By André Leclerc, Chief Executive Officer Kéroul & Michel Trudel, Consultant
The European Union’s current efforts to standardize tourism products and services will have international implications. It is proper and desirable that the authorities in the tourism sector adopt international standards so travellers can feel comfortable. Similarly, tourism and cultural establishments and attractions are expected to comply with standards respecting accessibility for people with disabilities.
That is one of the conclusions of the III International Congress on Tourism for All that took place last November in Valladolid, Spain. Organized by the Fundación ONCE, in collaboration with the European Network for Accessible Tourism (ENAT), this congress brought together close to 300 delegates from Europe, India, New Zealand, Brazil, Argentina, Israel, the United States and Quebec.
The aim of the congress was to identify good practices, as regards cultural and tourism development, that foster the participation of people with disabilities, and to report on the standardization efforts being made by the European Standards Committee in the tourism sector. It should be noted that the European Union had just adopted, on November 15, 2010, its Disability Strategy 2010-2020, thereby complying with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. Kéroul was invited to the congress to present its valued experience in the development of accessible tourism and culture in Quebec and particularly its tourist guide to Quebec called The Accessible Road.
It is imperative to keep in mind that people with disabilities are also clients of tourism and cultural businesses. They represent 50 million potential clients in Europe alone. Tourism and cultural sectors must take into account this important segment of their clientele in designing their facilities, planning their activities and training their staff.
Developing tourism for people with limited physical abilities is a constant challenge; these people are vulnerable because each of their travel movements is a challenge. We often speak of the transportation chain or the hospitality chain. In the case of people with disabilities, the links in the transportation and hospitality chains are many and the smallest break becomes a major obstacle to the journey.
For these people, planning is an unavoidable step in the process of deciding whether or not to travel. This planning is based on the information available, which obviously influences the choice of destination. In the end, a happy experience will encourage a person to return to the same place; loyalty is easily established among this client pool. The Quebec guide The Accessible Road is a means to inform and reassure this clientele, to facilitate their trip planning, to make accessible locations cost-effective and to promote Quebec as a destination.
Created in 2006, ENAT has the mission to improve accessibility in the tourism sector by consolidating current knowledge and by making it possible for the various European actors to share their knowledge. The challenge is particularly complex in Europe where the cities and the tourism and cultural attractions were in many cases built centuries ago.
But determination can overcome many obstacles. During their stay in Madrid and Valladolid, Kéroul representatives were able to observe how the public transit services there were particularly accessible. For example, all of the buses in Madrid can accommodate clients in wheelchairs. When we expressed our astonishment, the response we got was: It is a policy decision, a political commitment to inclusion. Is it possible that the Fundación ONCE, through its work to promote representation and cooperation, inspired Spain’s political authorities to make this decision to include people with disabilities?
The ONCE was created in 1938 to assist blind people in Spain. It quickly structured itself into local and provincial organizations, multiplying its programs in order to free these people from their poverty and marginalization. One of its funding activities was the creation of a lottery. On the strength of its successes, its financial and other means and its well-established structure in Spain, the ONCE extended its responsibilities to all people with disabilities by creating the Fundación ONCE in 1988. The Foundation supports the integration of people with disabilities into the labour market, as well as universal accessibility. It manages a variety of programs that range from home-care services, job searching and training, to transforming taxis to make them accessible, and so on.
The Fundosa Group was created in 1989 by the ONCE Foundation to increase employment possibilities for persons with disabilities.
The Fundosa Group commemorated its 20th anniversary in 2009 and, despite the full-fledged economic crisis, demonstrated its sustainability and strength as a Group and as a quality employer, as evidenced by the sales and employment figures attained and by its recognition as a family-friendly company which, far from being a simple achievement, is the engine that will drive to new pro-employee initiatives.
The Fundosa Group has consolidated a process of diversification whereby today it is the largest provider of products and services for the disabled. Its ample offerings provide an example of profitability and sustainability and its strategy of management of diversity has shown that efficiency in business is compatible with corporate social responsibility.
In 1994, the ONCE set up the ONCE Business Corporation (CEOSA). It wanted to consolidate the businesses that it had created in different activity sectors and that pursued this dual mission: to diversify the Foundation’s funding sources and to create jobs for people with disabilities. The ONCE is the principal shareholder in a number of businesses that, among other activities, develop mobility aids, ensure building safety, and manage the 18 hotels part of the Confortel chain and the VIAJE 2000 travel agency that has six offices in Spain. In total, all of the ONCE organizations, businesses and subsidiaries employ close to 50,000 people in Spain in direct jobs and generate 76,000 indirect jobs.
The Fundación ONCE is also involved in the process to standardize accessible tourism driven by the European Standards Committee (CEN – Comité Européen de Normalisation). This committee held a meeting in December 2010 in Brussels on the theme of Standardization in the Tourism Sector. ENAT is expected to publish in the near future a study carried out in collaboration with the Fundación ONCE on the standardization of accessible tourism services in Europe. Undoubtedly, the Fundación ONCE is an international leader in the development of universal accessibility.
These efforts by the European Community to standardize all the products and services offered on its territory could become international standards. Whether we are European or not, we must follow the evolution of these standardization procedures, and even contribute to them. Kéroul is committed to doing so.