TAT seminar focuses on disability travel
By Laurel Van Horn
Visitors to the Royal Cliff Beach Resort on the morning
of July 16 must have been surprised to see area businessmen and women
rolling through the lobby in wheelchairs and being led blindfolded around
to R) Andrea West, president of Barrier-Free Consulting, Laurel Van Horn,
member of the advisory board at Northwest Airlines, and Robert Gearing,
member of the board of directors of the National Tour Association.
This sensitivity training exercise took place during an
innovative seminar on disability and mature travel sponsored by the Tourism
Authority of Thailand as part of its ongoing campaign to make Thailand
“Welcoming to All.” Similar educational programs for tour operators,
hoteliers and tourism students were presented in Bangkok on July 9-11.
Phathummet of Diana Garden Resort learns how to guide a person in a
wheelchair, demonstrated by Thanet Supornsaharungsri president of the PBTA.
Travel by persons with disabilities is a multi-million
dollar market in the USA, where the 2000 census found that 49.7 million
Americans, nearly 1 in 5, has a significant disability. In Canada, Western
Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, the level of disability is almost
as high, due largely to the aging of the population.
By tailoring its tourism facilities and services to meet
the needs of these travelers, Thailand thus stands to boost not only long
distance but also regional arrivals. Of course, local travelers with
functional limitations will also enjoy easier access.
participants were trained how to lead blind people.
A further point made in the seminar was that the
structural changes needed to accommodate wheelchair users also benefit older
travelers, families with strollers and anyone rolling a suitcase. In new
construction, creating accessibility for all should cost no more than an
additional one percent and may even be cost saving by eliminating expensive
A great example locally of an attraction designed to
accommodate a broad range of users is Underwater World Pattaya, with its
ramped access, low level displays and counters, and accessible toilets.
Seminar attendees, who included mainly local hoteliers,
received customer service tips for guests with specific disabilities such as
blindness, deafness and mobility impairments. The importance of marketing to
this segment, often overlooked despite its size and spending power, was also
highlighted. Including access details and symbols in brochures and web sites
costs little but is vital to these consumers, for whom careful pre-planning
of holidays and business trips is a must. It also sends the most important
message of all, that they are welcome.
Conducting this series of training seminars for TAT was a
team of three access specialists from the United States: Laurel Van Horn,
Andrea West and Robert Gearing. Ms. Van Horn, who directs the TAT Disability
Project, has 17 years experience worldwide in disability travel and serves
on numerous corporate and government advisory committees. Andrea West, whose
primary focus is consulting for hotels, has a background in publishing
access guides for the American Automobile Association. Robert Gearing, who
is a wheelchair user, was formerly in charge of travel trade for the Rhode
Island Tourism Authority.
The TAT Disability Project was launched this January when
Ms. Van Horn brought a group of 10 specialist tour operators and members of
the disability press for a fact finding tour of Pattaya, Chiang Mai and
Bangkok. In addition to meeting with leading government officials, including
the mayor of Pattaya, the team carried out access inspections of key tourist
During the visit this July, an additional 20 hotels in
Bangkok and Pattaya were inspected as well as archeological sites in
Ayutthaya and Sukhothai. The data gathered will enable TAT to provide
detailed access information to potential visitors, initially via its website
and subsequently a brochure.
In time the goal is to create a detailed access guide for
Thailand. A guiding force behind the TAT Disability Project is someone very
familiar to residents of Pattaya, Sethaphan “Eddie” Buddhani. Now the
director of TAT in New York, Mr. Buddhani first became an advocate for
“Tourism For All” during his former posting in Pattaya.
Emirates presents “Top Ten Awards 2002-2003” to travel agents
TSoonthorn Suree (front center), Emirates
manager for Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos, presented the “Top Ten
Awards 2002-2003” to travel agents who achieved the top sales record for
Emirates Airline over the last year. This presentation was held during a
thank you party for Emirates’ executives and guests at the Grand Ballroom,
Plaza Athenee Hotel.
from left) Ms Jutarat Tantiwattanaphan, Emirates Airline, Sutin Chaleochalad,
8 & 7 International, Teerapong Hemwadee, K.N. Travel Service, Boongsong
Harnchaiyanant, Six Stars Travel, Pavin Sachaphimukh, Nancy Tours and Travel
Center, Pakdee Pureepatpong, G.M. Tour & Travel, Thanawat Leungsuriya,
American Express Thailand, and Ms. Panrawee Meekumsat, Emirates Airline.
(Seated from left) Ms Wanruedee Vorapanpanich, All Seasons Travel, Ms.
Glouymai Intaravichein, Charal Business Chiang Mai, Soonthorn Suree,
Emirates, Ms. Nongnuch Sukmankhongsamer, Paradise and Sun Travel, and
Sinchai Kaveevorayan, KS & S.
names new Thailand manager
Qantas/British Airways has announced the appointment of
Ms Julianne Rogers as new Thailand manager.
A travel industry professional with almost 20 years
experience including working with wholesale, cruise and management
industries, Ms Rogers brings with her multiple skills to further develop
Qantas/British Airways business operation as well as strengthen business
relationships with travel agents and corporate clients in the Thai market.
Prior to her appointment, Ms Rogers, an Australian
national, was commercial manager of British Airways for New Zealand and
South Pacific Island for some 2 1/2 years. Before that she was national
sales manager of Norwegian Capricorn Cruise Line, sales and operations
manager of World Interline Tours, area sales manager of Continental Airways,
and route analyst of Qantas Airways in Australia.
Ms Rogers graduated from Sydney Technical College in
Marketing. Ms Rogers believes in teamwork and communications. During her
free time, she likes traveling, reading, theatres, walking, and food/wine.
Pattaya hosts TAT Indonesia and Philippines travel agents and media
Indonesia and the Philippines representative offices recently brought travel
agents and media to Pattaya City to promote Pattaya as a tourist
destination. They received a warm welcome from Wannapa Rakkeo (4th right),
group director of communications at Central Hotels & Resorts, at the
Central Wong Amat Beach Resort, where the group enjoyed a Thai lunch.
Phu Kham Cave
My friend and I sit cross-legged on the cold hard stone,
facing the prostrate body of the reclining Buddha, a pale shawl spread over
its golden shoulders as if to protect it from the chilled air, a peaceful
smile gracing its serene face, head resting slightly upon its palm. The air
is dark and damp inside Phu Kham Cave, near Vang Vieng in northern Laos, and
is illuminated only slightly by the filtered rays of sunlight streaming in
from an opening in the rock several metres up. Above me I hear the
high-pitched squeaking of bats, but straining my eyes I only stare into
blackness, barely able to discern the rocky ceiling.
reclining Buddha, a pale shawl spread over its golden shoulders as if to
protect it from the chilled air, a peaceful smile gracing its serene face,
head resting slightly upon its palm.
The life-size effigy is surrounded by smaller Buddha
statues, offerings of flowers, food, glasses of water, and joss sticks now
extinguished and cold. It fills the wide open cave with its presence, the
scent of burning incense still lingering in the air despite the fact that my
friend and I are the only people there. I remember hearing locals say that
there are spirits in the numerous caves around Vang Vieng and I shiver
slightly, ripples running up and down my spine.
hot sun peeks out from behind a dark cloud, illuminating the water as if it
were being lit from within, the jade-green colour becoming more translucent
as if it were absorbing the greens of the trees and jungle surrounding it.
Despite the eeriness of the cave, the cool air is
refreshing after the 6-km walk from Vang Vieng along a muddy unpaved road
and the treacherous hike up the mountain. As we left the town, we crossed a
rickety bamboo bridge over the Nam Song River, after paying the 1000 kip
toll, continued along for several kilometres past stunning limestone
mountains arching out of swollen rice paddies, now that the monsoon rains
have arrived and the fields are filled with water.
limestone mountains arch out of swollen rice paddies, now that the monsoon
rains have arrived and the fields are filled with water.
We walked past small brown villages filled with children
and chickens, occasionally buying bottles of water from small stalls set up
alongside the road from curious, smiling shopkeepers and men with bright
eyes drinking lao-lao from old whiskey bottles. Leaving the villages and the
wooden houses and huts behind, we continued our journey, the only people to
be seen for miles. The wide open sky, filled with thick grey clouds
promising rain later in the day, seemed to expand as if it was enveloping
us. We smiled at each other, and I’d never felt so small yet so free.
we were passed by an unusual-looking vehicle, a tractor engine attached to a
wooden flatbed trailer that chugged slowly, leaving us with spatters of mud,
ringing ears, and stares from inquisitive children in the back.
The road became increasingly muckier, the smell of wet
earth deep in our nostrils, and several times we had to skirt wide mud
puddles by walking along the edge of the rice paddies. Occasionally we were
passed by an unusual-looking vehicle, a tractor engine attached to a wooden
flatbed trailer that chugged slowly, leaving us with spatters of mud,
ringing ears, and stares from inquisitive children in the back.
But soon we arrived at a small shack, a wooden sign
proclaiming ‘Phu Kham Cave’ in white lettering. After paying a small
entrance fee, we crossed a rickety-looking wooden footbridge over a
delicious jade-green swimming hole fed by a nearby stream and surrounded by
lush jungle. We spoke with several travellers sitting on sharp rocks at the
water’s edge then began the arduous 200-metre trek up the mountainside to
Phu Kham Cave.
In the deep cavern, we sit perched on a rocky outcrop in
front of the reclining Buddha, our breathing slowing after the long climb
and even longer hike, our hearts returning to their regular rhythm, sweat
ceasing to stream down our faces yet our slick skin feeling clammy in the
cold air. We are both silent, not wanting to break the tranquil enchantment
the Buddha has created in the cave, and I wonder how long the effigy has
been here, who carried it up the mountain, and who comes here to pray. My
mind swirls with questions, answers lost in the clouds of my imagination.
After several minutes we hear the sound of laughter and
shouting as more travellers arrive, and the spell is broken. Getting up
reluctantly to leave, we look once more at the golden statue then begin
climbing over the cool stone to the sunlight, passing by the new visitors
with quick ‘hellos,’ before hiking down to the swimming hole below.
The hot sun peeks out from behind a dark cloud,
illuminating the water as if it were being lit from within, the jade-green
colour becoming more translucent as if it were absorbing the greens of the
trees and jungle surrounding it. Hot and sweaty again, we quickly strip off
our shoes, socks and daypacks, leaving them by a great tree whose limbs
shade the pond, and jump in.
The water feels luxurious as it closes over my head,
tingling my scalp. I reach down with my toes but cannot feel the bottom;
popping up to the surface I notice a school of tiny silver fish swimming
near my feet, and soon they are nibbling my skin, tickling me with their
Lying on my back, I float on the surface, my hair
streaming out behind me, my ears underwater so I no longer hear the chatter
and laughter of the travellers who have just arrived; the only sounds I can
distinguish are my own breathing and the hypnotic roar of the currents
carrying me slowly across the pond. I’m brought out of my reverie by a
huge splash, as a young man swings himself on a giant rope from the great
tree, landing in the water with a loud crack and cheers from the spectators
I pull myself out of the water and join my friend who’s
sitting on a stone ledge near the water’s edge. A dark shadow casts over
the swimming hole as the sun slips behind a mass of angry clouds, and fat
raindrops splatter the now olive-green water below. We gather our
belongings, ready to begin the long trek back to Vang Vieng in the rain,
when we hear the chug-chug-chug of a tractor engine, and the unusual vehicle
that passed by us earlier rolls up to the footbridge.
Running over, we ask the driver if he could take us back
to Vang Vieng, and he nods his assent. Climbing in, we settle ourselves on
the hard wooden bench, tired yet happy from our long day. As the rain taps
the blue-and-white tarped roof above our heads, I grin, my sore feet and
aching calves glad to be taking the easy way back to town.