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Mind the Accessibility Gap 2014 Conference

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The elevator installed at the Acropolis in Athens, which served as a good illustration of the efforts recently made toward accessibility in Greece.

The topic of accessible tourism and infrastructure takes center stage in Brussels.

The Mind the Accessibility Gap 2014 Conference took place on June 6 in Brussels following the World G7 meeting. The Charlemagne building, which also holds the offices for the European Commission, welcomed the 210 delegates. The event was organized by the European Commission, Directorate-General Enterprise and Industry, and European Network for Accessible Tourism. Twenty presentations were given over five sessions, which addressed aspects of the accessibility of the built environment and tourist facilities. These illustrated the topic of accessible tourism and infrastructure from both the users’ and suppliers’ points of view.

The title of the conference was very intriguing when viewed from our industry’s perspective, as this sector certainly has a keen appreciation of the expression “Mind the Gap.” The attention paid toward improving leveling accuracy, and reducing gaps and tripping hazards was certainly recognized by many at the conference, during which some key installations were highlighted. These examples illustrated the real importance of providing more equipment to advance accessibility. This agenda was clear in the opening presentation by Maria Maraka Romanou, general director, Tourism development at the Greek National Tourism Organization, where a crucial access lift up to the Acropolis in Athens was highlighted as an integral part of a large project to improve the accessibility of this World Heritage site.

Romanou stated in her presentation:

“The access for people with disabilities, parents with pushchairs and people with walking difficulties to the Acropolis of Athens has been ensured by a specially designed elevator well connected with a conveyor platform and with tourism vehicles. The success of the Unification of Archaeological Sites project in Athens is stimulating similar new projects in other Greek cities. . . .”

As part of the opening session, Pedro Ortún, European Union (EU) director for Service Industries, directorate general Enterprise and Industry, declared that accessibility is to be a permanent element of the EU’s future tourism policies. He pointed to a continued focus on quality, sustainability and reaching new tourism markets, including seniors, in particular. He added, “Mainstreaming accessibility means that access for all citizens has to be integrated in all our tourism activities at every level.”

The final presentation in the opening session was given by Flavia Coccia. Her overview was from the Italian perspective of what the committee was undertaking for the promotion and support of accessible tourism. She stressed that the Design for All initiative was very important and that universal accessibility should be the ambition underpinning future building projects. Like the other speakers in the opening session, Coccia stressed the need for an open transfer of information and data.

The following four sessions were held after the opening one:

  1. “Accessible Tourism in Europe: Studies of Economic Impact & Travel Patterns, Supply and Training Needs,” presenting an overview of the structure of the market for accessible tourism
  2. “Good Practices Review: SME’s, Destinations, Training,” a discussion of good-practice examples, highlighting the drivers, obstacles and business case for accessible tourism 
  3. “Creating and Maintaining the Accessible Tourism Supply Chain,” highlighting the importance of mainstreaming accessibility across the whole supply chain
  4. “Closing the Gap: Policies and Plans for Inclusive, Accessible Tourism in Europe,” examining potential policy options and the need for future actions  

Following the sessions, the panelists suggested that professionals and end users need to communicate more and that by being proactive, businesses and governments would enjoy a commercial benefit.

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