All abilities trek to the summit of Mount Kosciuszko - Australia's highest peak

All abilities trek to the summit of Mount Kosciuszko - Australia's highest peak
All abilities trek to the summit of Mount Kosciuszko - Australia's highest peak - © Jennifer Johnson 2008

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Research is only good if it brings about improved access and accessible experiences - Lessons from Dunedin, New Zealand

This blog is dedicated to showcasing research evidence for accessible tourism. However, the overall aim is for the research to inform industry and government to improve accessible tourism experiences for people with disabilities. To this end we must all seek to influence the tourism policy agenda through presenting research based evidence and advocating for changes to practice where there has been a noted deficiency from the perspective of people with disabilities, suppliers or government regulators/coordinators.

I am currently at a research conference in Dunedin in New Zealand where any travel experience for a power wheelchair using quadriplegic with high support needs has its travel trip chain logistics that need to be organised before the rigours of an academic conference can be considered. Information planning, accommodation, air transport, ground transport, equipment hire, attendant services and medical supplies are just some of the considerations with organising an accessible trip. Luckily I had an insider's perspective at the destination to assist me with my travel planning through the University of Otago's Donna-Rose McKay who is the Manager of Disability Information & Support who was able to suggest a good quality accessible accommodation at the University of Otago - Executive Business Apartments. Further, Donna-Rose suggested I contact John Marrable, InformationConsultant at the Dunedin DisabilityInformation Service who provided contacts for hiring a patient lifter. The trip was finally confirmed once a direct flight from Sydney was negotiated with the only carrier providing direct service, my wife Fiona and my attendant Matt were ready to go.

Dunedin is located on the Otago Peninsula which is known for its ecotourism, historic architectural, cultural heritage and local cafe/bar experiences. Dunedin has much to offer the tourist looking for accessible experiences but finding travel planning information was not easy. Yet, local authorities are keen to improve on current practice and I met with the local disability information service, interested Dunedin Council representatives and local media. The following story - Benefits Seen in Accessible Tourism - appeared in the Otago Daily Times on 7 December 2011

What became evident was that while the urban town centre offered a good range of accessible opportunities for residents and tourists alike, the same could not be said for day trip operators in the region. Quite simply, outside of the excellent Taieri Gorge Railway we could not locate a single day to operator who could provide wheelchair access to any of the standard tours offered to other tourists. This is an extraordinary situation in a country that prides itself on its clean green image but obviously not one that is socially inclusive or sustainable. Accessible coaches and minibuses are not costly accessible tourism infrastructure and the Dunedin city bus fleet boasts an excellent fleet of low floor accessible buses. So what is the problem with the local tour operators? 

Photo 1: Simon Darcy boarding with the historic Taieri Gorge Railway carriage © Fiona Darcy 2011.

This situation has a significant cost disincentive for tourists with disabilities and seniors with access needs. For example, the magnificent Royal Albatross Colony at Taiaroa Head is a must see experience that has just made the Lonely Planet's 1000 Ultimate Sights, a standard tour to the colony with cost $95 per person. However, without access provision, the only option was to hire a Dunedin Taxi wheelchair accessible vehicle that cost $240 for the three-hour hire plus the $40 for the Royal Albatross Centre's Albatross Classic tour.

Do the figures - that is a $185 cost imposition on tourists with disabilities to have the same quality of experience as other tourists!

The other thing that tourists with disabilities miss out on by taking the "segregated" tourist experience is they don't get to mix socially with all the other tourists. This is something that all other tourists take for granted but is often lost where integrated day tour operations are not available. This in itself can significantly reduce the overall experience of the destination.

Sadly, this lack of accessibility to day trip operations is not isolated to New Zealand but is just as prevalent in Australia where "charter operations" have been excluded from the Disability Discrimination Act and the subsequent Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport. This situation is currently being tested in the Federal Court of Australia where Julia Haraksin - a person with a disability - has challenged this exclusionary practice and hopefully this situation in Australia will be remedied in the near future. However, New Zealand does not have similar disability discrimination legislation and relies on the New Zealand Disability Strategy, which lacks opportunities for New Zealanders with disabilities to challenge discriminatory practices. 

While all this may seem daunting and overly critical, those of us who want to see improvements in accessible tourism experiences know the benefits of tourism are as important for people with disabilities as to the rest of the population. 

Photo 2: Simon Darcy enjoying time out from every day life, a spectacular view and a soaring Northern Royal Albatross some of the intangible social psychological benefits of tourism for all people © Fiona Darcy 2011.
Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula have much to offer people with disabilities and seniors with access needs, which could be made far more accessible through some basic improvements in information provision. However, a much broader commitment to the principles of accessible tourism and the desire of local tourism operators to provide accessible experiences for people with mobility, hearing, vision, intellectual, mental health and other disabilities is required. Given the increasing numbers of people with disabilities and seniors with access needs destinations need to make provisions in order to provide a competitive advantage in an increasingly competitive international tourism market (see Buhalis & Darcy 2011 and Buhalis, Darcy and Ambrose 2012).


  1. Buhalis, D., & Darcy, S. (Eds.). (2011). Accessible Tourism: Concepts and Issues. Bristol, UK: Channel View Publications.
  2. Buhalis, D., Darcy, S., & Ambrose, I. (Eds.). (2012). Best Practice in Accessible Tourism: Inclusion, Disability, Ageing Population and Tourism. Bristol, UK: Channel View Publications.
  3. Gibb, J. (2011, 7 December). Benefits seen in accessible tourism, Otago Daily Times. Retrieved from

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