South Africa Tourism is Opening its Arms to Tourists with Disabilities

South Africa is increasingly opening its arms to a previously untapped market of explorers – People with Disabilities. The country has started its journey towards tapping the full potential of this lucrative market.
In 2021, the number of tourists in South Africa amounted to 2.3 million, a drop compared to 2020, when the number of overnight arrivals in the country amounted to 2.8 million. Between 2012 and 2019, tourist arrivals increased yearly, except for slight drops in 2015 and 2019. However, international overnight arrivals dropped noticeably in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic.

Tarryn Tomlinson, Founder of LiveABLE Access Consultants and Able2Travel, says South Africa offers the best destination for accessible tourism destination. South Africa, with a population of over 60 million people, has, according to the 2019 General Household Survey by Statistics South Africa, approximately 7.5 per cent of its population, or around 4.5 million people, having a disability. Research by the World Travel and Tourism Council says in 2019 accessible tourism’s direct contribution to South Africa’s GDP stood at R77.9 billion (€4 billion).

South Africa has made considerable progress in offering accessible accommodation. Many hotels and lodges provide accessible rooms with features such as wheelchair-friendly pathways, roll-in showers and assistive devices upon request. Many restaurants have embraced accessibility by providing accessible seating, clear signage and staff trained in accommodating guests with disabilities. The country offers a range of immersive and accessible activities for all to enjoy, from wheelchair-accessible nature trails and sightseeing tours to adaptive sports and adventure activities. Its rich biodiversity and wildlife conservation efforts are accessible to all. Game reserves and national parks have implemented inclusive measures, including wheelchair-accessible game drives and facilities so that visitors can witness the wonders of African wildlife up close.

Despite the promising developments, there are still challenges that need to be addressed to fully unlock the potential of accessible travel in South Africa. “One of the major hurdles is the lack of awareness and understanding within the travel industry. Many businesses are yet to grasp the market potential and the value of creating accessible environments,” added Tomlinson. Additionally, tourists with disabilities face various obstacles, including insufficient accessibility infrastructure, such as inaccessible transportation options and poorly designed public spaces; limited accessibility information regarding accommodations, attractions and transportation options; negative attitudes and misconceptions about disabilities often result in limited services, and a lack of awareness among staff in the hospitality and tourism sectors.

Additionally, in a Tourism Update poll, the majority (41 per cent) of readers said they were ‘unsure’ whether access for people with disabilities had improved over the last year. A big section (35 per cent) said access had not improved, whereas only 24 per cent said it had improved. This indicates that the industry is relatively unaware of the accessible tourism offerings available in the country, which means more needs to be done to get the industry involved to promote its accessible offerings. We believe that travel is a fundamental human right and that it should be accessible to everyone. South Africa’s diverse landscapes and cultural heritage provide a wealth of accessible travel opportunities and, by raising awareness and collaborating with the travel industry, we can create a more inclusive and accessible world, says Tomlinson.

Source: Tourism Update