I have just returned from a familiarization tour of Nepal organized by Four Season Travel and Tours of Kathmandu. There are major infrastructure and human resource training needs still to be met in the country. However I was successful in visiting Kathmandu, Chitwan and Pokhara – respectively the country’s destinations for cultural tourism, jungle tourism, and Himalaya adventures. I did so in relative comfort with the assistance of Pankaj Pradhananga, Logistics Manager of Four Season. On the tour of May 14 – 23 I made public presentations on accommodating travelers with disabilities meeting 200 or more travel industry and disability representatives and inspecting more than a dozen venues in detail.
So, while I would not characterize Nepal as “wheelchair-friendly” or publicly recommend it yet as a destination for most mobility-impaired travelers I can with confidence recommend Pankaj and Four Season as suppliers in the short term and knowledgeable national advocates for the needs of travelers with disabilities in the log term.
For my part there are a series of macro-level recommendations I left with those responsible. These are over and above recommendations made to specific hotels, restaurants, and tour operators and designed to improve the position of Destination Nepal as a whole:
- Contract with Chicago’s Open Doors Organization (ODO) to hold human resource training and infrastructure safety audits at all major airports and to all airlines operating within Nepal.
- Persuade at least one major hotel in each major tourist center to invest in a wheelchair lift-equipped van with a raised ceiling that can be used for airport and other ground transfers. If these hotels also follow the architectural best practice example of Kathmandu’s Hyatt Regency Hotel by providing wheelchair accessible rooms specifically with roll-in showers built to an international standard such as the Americans with Disability’s Act building guidelines the country would be well on its way to earning my recommendation as a destination for wheelchair-using travelers.
- Contract with an internationally certified trainer of Personal Attendants (Caregivers; Carers) to establish a cadre of Nepalese PA trainers and a database of PA’s available for hire. Logically, ongoing future trainings might best be delivered through Nepal’s regional network of Centers for Independent Living (CIL) providing income for these NGO’s. I would recommend standardizing on Australian or Philippine professional PA norms. I can recommend trainers certified in both.
- Begin creating media assets and developing marketing campaigns positioning Nepal as a destination of choice for travelers with disabilities. In this regard I strongly the uniquely grassroots approach of using the stock photo service PhotoAbility. Nepal has a positive climate of hospitality to offer travelers with disabilities. It must however be thoroughly transparent in portraying the physical challenges. PhotoAbility is a service selling professional quality photos of real people with disabilities in real life situations for use in publications. Of particular importance beyond the verisimilitude of these photos is that the service provides an income stream to disabled models and photographers through royalties.
In summary, I believe that the enthusiasm I observed among travel trade representatives and disabled peoples’ organizations throughout Nepal indicates a sincere desire to improve the quality of their tourism product for the growing yet still under-served market of aging and disabled travelers.
These macro-steps will provide a foundation from which individual entrepreneurs can follow the leadership Four Season Travel. I may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org with further questions but my professional preference is to leave behind communities of good practice and local expertise. I recommend contacting Pankaj Pradhananga who will be continuing efforts from within Nepal:
FOUR SEASON TRAVEL & TOURS
49 Dhara Oasis, Patandhoka
Tel : +977-1-5526894 / 5528842
Mobile : +977-98010 33864
Skype : pankaj_4st