I thank the minister for bringing to the chamber the Scottish Government’s debate on the very important topic of accessible tourism. Like him, I begin by acknowledging the BSL interpretation that is going on in the public gallery this afternoon. I chair the Parliament’s cross-party group on deafness, which had a flurry of activity recently as Dennis Robertson, the Scottish National Party member of the group, and I were campaigning for BSL interpretation to be available during the televised referendum debates. We had a bit of success with that, but we have still to persuade some of our mainstream broadcasters that it is an accessibility issue that needs to be taken seriously. I thank the minister for highlighting the interpretation, and I emphasise that cross-party work on these issues is on-going.
Today’s debate is a timely opportunity to discuss accessible tourism. With the Commonwealth games just behind us and the Ryder cup teeing off tomorrow, tourism has been a real focus for Scotland this year. I have felt keenly that, in the past few weeks especially, the country has become a destination for political tourists.
Tourism in Scotland not only contributes to our economy but reflects the values of our community. Accessible tourism means opening doors to every visitor and treating them as equal no matter what. It is about being inclusive and welcoming, and teaching and learning from others. Such inclusiveness is possible only through exercising equality in our communities.
We saw the glory of equality this summer when, for the first time in Commonwealth games history, para-sports were counted in the main medal table; when venues such as the Chris Hoy velodrome were built from the ground up with accessibility as a primary planning concern from the word go; and when Glasgow, our biggest city in Scotland, opened its arms and welcomed thousands of visitors with equal warmth, care and consideration, making them feel truly part of the Commonwealth games. The way in which a community extends its values of equality to accommodate all visitors speaks volumes about its social and cultural outlook.
What does accessible tourism mean for Scotland? I think that it means the ability for all to visit and enjoy our country freely. For mothers such as Samantha Buck, it means having access to disabled toilet facilities so that she is able to take her son Alfie, who is affected by multiple and profound learning disabilities, on days out in Scotland. Samantha Buck is supported in part by the Dundee-based organisation PAMIS, which I mentioned to the minister during his opening remarks. PAMIS runs campaigns such as changing places, which many MSPs in the chamber will be aware of. That campaign aims to ensure changing facilities in public toilets for more than 230,000 severely disabled people, including those with profound and multiple learning disabilities. That accessible tourism means that those with permanent disabilities, including parents with young children, are able to access the toilet facilities that they need to be able to experience an enjoyable day out or a holiday.
Accessible tourism encapsulates a vision of a community that fights for equality. Alongside that, the sustainable value that accessible tourism adds to our economy is immense—this year, it was valued as being worth more than £370 million to the Scottish economy. That is an increase of £37 million since 2009.
According to recent research carried out by the European Commission, the UK was among the top three contributors to the European economy when it came to accessible tourism, contributing €86 million and 1.7 million jobs to the market—20 per cent of the European Union total.
There is even more room for growth, as the minister said. If European destinations were fully accessible, demand could increase by up to 44 per cent a year, which would result in an additional 3.4 million jobs. The extent of the opportunities is underlined by the fact, which the minister provided, that four out of five disabled people do not yet enjoy a holiday. Accessible tourism is for their benefit, but making such increased accessibility happen would also provide real benefits to the economy.
Better accessibility of course means higher occupancy rates in our hotels and loyal customers who keep returning. Accessible tourism reflects true equality and long-term sustainable trade. Tourism has a fundamental role to play in job creation and economic growth over the next decade.
In our amendment, we applaud those in the accessible tourism project, who are fighting to give disabled people a basic right—to enjoy holidaying like all others; to remove the fear of the unknown for visitors to our cities, towns and villages; and to show that we are ready to give every visitor a welcome as warm as the last. I thank the Government for its indication that it will be supporting the Labour amendment this afternoon.
Efforts must be made to show the mutual benefits that businesses and consumers gain from a strong, accessible tourism industry. That ideal was particularly strong during the Commonwealth games this summer. Disabled sports stars and campaigners have praised the games, pointing to the impressive levels of access and the successful integration of mainstream and para-sports events. Two of the most common barriers facing visitors with access needs—poor customer service and a lack of accurate information—were tackled head on through training, innovative online tools and clear communication between staff and visitors.
Euan MacDonald is a man with motor neurone disease who set up a popular disability access review website called Euan’s Guide when he became wheelchair-bound as a result of MND. Euan praised not only the facilities at the Commonwealth games but the communication surrounding the facilities as outstanding. For Euan, accessible tourism means eliminating the element of the unknown—as the minister said—allowing him to enjoy sporting and music venues without fear of being turned away or being unable to enter.
Varying disabilities call for varied solutions and the Commonwealth games paved the way for that, an achievement that many around the globe can undoubtedly learn from for future events. However, it is important to reflect on some of the barriers and challenges that the games highlighted and how we can hope to move past them in future. Although the Hydro was lauded for its wheelchair-accessible options, those with scooters or difficulty walking found additional barriers, limited seating availability in food courts and long additional distances to walk round the venue. The independent living in Scotland project found events to be accessible but that transport around Glasgow was not as good as usual.
Accessible transport has been highlighted specifically in our capital city recently. Members will have witnessed the recent changes to stop taxi access to the capital’s Waverley station, which have a significant impact on accessible tourism. I understand that Network Rail took the decision at short notice and without consultation and that the station has become even more inaccessible for people with a disability. Inclusion Scotland has said that the situation is inexcusable and has pointed out that that is how many disabled visitors to Scotland’s capital city are welcomed. I ask the minister to explore the issue with Network Rail. There is a clear signal that accessibility must be central to all planning and management decisions around our transport networks in Scotland.
The spirit of the Commonwealth games came in the form of teamwork and possibility. We need to take that and ensure that businesses and services become even more accessible to visitors. We need to support groups such as PAMIS and Euan’s Guide, which are just two excellent examples of the many groups and people out there who are campaigning for more accessible facilities and a boost in tourism. Although the new £45,000 online training programme that the Government set up has helped Scotland’s tourism facilities to become more accessible, we need to constantly update our approach. More needs to be done to ensure that we have a better understanding of the requirements, so that we can realise the economic boost, and that understanding needs to translate into long-lasting and sustainable action.
I welcome the debate, which I am sure will be interesting. I look forward to hearing the other speakers.
I move amendment S4M-10988.1, to insert at end:
“; applauds the work of the Accessible Tourism Project in trying to make Scotland the most accessible tourist destination in Europe by identifying the barriers faced by disabled people holidaying in Scotland and promoting the business benefits of accessible tourism to the industry, and recognises the importance of accessible tourism to securing delivery of opportunities for sustainable economic growth and employment in communities across Scotland”.