MEWA Workshop on Accessible Tourism, which was organized to contribute to the existing literature, to encourage mutual learning of cities through good practices, and to improve cities’ awareness on inclusion, was held on 21-22 October 2021 under the auspices of the Kyrenia Municipality, President of UCLG-MEWA Committee on Culture and Tourism.
Mehmet Duman, UCLG-MEWA Secretary General, who took part in the opening session of the first day, emphasized that local governments, having direct contact with people, should produce policies to include disadvantaged groups. Speaking at the same session, Nidai Güngördü, President of UCLG-MEWA Committee on Culture and Tourism and Mayor of Kyrenia, drew attention to the joint responsibility of all stakeholders in the city in the establishment of inclusive and accessible cities. Subsequently, UCLG-MEWA President Mohamad Saadie drew attention to the importance of accessible cities, saying: “An inclusive and accessible city is one where everyone can fully participate in social, economic, cultural and political opportunities without discrimination. Therefore, accessible tourism will benefit not only people with disabilities but also the whole society.” On the other hand, Olgun Amcaoğlu, Minister of National Education and Culture of TRNC, emphasized that the workshop is an important step in making education accessible. Making the final speech of the session, Tahsin Ertuğruloğlu, Minister of Foreign Affairs of TRNC, focused on the importance that TRNC attaches to making the country an accessible destination for everyone, including the disabled, elderly and families, and its determination to take steps to provide equal opportunities for everyone.
In the second session titled Good Practices and Experience Sharing from MEWA, Mürşide Ciğerlioğlu from Engelsiz Yaşam Derneği (Disabled Living Association) called for taking into consideration of the expectations of the visually impaired and making every stage of accommodation, from reservation to transportation, registration and dinner, accessible for the visually impaired. Taking the floor later, Özge Sener, Head of Urban Aesthetics Branch of Kyrenia Municipality, pointed out that steps towards accessible tourism should be taken with this belief, considering the effects of tourism at both local and global levels. Mehmet Ender Ökten from Herkes İçin Erişilebilir Yaşam Akademisi Derneği (Association of Accessible Living for All Academy) stated that it is important that the hotels are accessible, but that excessive attention can be disturbing for everyone, and he further talked about the extent of sensitivity that should be shown in this regard. Hekam Qusous, CEO of Accessable Jordan, pointed out that all local governments provide the necessary support when help is sought, but the main issue is that these efforts should be made before that point. Lastly, Levent Karagöz, the founder of the website EngelsizSeyyah.com, finalized the first session with his speech, saying that companies serving in the tourism sector should not evade their responsibility to provide accessible opportunities for all, without thinking about taking advantage of legal loopholes.
The second group of the Good Practices and Experience Sharing from the MEWA region session was moderated by Salim Korkmaz, UCLG-MEWA General Coordinator. Murad Tamimi, Head of Tourism Department at Al-Khalil Municipality, who took part in the Group II, talked about their efforts to encompass all individuals with visual, hearing and mobility impairments and make tourism areas accessible to all. Afterwards, Fatih Söylemez, President of Eşpedal Foundation, said that they showed the world what disabled and non-disabled people can do together with the intercity bicycle tours and camps they organized and how they changed the misperceptions towards disadvantaged people. The last speaker of the group, Günay Kibrit, President of the Cyprus Turkish Association of Orthopedically Handicapped People, underlined that there were 5,601 registered disabled people in the TRNC as of 2017, and that although tourism is vital for the TRNC’s economy, none of the hotels have the infrastructure to enable disabled people to go swimmming.
In his opening remarks at the High-Level Panel, which was the last session of the day, UCLG-MEWA Secretary General concluded his speech by saying that in a world where almost 1 billion people are considered disadvantaged, all obstacles experienced by disabled people not only during travel but also in daily life should be eliminated. Delivering his keynote speech during the Panel, Nadir Alparslan, Deputy Minister of Tourism of the Republic of Turkey, said that Turkey has unique cultural and historical assets, and that it is a must to make cities accessible so that they can fulfill their potential. Mahmut Özçınar, Mayor of Güzelyurt and President of the Union of Turkish Municipalities of Cyprus, took the floor later, and drew attention to the fact that local governments should first have a strong institutional structure in order to address the accessibility needs of the disabled people. Goshtasb Mozafari, AMF Secretary General, stated that due to the neglect of responsible urban planning, people with disabilities have limited access to urban life, which reduces the touristic attractiveness of the city. Subsequently, Hasan Kılca, Mayor of Karatay, spoke about the efforts they make to enable disabled people to participate in social life and visit touristic areas, and the steps they had taken to guarantee the political representation of disabled people at the local level. Ekrem Yavaş, Mayor of Sındırgı, who attended the workshop representing Balıkesir Metropolitan Municipality, Co-President of Committee on Tourism and Culture, said that in order to be a tourism value, first of all, urban planning should be done correctly, city highlights should be identified, and the necessary training should be given to the residents of the city who will participate in the touristic activity. Finally, Emre Dilek, representating Eyyübiye Municipality, talked about the historical and touristic areas in Şanlıurfa and touched upon the global and national dimensions of accessibility. After the session, the training on Transportation, Communication and Access in Accessible Tourism was held on the last event of the day, which was given by Adem Kuyumcu, President of the Engelsiz Hayat Dayanışma Derneği (Association for Solidarity for Life without Handicaps).
On the second and last day of MEWA Workshop on Accessible Tourism, the first session titled “Accessibility in Cultural Tourism” was held under the moderation of Nidai Güngördü, Mayor of Kyrenia and President of UCLG-MEWA Committee on Culture and Tourism. Assoc. Prof. Hale Özgit from Cyprus International University pointed out that even if transportation to a certain destination is provided, as long as access to resources is limited, that destination cannot become a tourist attraction. Mohamed Al Baba, Councillor of Saida Municipality, shared information and visuals about Saida’s historical depth and natural wealth with the participants and talked about the efforts they made within the scope of accessibility, especially the access of disabled people to the sea. Rakez Al Khalyleh, Local Development Consultant at the Ministry of Local Administration of Jordan, stated that they are forming partnerships and collaborations to ensure that everyone can equally access the touristic values that attract tourists from all over the world.
The second session of the panel titled Accessible Tourism and Assistive Technologies, moderated by Dr. Fatih Ercan, Lecturer at Zonguldak Bülent Ecevit University, came to en end with different perspectives presented by Dr. Hasan Köşker, Dr. Makbule Civelek, and Dr. Taner Dalgın on the topic of accessible tourism.
The last event of the workshop concluded with the roundtable meetings titled “Accessibility in Businesses” moderated by Prof. Dr. Mehmet Onur Gülbahar, “Accessibility Infrastructure and Governance” moderated by Prof. Dr. Zehra Altınay Gazi, and “Accessible Destinations” moderated by Fatih Söylemez.
In the 2-day workshop, which consisted of trainings, presentations, panels , and roundtables, local government representatives, non-governmental organizations, central government officials, representatives of international organizations, academics and representatives of the tourism sector came together and exchanged ideas. After the panels and roundtable meetings, preparations were launched to create an “Accessibility Guide” for cities.