Nepal Commits to Accessible Tourism Initiatives
The recently concluded International Conference on Accessible Adventure (ICAA) 2018 at Pokhara heralds a new chapter in diversifying the enormous potential that Nepal’s tourism industry harbours. Worldwide the market potential for accessible tourism that caters primarily to travelers with disabilities, the elderly, and people with limited mobility is huge. Pankaj Pradhananga, Director at Four Season Traval and Tours, has been at the forefront of initiatives for inclusive and accessible tourism in Nepal since 2014, alongside the late Dr. Scott Rains. He hailed the conference as a monumental step toward making Nepal a destination for people that have limited mobility and have the potential to spend, both Nepali and foreign nationals. “It’s not just a day, it’s day one for accessibility in Nepal. It is a win-win for such visitors and for the country. When we embrace and empower such visitors we open up one of the most beautiful countries in the world to them alongside newer and better income generation possibilities for the sector. It’s a win-win for all,” Pradhanang shares.
This also marks a paradigm shift in the way people with disabilities are perceived in the region. By sharing international best practices and experiences from countries that are benefitting from opening up their tourism sectors to inclusiveness, the Conference highlighted how Nepal can take the lead in the region in accessible tourism. Improved tourism infrastructure, specialized services and facilities, alongside trained personnel to cater to people with mobility challenges translates into renewed investment, a new market of income, and employment opportunities for many. Besides, this solves a social problem, allowing such people dignified travel and exploration of the beautiful country that is Nepal. By embracing their challenges and adjusting infrastructure and personnel accordingly, Nepal can truly become a destination that will allow adventure for all. This sentiment was echoed by John Heather, sustainable tourism advisor for International Development Institute (IDI) that is based out of Washington D.C., co-organizer of the conference. He highlighted the work that has been done in the past two years leading to the conference, which he said would set focus for the next two years in shaping Nepal’s tourism industry becoming Asia’s leader in accessible tourism. Heather announced that Pokhara would be the model for accessible tourism destination for Nepal and lessons learnt from there would be packaged into applications for the rest of the country. Renaud Meyer, UNDP Country Director, identified accessible tourism as a human rights issue and an important factor for economic development for Nepal whilst reiterating UNDP’s continued commitment at championing accessible tourism in Nepal.
Deepak Raj Joshi, CEO, Nepal Tourism Board, that co-organized the event with IDI, was optimistic about the outcomes of the conference. He said such events are reminders to government and private organizations of the joint commitment that is needed to focus on such issues. He reiterated NTB’s commitment in making Nepal an accessible adventure destination for all. NTB and IDI jointly announced at the Conference that henceforth Nepal will celebrate accessibility in the tourism industry annually on March 30. That commitment toward an annual review and future strategy planning was reiterated by Honourable Prithavi Subba Gurung, Chief Minister of Province 4, and Honourable Bikash Lamsal, Tourism Minister for Province 4. Gurung declared that accessibility and disability friendly considerations will be incorporated into the many tourism development projects being prioritized under his supervision. A keynote speaker at the Conference, Corporal Hari Budha Magar, who is a Gurkha war veteran and a double amputee, was an inspiration to the multinational audience where he revisited his worldwide adventures. He also plans to summit Mount Everest in 2019 as part of his ‘conquering dreams’ tour. Other key guests at the Conference included Mr. Scott DeLisis, former Ambassador of USA to Nepal and various key government officials and tourism entrepreneurs across Asia.
Another tangible outcome of the tour was the inauguration of Nepal’s first 1.24 km long accessible trekking trail that has been modified for wheelchair users, senior citizens, and walkers with mobility restrictions that will serve as a model for the Nepal and the wider region.