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RP should push for a barrier-free tourism

In his State of the Nation Address (SONA) Pres. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III gave emphasis on strengthening our tourism industry that it should be given more facilities because the Philippines have so much to offer. When we talk about tourism, there is no doubt that Cebu leads the nation in bringing in foreign tourists to our shores. Contrary to what others are saying, Cebu is still a huge tourism top drawer for this country.

This was strengthened very recently when Cebu Governor Gwen F. Garcia welcomed the news and announced that the Travel+Leisure magazine recently released its results on the World’s Best Resorts in Asia and Cebu bagged 3rd after Bali and Maldives. Thailand’s famous beaches, Koh Samui and Phuket got 4th and 5th place respectively, although Bangkok bagged the World’s Best City in that list.

In a previous report coming from the Condè Nast magazine, Cebu ranked 7th in the Best Island Destination in Asia/Indian Ocean region for four consecutive years. Credit must go where credit is due and all this was the result during the watch and with the efforts of former Tourism Secretary Joseph “Ace” Durano under Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and call it lucky that the Aquino administration is not starting from zero when it begins promoting its tourism programs under Tourism Secretary Alberto Lim.

Just last July 25th, fellow STAR columnist and staunch Aquino supporter Chair Wrecker William Esposo came up with an article entitled “Tourism can help bring Filipinos to the Promised Land” and wrote numerous details on the growth of tourism in this country, especially focusing on Filipino food, which he suggests should be a tourism destination on its own, just like Hong Kong, Thailand and China, which he considers a “Food Paradise”.

But there’s a tourism program that everyone seems to have sorely missed and we should be promoting it not just for its international appeal, but also to help our domestic tourism as well. During the National Disability Week held a couple of weeks ago, I attended a presentation by my sister, Mrs. Adela Avila-Kono, Accessibility Specialist of the Organization of Rehabilitation Agencies (ORA) and the Regional Council for Disability Affairs (RCDA-7) on “”Barrier-Free Tourism” which is already a given in first world nations, but woefully lacking in 3rd world nations.

Barrier-Free Tourism or (BFT) offers a new opportunity for the tourist industry to reach untapped markets such as persons with disabilities (PWD’s) and senior citizens. It allows PWDs to enjoy the freedom of mobility, social participation and economic returns. It’s a “Tourism for All” concept which the Nordic Council of Disability Policy declared, “Everyone, regardless of whether they have any disabilities, should be able to travel to the country, within the country and to whatever place, attraction or event they should wish to visit.”

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Even here in the Philippines, the senior citizens are demanding their due, especially with perks like VAT-exemption. But I still have to hear our senior citizens demand for barrier-free facilities, which is just as important for their sector. Perhaps it stems from an old “bias” that disabled persons are best kept in their homes and not-to-be-seen. But in first world countries, PWDs are out in droves, seeing the world in areas where they find easy access for their sectors and that means barrier-free structures in airports, train and bus stations and commercial establishments like shopping malls.

Indeed, there is a social trend in tourism where older persons and PWDs have become a market that is seriously untapped. Mind you, pregnant mothers with their kids find areas which are accessible for PWDs just as good for them. A case in point is SM Shoemart in Cebu, which is considered Cebu’s most barrier-free shopping mall, where from the covered parking areas PWDs can take a special lift in their wheelchairs to access the main shopping mall. Hence you will find a lot of PWDs in SM City.

Whether the tourism industry players believe it or not, the elderly and senior citizens is the group that has the time and the money to spend in tourism areas, which they could not enjoy when they were young because they were working very hard. Hence we should allow them to enjoy all our tourism facilities in safety and convenience; after all many of them use canes or wheelchairs and need structures for easy accessibility. The fact remains that 90 percent of accidents among PWDs and elderly occur in bathrooms and toilets.

If the Aquino administration wants to make its mark on its short six-year term, I suggest to Tourism Sec. Bertie Lim to embark on a massive BFT program, and urge the building of universally designed facilities, especially in toilets and showers, to make the Philippines a first world in terms of “disabled and elderly friendliness” and if they do this we will not even need to advertise itself for BFT because the tourists themselves would be their best advertiser.

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For e-mail responses to this article, write to vsbobita@mozcom.com or vsbobita@ gmail.com. His columns can be accessed through www.philstar.com.

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