A seasoned world traveler, Martin Heng has visited over 40 counties around the world.
- The accessible travel market is valued at $11 billion in Australia, according to Martin Heng
- Mark Olsen, CEO of Tourism Tropical North Queensland, says 2.2 billion travelers worldwide live with a disability.
- He wants North Queensland to become “one of the most inclusive and accessible destinations”.
As a former editor of Lonely Planet, travel was both his job and his passion.
However, a bicycle accident in 2010 left him a quadriplegic and completely changed the way he moved.
He said accessibility is a top priority when booking trips.
“Travel takes so much planning because you can’t afford to be disappointed. When you need access, it’s not just disappointing, it’s usually a disaster,” Heng said.
“I learned very early on in my journey that you must make sure that what you are told is what you will face when you arrive.
Heng said a fun vacation can quickly become a stressful experience if you step in the wrong place, have too many stairs, or have an inaccessible bathroom.
On a recent trip to London, hotel staff told him that the bathroom was “accessible”, but in fact it wasn’t.
“The barrier-free bathroom had a bathtub with handrails, so I asked, ‘How can I get in? It’s a wheelchair.'”
Husband and wife Kelly Lee and Paul Gockel also make sure to do a lot of careful research before embarking on an adventure.
Their shared passion for swimming in the ocean has taken them to Australia and around the world. Among them are Fiji her three times, the Philippines, Indonesia and most recently Heron Island in central Queensland.
Kelly Lee was born without arms and Paul, a Paralympic swimmer, has a movement disorder.
“Accessibility for us isn’t just about the rooms having space or no steps. It’s about the location of those rooms relative to the resort itself,” she said.
Investing millions of dollars to help billions of people
Their experience was born when the Queensland Government declared 2023 the ‘Year of Accessible Tourism’. By investing $10 million in small and medium-sized tourism businesses, he hopes to improve infrastructure and technology to make holiday destinations more accessible.
An additional $2 million will be spent to raise awareness of accessibility needs and promote accessible visitor experiences.
Mark Olsen, CEO of Tourism Tropical North Queensland, says one in eight people live with a disability.
“The 2.2 billion travelers worldwide are looking for an inclusive experience when they factor in their travel party,” Olsen said.
He said the tourism industry needs to be “revitalized” in 2023 and ahead of the Olympics so that North Queensland becomes “one of the most inclusive and accessible destinations”.
Dive instructor Richard Stevens recently launched Cairns dive company Marlin Coast Diving to make diving more accessible to people of all abilities.
The decision was made after he watched a video of an amputee diving and urged Stevens to recertify as a disability diving instructor.
“I thought, ‘If that guy can do it, anyone can do it,'” he said.
“We want to make sure it is accessible and equitable for everyone, regardless of the type of disability. We look at their abilities and tailor our programs to their needs. increase.”
As a disabled diving instructor, his first client was a Thursday Island crayfish diver who became paraplegic after an accident.
“It was an immense and intense experience for him because he was in the water for the first time in 12 years. It was his hometown. [completed] 5,000 dives or something,” Stevens said.
“To have it [experience] The cutoff was pretty traumatic. He probably felt it impossible. ”
“Built from scratch”
Spinal Life Australia’s Healthy Living Center has 7 self-contained and fully accessible units for travelers visiting North Queensland.
Regional Manager Margaret McDonald said it was the only regional manager in Australia.
“It’s not modified. It’s designed and built from the ground up with accessibility in mind,” she said.
Doors, blinds and windows can be operated by remote control, kitchen benches and cupboards are height adjustable.
“People are thrilled when they walk through the door,” she said.
“I can see them looking around and I understand it’s going to be a very easy vacation and a really easy place for them to stay.
“One of the best things I’ve heard, and I’ve heard a few times, is, ‘This is the first time I’ve been able to get away with really feeling confident about what I’m going to do.’ is.
“It’s really special.”
She said she was impressed by the number of tourism operators in Far North Queensland offering accessible experiences, but said there was still a long way to go.
“Five years from now, more and more operators will see the opportunity there,” she said.
Accessibility isn’t always a ‘huge cost’
Concerned about the cost of making facilities more accessible, Heng said the tourism industry is taking time to “catch up” on the importance of catering to people with disabilities.
He also said there is a fear of “doing the wrong thing.”
“All you need to do is ask people, ‘How can I help you? What can I do to make your stay more comfortable?'” It’s a problem. ”
Heng said the accessible travel market is valued at $11 billion in Australia, $60 billion in the US and £15.6 billion in the UK.
Ramps for wheelchair users can often be installed temporarily or at low cost, but can also be modified for people with visual, hearing, and other disabilities without “major renovations or alterations.” It can be done very cheaply.
“Travel, when practiced responsibly, is a force for good. Travel exposes us to different people, different cultures, different foods, different perspectives on life, different landscapes and different environments. he said.
“Why should disabled people be denied their rights and pleasures?”