SEOUL, South Korea, August 29, 2017 – Traveling is a regular subject for TV programs and it has emerged as one of today’s greatest consumer products. However, it remains a challenge for people that have limitations in tourism because of their physical conditions. For example, disabled citizens, senior citizens, and pregnant women fall under this category.
There are 390,000 citizens with disabilities and 1.3 million senior citizens above 65 years old in Seoul alone. They account for 17 percent of Seoul population. Tourists above the age of 61 are also increasing. They reached 1.31 million in 2014, 1.29 million in 2015, and 1.78 million in 2016.
Even though conditions have significantly improved for daily transportation accommodations, accessibility to facilities such as hotels and restaurants and its information are still insufficient.
According to the Disabled Traveling Survey released by the Korea Consumer Agency in 2015, 87.4 percent of the respondents said that ‘traveling conditions were inconvenient’. The main reason was due to the ‘lack of transportation accommodations (74.1 percent)’ and ‘lack of traveling products (44.8 percent)’.
In response, the Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG) has declared that it will guarantee the right to enjoy leisure and tourism as a basic right for those who face challenge in traveling.
First, the SMG will encourage the business to expand universal designs that are barrier-less format in eating, sleeping, and sightseeing in main tourism facilities. consultations and funding between KRW 10 million (USD 9,000) to KRW 100 million (USD 90,000) will be provided to repair and install facilities in public domains and private businesses such as hotels and restaurants in the six special tourist zones including Myeong-dong and Itaewon. The goal is to set up at least 100 sites by 2022.
Further, specialized tourist courses will be developed for specific types of disabilities (physically disabled, blind and mute) and age targets (seniors, infants) to ensure that physical disabilities do not result in sightseeing challenges. Also, tour packages will be developed through collaboration with travel agencies. Barrier-free tour facilities and superior tour package products will be awarded and promoted with a certification mark verified through a certification system. The SMG will purchase a tour bus equipped with a wheelchair lift and provide support to set up group tours for the disabled.
Based on a study of 120 major tour facilities in Seoul, a new guidebook that introduces accessibility information (ramps, disabled bathrooms, disabled elevators) in a pictogram will be issued starting next year. Also, the Barrier-free Tour Service Center will be set up during the first half of next year where planning a trip, making reservations, and renting cars can be taken care of all at once. Further, cultural tour guides for the disabled will tripled (8 to 28) and their sites for walking tour courses will expand to five courses (currently only Deoksugung and Gyeonghuigung).
The SMG announced its “Barrier-Free Tour City Plan” which outlines 12 tasks in four areas. It is the first comprehensive plan that includes tourism as ‘welfare’. For this, KRW 15.2 billion will be injected for five years from 2018 through 2022 and an exclusive team will be newly established next year within the tourism policy unit. Expanding sightseeing welfare is one of the 100 national agenda initiatives proposed by the new administration.
The four areas of Barrier-Free Tourism City Plan include:
First, tour facilities will be improved especially in areas frequently visited by domestic and foreign tourists. The number of tour bus for the disabled will be increased to provide an environment where they can easily access and move around. Further, the SMG will implement a new ‘barrier-free certification system’ for tour sites, facilities, and areas that secure accommodations for those who face challenges in traveling.
Second, various customized contents will be developed. In addition to the existing 29 barrier-free tour courses, it will departmentalize types of disabilities and target groups such as seniors, infants, and more to create up to 10 new contents annually. Also, it will push for a project that sends disabled and low-income groups on trips through public and private sector collaboration.
Third, access to tour information will be more expanded. Tour guidebooks that include access information will be newly created and issued. For example, it will offer accessibility information through pictograms to show whether there is a ramp at the entrance or an exclusive bathroom for the disabled.
Also the ‘Barrier-free Tour Service Center will be set up during the first half of next year. The center will provide one-stop service where travel planning, reservations, and renting disabled tour vehicles, wheelchairs, and strollers can be taken care of all at once. The center will be managed through a designated non-profit institution well-equipped with professionalism and experience during the first half of next year.
Fourth, the SMG will train and increase the number of professionals to help those who face challenges in traveling. The service will be improved by educating tourism professionals, and raising expanding social awareness.
Meanwhile, the SMG will push for an enactment of “Ordinance to foster tourism environment for the travel-weak in Seoul” in order to provide systematic support in setting up a barrier-free tour city business. Also, it plans to propose an ordinance revision to the government so that the mandatory rate for a minimum number of rooms for the disabled will be raised from the existing 0.5 percent to 2 percent. Also, car rental businesses must mandatorily secure and provide disabled vehicles.
Until now, tourism policies focused on quantitative growth. However, now the focus will be on enhancing its quality to create a city that anyone can conveniently tour and guaranteeing the right to enjoy tourism as a universal right for all citizens.