Opens businesses, maximises potential and enhances profits
For businesses to grow and achieve maximum potential, their customer base also needs to grow. No business organisation, large or small, can afford to leave out anybody who is a potential customer.
Already an estimated 25% of Sri Lanka’s population, more throughout the world, find their movements much restricted as a result of various debilitating conditions, including short-term injuries or chronic ailments - such as a broken leg or asthma. Often they are even not apparent as with arthritis, vertigo and back pain.
In such inevitable circumstances, the quality of life depends on how safe and enabling are the man-made facilities, these people in particular and all of us in general, need to use in day-to-day life.
Furthermore, as the Baby-Boomer generation begins to retire into its travel years, accessible tourism for all is an overlooked growing niche.
Business leaders often associate disability with wheelchairs and think that access is about entrances or ramps and grab bars. They fail to get the right guidance from accessibility experts, foolishly believing that the cost of compliance is prohibitive.
There are several low cost measures that can significantly improve accessibility. It is an investment, not expenditure, to take steps to ensure the physical environment welcomes people - rather than deterring or marginalising them - regardless of their degree of ability, mobility in particular.
Physical obstacles to access send an unintended message of unwelcome. It is not good business to alienate clientele in that way. Besides avoiding your establishment, they communicate their dissatisfaction to others.
Many local hotels are now pricing out of the market with rates running much higher than those of competitive destinations like Malaysia, Thailand and even the Maldives.
But the most disturbing news is that, as revealed recently by Investment Promotions Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardene, in spite of over-charging there is no real improvement with regard to essential facilities, attitudes, genuine customer care and services at most hotels.
Although new hotels are under construction and several existing hotels are being refurbished and expanded, the audits I have performed confirm that essential facilities, especially with toilets and washing, STILL, fail to comply with basic international standards and thereby pose unwanted safety hazards and even exclude high spending groups from increasing in size.
It is a tragedy that even hotels, resorts and hospitals that promote alternative and integrated medical treatment, and that too at high prices, are given licence to function without essential facilities at premises complying with accessibility and safety standards, especially at toilets or washrooms where patients are most vulnerable.
New lucrative profit for Sri Lanka
Senior citizens, those convalescing and wheelchair users often go out with friends, family or carers, which brings additional revenue.
Studies provide evidence, especially with tourism, that this is a market underserved but a growing niche with all three elements of an ideal travel customer: desire to travel, time to travel and means to travel.
They continue to travel in increasing numbers and go for the facilities that provide accommodation suitable for their restricted physical abilities. If more suitable facilities were available — especially hotels winning customer loyalty — such people and much more would travel more.
Yet, their high spending potential remains untapped by Sri Lanka due to lack of adequate facilities meeting accepted standards, failure of staff to acquire the skills necessary to serve them knowledgeably, and absence of marketing to earn their business.
Yes, new needs arise that shape travel decisions, and the sooner we act judiciously, we CAN WIN the untapped lucrative market share.
Businesses, in Sri Lanka in particular, should recognise that this increasingly diverse group has the optimum potential to become your new profit resource. Judiciously make them your newest priority market segment.
"Furthermore, as the Baby-Boomer generation begins to retire into its travel years, accessible tourism for all is an overlooked growing niche"
In short, business organisations that are accessible and user-friendly to everyone will be creating a reputation no money or advertising can ever buy them, as peoples’ caring business organisations providing high quality service to ALL customers alike.
Be it a hotel, bank, hospital, restaurant or even a place of education, this is imperative to survive and succeed in today’s highly competitive business environment. Loss of customers through non-compliance is colossal compared to the money needed.
We no more could afford to overlook this untapped growth market. Government must soon bring laws and enforce them, to ensure that hotels and resorts to retain their star-grades, must comply with - accessibility standards and stipulated performance specifications that incorporate safety features.
It is equally important to obtain external expertise to audit, assess and evaluate existing facilities at hotels and resorts for compliance with standards and mandatory legal requirements
A disastrous process continues
However, it is disheartening to note the failure to establish, even after seven years, an overall mechanism for the effective enforcement and implementation of the accessibility regulations - even in respect of ongoing large-scale renovations at several reputed hotels and hospitals.
Empowered authorities continue to turn a blind eye in passing building plans and issuing certificates of conformity, disregarding the procedures approved unanimously by the parliament and, furthermore, blatantly violating the orders of the country’s apex court to go scot-free!!
To optimise the results of development programmes reaching everyone, ONGOING constructions and renovations must ensure full participation of the public with ease in all daily activities, regardless of individual degrees of ability.
Arresting the waste of human potential in mobilising this asset and minimising unwanted dependency through empowering people in affording chance, not charity, are pre-requisites to achieve a formidable and sustainable national economy.
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