Zimbabwe's tourism minister Walter Mzembi says the country will soon introduce a piece of law designed to ensure that people living with disabilities have access to tourism sites and services.
In a speech to mark International World Tourism Day, whose theme this year is ‘Tourism for all-Promoting Universal Accessibility', Mzembi said this would be enforced through directing tourism companies renewing their licenses to find ways of opening up their services to people with disabilities.
“As soon as we get to Zimbabwe, we must work on a statutory instrument that must reward and incentivize incremental steps towards creating a universal and accessible product for the disabled, and old-aged.”
He added, “So it will be linked to the renewal licenses and any tourism asset that comes up for license renewal will have to satisfy us going forward that they are complying with our vision on universal and accessible tourism.
The Zimbabwean minister, who is eyeing the post of secretary general or the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), is currently in Bangkok, Thailand attending World Tourism Day.
He is accompanied by Zimbabwe Tourism Association (ZTA) Chief Executive Officer, Karikoga Kaseke.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 15% of the world’s population (1 billion people) is estimated to live with some form of disability and UNWTO is convinced that accessibility for all to tourist facilities, products, and services should be a central part of any responsible nation.
Mzembi supports inclusivity of all cultures and persons regardless of any forms of disability.
He stated that “we have roughly a world population of 15% classified as disabled or inflicted with one infirmity or the other including old age. It’s actually equivalent to a billion people, so it’s a billion disabilities, which we must see going forward, it is no longer a niche market. It is a market that we must all look at very intrinsically and plan for.”
He noted the inconveniences that many disabled people go through due to lack of user- friendly infrastructure.
“There is a realization that building of hotels, restaurants, theatres, public spaces, public transport, streets and squares often are insufficiently inaccessible to people enabled differently. Many inconveniences occur when some of our people want to use facilities. Thus, this calls for the application of minimum standards to cater for the physically challenged so that tourism value chains are not seen as discriminatory.”
According to Mrs. Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, who is the Minister of Tourism and Sports of Thailand, the World Tourism Day theme is a conscious reminder "to us all around the world to push for integration in order to improve each other’s potential in tourism and to promote a mutual understanding of different cultures and traditions.
"This is where tourism extends beyond numbers and figures as tourism has the magic to bring people from all over the globe, from all walks of life to be together peacefully without discrimination and to be in a world where we respect each other and work towards a common goal."
According to the Mzembi, the tourism sector today employs 288 million people, and accounts for 6% of the world's exports at $1.5 trillion, translating to cumulative impact earnings.