Eleftheria Bernidaki-Aldous

2nd INTERNATIONAL OSSATE WORKSHOP-‘Accessible Tourism’ – A Wake-up Call to the Greek and European Tourism Industry

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Athens, 12 September 2005

“I only realised the importance of easy, level access to restaurants and hotels when my mother became disabled, last year. She is not in a wheelchair but she cannot manage steps – and that’s a problem here in Greece. Now I have to make lots of phone calls before we choose a place to have our Sunday lunch. We are usually a party of 12 people, with our family and my mother’s friends, so the restaurant is glad to have the business. But if I hear that we cannot get in or the toilet is inaccessible, we choose to go somewhere else”.

The President of the Hellenic Association of Tourism Enterprises, Georgios Drakopoulos, shared this personal story with over 100 Greek and international delegates who attended a Workshop on ‘Accessible Tourism Information’ in Athens on 8–9 September. The two-day event was jointly sponsored by the Hellenic Ministry of Tourism and the European Commission, in the framework of the EU Project, “One-Stop-Shop for Accessible Tourism in Europe”, known as OSSATE http://www.ossate.org/

From 2006, OSSATE will provide an information service for travellers and travel agents, focusing on the accessibility of tourist destinations and venues. This Internet-based service will enable older people, those with disabilities and others who experience access problems when on holiday, to find appropriate and reliable information easily and effectively.

“Greek enterprises must wake up to the fact that the older generation needs accessible premises and services that are more suited to them”, said Drakopoulos. The demographic ageing of Europe is producing a growing market of older travellers from Greece and abroad, and the tourism industry should address this seriously. If they improve access, they will get returns on their investment. Entrepreneurs should use the government’s “Competitiveness” programme to improve their facilities, and town planners need to collaborate with hotel owners to address access problems in the locality of the hotels, for example”, he said.

The international meeting, with delegates representing public sector organisations, the tourism industry and NGOs from 13 countries, was also addressed by the Member of the Hellenic Parliament, Mrs. Eleftheria Bernidaki-Aldous, who is herself blind. She chairs the Special Standing Committee on Issues Concerning People with Disabilities. Mrs. Bernidaki-Aldous called on the Minister of Tourism to consider financial penalties for those businesses that do not ensure access, adding that: “tourism is a social right for disabled people”.

The Deputy Minister of Tourism, Mr. Anastasios Liaskos, emphasised the need for accessible infrastructures and better information for tourists about what they can expect at destinations.

Mr. Miltiades Kalamaras, advisor to the Minister of Tourism, also pointed to the government’s “Competitiveness” programme as a source of funds which can be used for improving the accessibility of tourist venues. Up to 45% of costs can be covered by this programme.

Deputy Mayor of Athens, Mr. Theodore Skylakakis, and Mr. Spyros Stavrianopoulos, President of the Hellenic National Centre for the Rehabilitation of Disabled People, both reinforced Mr. Liaskos’s message. While some significant improvements were made in the mass transport systems and urban infrastructure in connection with the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2004, much more needs to be done – in hotels, on the beaches, in shops, tavernas and cafes.

The message from Mr. Nikos Voulgaropoulos of ‘Disability Now’, the Greek NGO for disabled people, was also loud and clear:

“Disabled people need more and better facilities to allow them to have tourism adventures like anyone else. If the industry will improve access and design its facilities for all types of users, this will bring new customers into the market. And many older and disabled people travel all year round – not just in the summer months”.

Mr. Ivor Ambrose of EWORX S.A., which coordinates the OSSATE project, pointed out the benefits that can come from European networking in the field of accessible tourism:

“The tourism industry should avoid ‘re-inventing the wheel’ when it seeks to improve accessibility and publicise the accessibility of destinations to customers. It is far better to learn from the experiences of others, such as our partners at VisitBritain and the Belgian accessibility bureaus. We are also gathering good examples of accessible tourism from Greece, so that we can help promote these through our OSSATE Internet portal”.

To Editors
More information about OSSATE and the Athens workshop event is available from:
EWORX S.A. Rodou St. 22, 15122 Maroussi
Tel. +30 210 614 8380
Fax: + 30 210 6148831


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