Currently, around 2,000 tourists with disabilities visit Nepal every year

Kathmandu / Investing in disability-friendly infrastructure and services can help hoteliers and entrepreneurs tap the accessible tourism market in Nepal, a growing segment globally, while driving economic growth and accelerating recovery, reveals a new IFC study.

The report—Open to All: A Survey on Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities in Nepal’s Hotels—covers 90 starred hotels in major cities. While 95 percent of the participating hoteliers are aware of accessible tourism as a concept, they have not invested in necessary measures to ensure accessibility for persons with disabilities.

With existing facilities limited to ramps and lifts in most hotels, only 17 percent of the surveyed hotels put up signs to help visually-impaired guests and 74 percent of the hotels did not have any Braille signage on door plaques and room directories, according to the survey. Further, only about 9 percent of the hotels had staff who were trained in or had basic knowledge of sign language while only 33 percent of the participating hotels had extra wheelchairs for guests.

The poor numbers were attributed to a range of factors including old structures, remote locations, and fewer guests with disabilities. Many of the surveyed hotels also cited extra cost as a key deterrent to building ramps, purchasing wheelchairs, or providing other accessible infrastructure and services.

“Globally, the concept of accessible or inclusive tourism has gained ground in recent times. Accessibility at tourism destinations is key to responsible and sustainable tourism to ensure everyone can be part of the tourism experience, regardless of physical limitations, disabilities, or age,” said Wendy Werner, IFC Country Manager for Nepal, Bangladesh, and Bhutan. “Accessible tourism is not only a human right, it also makes business sense.”

According to the World Health Organization, globally, around one billion people are affected by some form of disability. According to disability rights experts in Nepal, as more persons with physical limitations and disabilities travel around the world, a focus on accessible infrastructure in hotels as well as tourism destinations can boost the number of foreign tourists in the country.

“Currently, around 2,000 tourists with disabilities visit Nepal every year,” said President of the National Federation of the DisabledNepal, Mitra Lal Sharma. “But, with improved facilities and conditions that are more disability-friendly, the number could easily go up to over 10,000 tourists a year.”

“Although accessible tourism is relatively new in Nepal, we are confident that with adequate support, we can push ourselves to explore and attract this growing segment of tourists to our country,” said President of Hotel Association of Nepal, Shreejana Rana. She said that second round discussion needs with hoteliers and they can correct the concept and behavour towards disabled people.

Dr. Dhananjay Regmi, Chief Executive Officer in Nepal Tourism Board stressed for collective efforts to explore the opportunity of accessible tourism in Nepal. He said that Nepal can grab the opportunity of it with strong collaboration among government ministries, hoteliers and stakeholders. “Let’s join our hands together and make the segment of tourism possible in our country,” he said.

Similarly, Bernerd Cocco, Deputy Residential Representative, UNDP appreciated for the initiation Nepal made towards accessible tourism at the time and said that survey report on accessible tourism was excellent to pave the way towards it. “This will definitely add to the knowledge and help make Nepal’s tourism sector more accessible,” he said. Cocco also said it was great that the tourism industry was talking about not just recovery to where it was before the COVID-19 but also to achieve “accessible tourism”.  He said, Nepal has a huge growth potential if favourable infrastructure could be created to promote accessible tourism.

The study recommends, going forward, the government, the private sector, and donor agencies will need to work together to create a conducive environment by incorporating universal accessibility practices into relevant legal and policy provisions, with the involvement of persons with disabilities.

Raju Basnet, General Secretary in National Federation of Disabled-Nepal said that disabled people were compelled to bear unequal, unfair treatment in hotels because there was no accessible infrastructure there. “Neither people are aware about disabilities nor they want to make a friendly treatments, we have to correct it now,” he said.

Senior journalist Gajendra Budhathoki highlighted for some needs of disabled people and said hotels needs to be more accessible for all sort of people to explore the opportunity of the hour. “Disabled people, dwarfs, senior retired; they do have money to spend but hotels needs to be accessible to them,” he said.

The study was conducted by the Society of Economic Journalists–Nepal, in collaboration with the National Federation of the Disabled–Nepal, with financial and technical assistance from IFC.