Accessible tourism operators are urging the Tourism and Sports Ministry to turn Thailand into a destination friendly to disabled and elderly people by setting a long-term action plan and prioritising this agenda.
"If Thailand wants to make tourism a crucial economic driver and expand its presence on the global stage, we must not leave behind disabled people or seniors," said Jittasak Putjorn, an assistant professor at Silpakorn University who is conducting research into the development of Thailand as a "Tourism For All" destination.
Mr Jittasak said governmental organisations and private operators adjusted their services for disabled tourists without collaborating, leading to a gap in development.
For instance, tour operators attract disabled people and elderly tourists based on their own marketing and business networks, while private bus services and community tourism attractions can offer special services to these groups, but this is largely unknown among the public, he said.
Mr Jittasak said there is no database of domestic or foreign disabled tourists, but 2.1 million disabled people are believed to live in Thailand, according to the official population data.
He said the new government should include the concept of Tourism For All as a priority agenda item for the Tourism and Sports Ministry, along with wealth distribution to second-tier cities and sustainable tourism.
A study showed disabled European tourists spent €792 per trip, confirming that disabled tourists are willing to travel and spend, said Mr Jittasak. There are opportunities for Thailand to attract high-quality disabled tourists, he said.
Sawang Srisom, co-founder of Transportation For All, who advocates inclusive public transport development, said he expected the government to create connectivity between major transport hubs and nearby attractions that would benefit both disabled tourists and local disabled people.
With the proposed coalition government leader Move Forward Party pushing for a decentralised administration, Mr Sawang said this would help distribute more funding and power to regional authorities to develop inclusive infrastructure and services.
Last week, a Silpakorn University research committee held a meeting with tourism stakeholders from the private and public sectors, including the Designated Areas for Sustainable Tourism Administration, Tourism Department, and Department for Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities. They discussed each organisation's responsibility in serving tourists and possible future collaboration.
Mr Jittasak said the hope is meeting feedback can form a tourism campaign and policies. The group plans to propose them to the new chief of the Tourism Authority of Thailand.