Responsible Tourism Means Being Inclusive, Too

October 17, 2008

Oct. 11 and 12 brought for the first time ever the Central America Travel Market to Managua, Nicaragua.

The event brought together suppliers of tourism products from Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama with buyers from the United States and Europe.

My main focus at CATM, as it is known, was to have meetings with different sustainable alliances that represent tour companies and hotels involved in responsible, sustainable or community based tourism.

I met with a group of organizations fromthe Nicaraguan Tourism Industry, INTUR, (www.intur.gob.ni), LuxDevelopment (www.luxdevelopment.lu) and Matagalpa Tours (www.matagalpatours.com), three organizations that have come together to promote “La Ruta De Café” (The Coffee Route), a tourism attraction in the north of the country.

The

Coffee Route

offers several different tourism alternatives to visit sustainable and organic coffee farms while working with the community so that the local population also benefits from tourism.

The organizations involved in La Ruta Del Café are supportive of the idea of inclusive tourism for people with disabilities and will be supplyinginformationregarding hotels that they believe have facilities for tourists with disabilities, as well as give advice on potential coffeefarm tours that may be accessible for travelers with disabilities.

The Rainforest Alliance (www.rainforestalliance.org) was also in attendance at Travel Market and I talked with them about supplying tours to people with disabilities through their accredited tour operators and hotels in Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

The Rainforest Alliance is also very enthusiastic with regards to undertaking inclusive tourism workshops for their members in Nicaragua in 2009.

Hopefully within the next year, people with disabilities will not only be able to travel in Nicaragua but also do it in a sustainable and organized manor.

CATM also gave me the opportunity to speak to a few tour operators and hotels thathave projects in sustainable tourism to establish what the current situation is in Central America for travelers with disabilities.I certainly was pleasantly surprised to find lots of different projects working within theremits of eco, responsible and sustainable tourism.

I was especially thrilled to find out about the Sabalos Lodge (www.sabaloslodge.com) an ecolodge in Río San Juan that apparently has facilities for people with disabilities through the Mesoamerican Ecotourism Alliance (www.travelwithmea.org).

One of the main problems for travelers with disabilities in Nicaragua is the distinct lack of wheelchair adapted vehicles. As far as I am aware – and I asked a lot of different companies at CATM – there isn’t a single vehicle suitable for wheelchair users in the whole of the country.

This is a big blow for the inclusive tourism industry because if there aren’t any adapted vehicles available, people with disabilities who use electric wheelchairs or need to be seated in their wheelchairs in the vehicle, will find it extremely hard to travel in Nicaragua.

This is also the case for “mature” or elderly tourists who can take a few steps but use wheelchairs for longer distances as they will struggle constantly to get in and out of a standard vehicle and tire easily.

Some of the tour operators whom I spoke to claimed that they are currently considering adapting a vehicle while others said they would be very interested in looking into the issue. Let’s hope that isn’t just talk and that adapted vehicles will begin appearing in the country in the coming years.

The obvious was confirmed while talking to exhibitors and colleagues at CATM that Costa Rica has many more establishments with facilities for people with disabilities than Nicaragua and other Central American countries.

Nicaragua still has a long way to go, but with constant pressure and reminders from the disability community and mature travelers, I am confident that in the nottoodistant future, this country will also be one of the leaders in inclusive tourism for people with disabilities.

Craig Grimes lives in Matagalpa. He can be reached at accessiblenicaragua@gmail.com.

 

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