On 18 October, Veroniek Maat gave a presentation on ‘Accessible tourism in the light of New Urban Tourism’ during the webinar ‘Accessiblity and Inclusion in the Wake of the COVID-19 Pandamic’ by NOUTUR (New Perspectives in Tourism and Leisure), the research group of Universidad Oberta de Catalunya (UOC). Veroniek has been working as a project manager and researcher for the New Urban Tourism research group at Inholland University of Applied Sciences since August 2022. Her expertise is particularly on tourism and inclusion, which she gained while managing her company called ‘Accessible Travel Netherlands’ (ATN). Via this inbound tour operator, she organised trips and services in the Netherlands for physically and visually impaired visitors from abroad. Besides developing and offering these services, she was involved in several national and international projects on tourism and inclusion.
Presentation on “Accessible tourism in the light of the new urban tourism”
The focus of the webinar was on experiences regarding tourism, inclusion and accessibility before and after COVID-19. For this reason, Maartje Roelofsen, postdoctoral researcher at NOUTUR, invited several researchers to explain different perspectives on inclusion within tourism. Professor Simon Darcy, currently working for University of Technology Sydney, began with an impressive presentation of his research findings regarding the much more negative experience of travellers regarding PRM policies at airports. The policy around ‘Passengers with Reduced Mobility’ was already challenging, but after COVID-19, it has become even more challenging for service providers to provide quality service, mainly due to staff shortages. The second researcher, Monica Cerdán Chiscano of UOC, highlights experiences of metro users with disabilities in Barcelona. Kristin Godtman Kling, post-doctoral researcher for Mid University Sweden, explains her work on inclusion of recreational opportunities in national parks in Sweden.
Veroniek, (as the last presenter), recounted her experiences as an entrepreneur within the tourism sector, focusing on developing accessible experiences for visitors with disabilities travelling with family and friends. The focus during her presentation was on the various sectors between which she realised connections to offer appropriate services. She ran her company between 2010 and 2020 and experienced in practice how difficult it was to offer services for visitors with disabilities. Working across sectors was challenging for COVID-19 and this is proving even more challenging after the pandemic. During the presentation, Veroniek gave examples of the exact challenges. The issues were mainly related to the systems as they are set up within the sectors. For instance, healthcare systems are not set up for international users, think of hiring aids, deploying healthcare staff and booking adapted taxi transport. Organising these practical matters with staff not trained to offer services to international users made creating supply even more difficult. Solutions to this appeared to lie mainly in setting up cross-sector collaborations, developing the working method in consultation with service providers new to the tourism field, testing the working method and developing it again. In addition, care and transport staff were informed in advance by ATN and staff experiences were evaluated afterwards.
Veroniek summarised the accessibility of destination Amsterdam in the ‘City guide Amsterdam + Metropole Region; accessible routes’, with funding from the Province of North Holland and cooperation with local entrepreneurs. To offer tourist interesting and accessible tours and excursions, Veroniek worked together with independent entrepreneurs in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague, among others. She informed hotel staff of her clients’ wishes, after which adjustments were made to the accommodation or aids were purchased. Through pointing guests to restaurants, accommodations, transport companies and guides, she indirectly trained them to offer and improve accessible services. Managing her customers’ expectations by presenting possibilities and impossibilities was crucial to keeping customer satisfaction high. Not everything was possible, such as renting aids with specific features, deliveries at some accommodations, taxi services at certain times, visiting physically inaccessible sights and taking canal trips. Discovering Amsterdam by bike, on the other hand, was possible for many!
In August 2020, Veroniek sold her company Accessible Travel Netherlands to the travel company Buitengewoon Reizen, which still offers the services. Anno October 2022, however, it has become even more challenging to offer inclusive services. Organising for trips bookable for everyone has become more difficult because of structures and collaborations that have fallen away. For example, contacts within care now hold other positions, the focus is even more on care for Dutch users, taxi companies and airports are short of staff. For SMEs focused on care and leisure services, the pandemic has been a financially unfeasible period and certain partners can no longer offer services. Partnerships with independent entrepreneurs have often remained intact, although some entrepreneurs have taken on different types of projects. Accessible tourism mainly floats on the strength of SMEs and independent entrepreneurs. However, these entrepreneurs now experience even more problems with inclusivity than before COVID-19 and experience even less support for their initiatives, because the priorities of partners and customers have changed. Overarching initiatives and policies at the international level offer future perspectives, such as the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the EU Transition Pathway for Tourism, or at the national level the NBTC’s agenda; Perspective 2030. These long-term perspectives, through various articulations, all aim to promote inclusion in tourism so that everyone, residents and visitors alike, can recreate and travel.
How can we ensure that the international agenda reaches SMEs, independent entrepreneurs and future tourism professionals, that the health and transport sector is encouraged to target its services at visitors as well as residents, so that it becomes natural and feasible for all stakeholders involved in tourism and inclusion to offer these services. A resilient and sustainable inclusive policy to promote destinations with service quality that benefits both visitors and residents. Collaboration between all stakeholders is crucial to realise valuable initiatives and research and includes the experience experts, independent entrepreneurs, SMEs, sectors, users, education and knowledge institutions. A webinar as organised by NOTOUR again highlights that new initiatives by stakeholders as well as practical and academic research on inclusion is essential for the future of sustainable tourism.