Greece is a lag­gard in dis­abil­ity-friendly tourism de­spite the fact this niche mar­ket is grow­ing fast

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY MARIA ATHANA­SIOU

Cater­ing to dis­abled visi­tors re­mains un­rec­og­nized as a prof­itable busi­ness in Greece, although it could sig­nif­i­cantly con­trib­ute to the ex­pan­sion of the tourism in­dus­try in this coun­try.

The num­bers are im­pres­sive: 127.5 mil­lion trav­el­ers world­wide rely on ac­ces­si­bil­ity while 89.3 mil­lion have the fi­nan­cial means to travel abroad for plea­sure. The size of the tourism mar­ket that tar­gets the dis­abled reaches 166 bil­lion eu­ros. Of course Greece has the po­ten­tial to draw in a small por­tion of that money, but its tourism ser­vices di­rected to­ward peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties are cur­rently in­ad­e­quate and dif­fi­cult to find. While there are ho­tels and other busi­nesses in Greece that do of­fer ba­sic fa­cil­i­ties for peo­ple with phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ties, in­clud­ing the vis­ually im­paired, the ma­jor­ity re­main off lim­its for these po­ten­tial cus­tomers.

Com­plete ac­ces­si­bil­ity means cater­ing to a broad range, from peo­ple with sen­sory im­pair­ments to those with phys­i­cal or cog­ni­tive dis­abil­i­ties. This in­cludes the autis­tic, the color blind, as well as some se­nior cit­i­zens.

In or­der for an es­tab­lish­ment to be con­sid­ered ac­ces­si­ble, it must sat­isfy a wide range of cri­te­ria that cater to ev­ery form of dis­abil­ity. For ex­am­ple, an ac- ces­si­ble ho­tel must have un­hin­dered ac­cess from its out­door area into its main area, as well as through­out the main area; have el­e­va­tor but­tons in both tac­tile char­ac­ters and Braille; have ac­ces­si­ble toi­lets and other fit­tings of a cer­tain height for the phys­i­cally dis­abled; have rails in the halls for the vis­ually im­paired and the el­derly; have ap­pro­pri­ate safety signs for the color blind; have ap­pro­pri­ate il­lu­mi­nated safety signs for peo­ple with hear­ing im­pair­ment; en­sure that car­pets are of the ap­pro­pri­ate thick­ness in or­der to al­low for wheel­chair mo­bil­ity; and al­low guide dogs in­side the premises.

“Af­ter im­prove­ments were made in Athens’s in­fra­struc­ture in prepa­ra­tion for the 2004 Olympic Games, it is a de­cent city re­gard­ing ac­ces­si­bil­ity, while the his­toric cen­ter is also dis­abled ac­cess friendly. Gen­er­ally, how­ever, Greece’s im­age is dis­ap­point­ing when tak­ing into ac­count that it is a coun­try with a strong tourism in­dus­try,” says Vicky Vraka, mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor of Greece4all, the first mul­ti­lin­gual web-based ap­pli­ca­tion in Greece for the pro­mo­tion of lo­cal, ac­ces­si­ble fa­cil­i­ties and ser­vices for tourists. Visi­tors to the Greece4all online plat­form can find re­views from the site’s mod­er­a­tors, who are also peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties, as well as in­for­ma­tion about ac­com­mo­da­tion, food, sight­see­ing, trans­porta­tion and healthcare in tourist-ori- ented ar­eas. In Athens, cul­tural venues carry off the palm in terms of ac­ces­si­bil­ity, while ho­tels, mainly those with a fouror five-star rat­ing, have re­ceived good grades on ac­ces­si­bil­ity as well. Prob­lems with ac­ces­si­bil­ity have been noted in ac­com­mo­da­tion and cafes, which gen­er­ally do not pro­vide ac­ces­si­ble toi­lets, even when there is sat­is­fac­tory ac­ces­si­bil­ity and mo­bil­ity within the main ar­eas of the es­tab­lish­ment. Most own­ers’ ef­forts to carry out am­bi­tious al­ter­ations to im­prove the ac­ces­si­bil­ity of their es­tab­lish­ments are hin­dered by the costs. More­over, there is no le­gal frame­work to re­ward such ef­forts. Many own­ers, how­ever, do not re­al­ize that “pro­vid­ing com­pletely ac­ces­si­ble fa­cil­i­ties and dis­abil­ity-friendly des­ti­na­tions is not a phil­an­thropic act, but a busi­ness in­vest­ment,” says Vraka.

The cham­pi­ons of dis­abil­ity-friendly tourism are the Scan­di­na­vian coun­tries. Im­por­tantly, ac­ces­si­bil­ity is a mat­ter of prin­ci­ple for these coun­tries and their cit­i­zens, re­gard­less of whether a per­son is dis­abled or not.

Greece4all has been draw­ing up maps that high­light ac­ces­si­ble routes in the cen­ter of Athens. This will make visi­tors’ time spent in this coun­try eas­ier, as they can now en­joy their stay, and go about vis­it­ing sights and ap­pre­ci­at­ing the city’s en­ter­tain­ment and cui­sine in an un­hin­dered fash­ion.

In Greece, tourism ser­vices di­rected to­ward peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties are cur­rently in­ad­e­quate and dif­fi­cult to find out­side Athens.

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