesses. It goes another level in understanding the guests’ needs and also their expectations; whether that be accessibility needs, sustainability concerns or ethical practices; it’s about tailoring each interaction with our customer,” added Quarmby.
That is why the latest Northern Territory attractions have been built with accessible tourism in mind.
These include Wintjiru Wiru by Voyages Indigenous Tourism as well as Light Towers in Kings Canyon Resort. Other tourism products that have long provided accessible tours include wildlife encounters such as Crocosaurus Cove in Darwin, Outback Tour Services’ Uluru tours, and Ramada Suites by Wyndham Zen Quarter Darwin, which has a ramp access to the deck and a hoist for getting in and out of the water.
Tourism Western Australia’s managing director, Carolyn Turnbull, added: “Accessible tourism has always been a priority, and we have undergone an accessible tourism strategy that was developed and finalised last year.
“More importantly, that will be at the forefront of our 10-year visitor economy strategy, which is currently being developed; it will be a big part of our strategic platform moving forward.”