Disabled Travelers: New Challenges of the Thai Tourism Industry
By Asst. Prof. Dr.Kanlaya Swangkong | Dhurakij Pundit University
At present, the world society has entered an aging society and disabled society because the world’s population tends to be older. The increasing age is associated with the rate of disability. The United Nations’ forecast on the ratio of the global elderly population shows that the number had been increasing from 9.2 percent in 1990 to 11.7 percent in 1993. There is a possibility that figure rises to 21.1 percent in 2050. At the same time, data from the World Health Organization shows that the number of disabled people is as high as 785 million, or about 15% of the world’s population.
The interesting point is that even people with disabilities will have restrictions on travel but still want to experience the excitement of travel. European research on the spending power of disabled travelers shows that tourists with disabilities spend 1.16 times more than regular tourists. The cost of travel is always multiplied because there must be someone accompanying the trip. People with disabilities are, therefore, a new group of tourists who are attractive in terms of quantity and spending power.
However, the critical problem is that there are relatively few operators who pay attention to disabled travelers. Data from interviews with Thai tour operators found only a few companies that provide tours for disabled travelers. In addition, most tourist attractions, accommodations, restaurants, and souvenir shops lack adequate facilities and services for people with disabilities. The main reasons are the inadequate understanding of the needs of people with disabilities, fear of not being able to provide proper care or service, the lack of statistical figures confirming the number of tourists with disabilities, uncertainty about the ability to travel, and uncertainty about the spending power of people with disabilities.
Implementation Guidelines: Start from the cooperation from all sectors; government, private sector, and education sector. There should be a specific policy or practice, providing the proper knowledge to lead personnel development in all sectors to enable people with disabilities to travel and have unlimited access to tourism information.
Providing services for people with disabilities will benefit both in response to the fundamental rights of the disabilities and to develop the ability to provide services that will lead to new business opportunities for entrepreneurs. Besides, it also makes a difference that has a significant impact on people’s minds in society.