Philippines courts disabled tourists

The Philippines said Friday it would court disabled tourists by offering discounts on fares, hotels, and leisure establishments to a potentially huge and under-served market segment.

The government has called on tourism businesses to apply a 20 percent discount, already guaranteed by law to disabled Filipinos, to all visitors with disabilities, Tourism Secretary Alberto Lim said.

Markdowns would cover accommodation, admission to amusement centres, medical services, and transportation for persons with disabilities (PWDs), he said in a statement.

"The trend is not to have separate services for PWDs, but for full integration in our hospitality industry," Lim said.

"This entails making our products suitable for persons with particular needs so that they may enjoy travel equally with everyone else."

President Benigno Aquino has singled out tourism as a key driver of economic growth.

But the Philippines lags many of its Asian neighbours even though arrivals surged 16.68 percent to an all-time high 3.52 million visitors last year.

Lim had said poor facilities particularly in transportation and too few hotel beds, as well as bad press and isolated security problems, were key hurdles.

The statement quoted a Filipino expert as saying moving into "barrier-free" tourism would open up many of the tropical southeast Asian nation's main draws to the disabled who make up about 10 percent of the world's population.

It said the government was committed to reducing their transportation constraints by making toilets, bathrooms and doors easier to use for the wheelchair-bound, and putting up ramps, handrails, and non-skid floors.

Tourism Undersecretary Maria Victoria Jasmin said the government was offering incentives to tourism establishments that renovate their facilities to make them more friendly to the disabled.

"The time is right to commence more concerted action on this issue," she said in the statement.