Is Africa a good choice for customers with disabilities? : Travel Weekly

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Dorine Reinstein

Accessibility for tourists with specific access requirements could be a game-changer for destinations around the world, according to a report by the United Nations World Tourism Organization. Africa is no exception and the tourism industry on the continent is boosting its accessibility offering.

“The great wilderness of Africa is becoming more and more accessible to wheelchair travellers. As the lodges have made travel more accessible to people with disabilities, we have seen increased demand,” says Maija de Rijk-Uys, Managing Director of Go2Africa.

Emma Perrin, sales manager at DMC Grand Africa Safaris, agrees. She noted that after Covid, Grand Africa Safaris has seen more and more multi-generation families traveling who need assisted travel options on a more regular basis. She said: “More and more families are deciding that while they may have a child with special needs in their family, travel is still a normal part of life and they are looking for ways to make it a reality.”

According to Perrin, many destinations in Africa have begun to better understand the demand for travelers with disabilities and are renovating and building their lodges to give them this flexibility.

“I have also seen an increase in the number of adapted cars to allow flexibility. More and more lodges are buying wheelchairs to use on site,” she said, adding that many lodges and airlines are ready to travel. and will do all they can to help you. “We’ve had customers who were in wheelchairs for the entire duration of their trip and were very comfortable being assisted in lightweight aircraft.”

High marks for South Africa

South Africa in particular has raised the bar for accessible tourism, according to de Rijk-Uys. She said the country is undoubtedly miles ahead of others on the continent in terms of understanding the needs of people with disabilities and the resources to make the traveler’s journey as smooth and comfortable as possible.

“Hotels, tourist sites, airports and restaurants in South Africa are the most wheelchair-friendly compared to other countries,” said de Rijk-Uys. “There is also a more extensive medical network for emergencies. More and more places are wheelchair friendly; Table Mountain, for example, has wheelchair access and a mile of walkways at the top. Some beaches even have “beach wheelchairs” that can be pushed over the sand and into the sea.

• Cover story: The state of accessible travel

Elizabeth Gordon of Extraordinary Journeys agreed that South Africa is the country of choice for travelers with disabilities in Africa, followed by Botswana. She said: “In South Africa, we can hire special vehicles that are accessible. There are also a lot of people on the ground who can offer assistance to travelers with disabilities. For example, guides and staff from the hotel are always happy to help with luggage or lend a hand with walking/driving places and offer assistance with boarding small planes etc.”

According to Jennae Bezuidenhout of Access2africa Safaris, accessibility in South Africa has improved dramatically over the past 10 years. She mentioned improvements through the Universal Access Grading Scheme and the Quadriplegic Association of South Africa which have ensured accessibility for all, including the hearing and visually impaired as well as those with mobility issues. One example is that the South African Lilizela Tourism Awards now include awards for inclusive tourism, namely mobility, hearing and sight.

But other countries are also upping their game. According to de Rijk-Uys, although many people believe that gorilla trekking is not wheelchair accessible, the opposite is true. “If there’s one thing Africans know how to do, it’s ‘make a plan,'” she said. “And the same goes for gorilla trekking. Some rangers accommodate wheelchair travelers in special seats so they can be transported to experience the sheer thrill and pleasure of watching families of gorillas play. Often, the ‘carriers’ or ‘carriers’ who transport the presidents are former poachers who are now actively involved in the preservation of Africa’s great apes – a truly win-win situation.”

Tips for travel agents

According to de Rijk-Uys, travel agents interested in booking holidays in Africa for their clients with disabilities will need to be careful of a number of things, as not all lodges or camps are equipped to provide wheelchair users with a efficient service.

She advises looking for camps and lodges that have or are the following:

• Not built on cliffs or hills. Dwellings built into the mountainside are likely to have multiple levels and lots of stairs – elevators or lifts are unheard of in the middle of the bush.
• Are built on flat land. These are more likely to be on the same level and although they may have a staircase or two here and there, they are much easier to manage via a ramp or a few strong staff members. Fortunately, flat areas are often found in beautiful places, such as along rivers, on open plains, or on pans.
• Provide walkways between tents and dining halls. Some camps only have sand or dirt walkways, which can be difficult for wheelchairs. Gravel paths can also be tricky to navigate. Ask if the accommodation has wooden or paved paths.
• Have outdoor showers. Showering outside is a safari tradition; it’s great fun to be under the sun or the moon and have nature all around you. Outdoor showers on decks are often much more spacious than indoor showers and there are no ledges or doors to navigate.
• 24/7 power supply. Although solar lights and lanterns are very romantic, they can be difficult to manage. Consider opting for a lodge that has conventional electricity as it will make your life much easier.

But Hilton Walker, director of marketing at Great Plains, stressed that accessible tourism is not limited to travelers in wheelchairs. A safari, he said, can provide a wonderful experience for the visually impaired. “Feeling the wind in their face, the smells of the bush and the sound of the animals around them must surely provide a life-changing opportunity for these guests as much as they would for guests who had the full view,” said he declared. “Africans are problem solvers too, and if there was a guest who had a special requirement, I’m confident we would be able to secure a solution that would allow them to join our safari experience.”

The key for anyone who wants to help make Africa a more accessible holiday destination for everyone is communication, stakeholders agree. Jim Holden, president of Holden Safaris, said agents making inquiries for customers with mobility issues need to get specific and accurate information about each customer’s mobility issues, including liability. “Sometimes an amateur’s desire to help can lead to costly litigation due to negligence, albeit with the best of intentions,” he noted.

Cape Town-based Briony Chisholm, an avid traveler with a disability, agreed with Holden that communication is key. Chisholm has been a quadriplegic since breaking her neck in a car accident in 1996 and was featured in Africa Travel Week’s Trends Report. She mentioned that if someone makes a reservation and asks questions about accessibility, it’s important that hotels and agents also ask questions.

“Don’t wait for them. Ask them what you can do to make their stay more enjoyable, what services they would like, what kinds of obstacles do they encounter while traveling,” Chisholm said. “Just listen to them and consider what they say. And when they ask a question, be honest in your answers. Don’t minimize a problem because you don’t understand the challenge someone else might have. .”

For Great Plains’ Walker, it’s about compassion, understanding and a desire to provide the best possible experience in Africa for anyone.

“Sharing the magic of a safari experience with any guest is special,” Walker said. “How even more amazing it would be if we changed the life of a guest with a disability by experiencing those wild and distant moments spent with our guides – listening, feeling, seeing, tasting. Safari is an emotional experience. It allows those moments in time where Africa can leave its imprint on your soul, whether you are capable of it or not.”

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