Jenny Marra MSP : Accessible Tourism 

Speech in the Scottish Parliament debate   25 September 2014


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”.



Later, Summing up


I have enjoyed the debate immensely.


Like most of my colleagues, I have enjoyed the change of pace and tone from the debates of the past few weeks.


The subject is also an important issue for us to discuss in Parliament, especially in this year of increased tourism to Scotland, with all the incredible events that we are witnessing in our country and all the visitors that they are bringing.


I will reflect on the speeches that members have made this afternoon and will go over three substantive points that were raised in the debate.


First, I turn to Stewart Stevenson’s speech. It was the speech of Mr Stevenson’s in Parliament that I have enjoyed most because he started by saying that we have all been particularly unambitious.


I started by agreeing with him that we have been mulling over advances that have been made until now, and I think that everyone in the chamber would share his ambition to do more.


However, as I reflected on other issues that were raised—for example, Rob Gibson raised the need to update the ferry fleet—I concluded that, across the chamber, we all recognise that we are having to make advances within constrained public spending.


I am sure that the minister would be the first to point out that although we would like every CalMac ferry to be fully accessible now, it will happen in time and probably as quickly as it can.


It is important to have the debate in order to remind ourselves that although accessibility should always be right at the forefront of planning and management decisions, as I said in my opening speech, we are nevertheless making good progress within public spending constraints.


Liam McArthur: I listened with great interest to what Stewart Stevenson said. The point that Jenny Marra makes in relation to ferries is valid, but I recall that, not long ago, taxis were required to be wheelchair accessible. For some, that was a practicable option and we have moved in that direction; however, for minicabs it was frankly impossible. The risk is that we would choke off businesses that cannot adapt for no benefit, either to those who are able bodied or to those who are not. As Jenny Marra said, we need to be careful about how we transition from where we are to where we aspire to be.


Jenny Marra: That point was well made, and I thank Liam McArthur for his intervention.

Stewart Stevenson also said that we will triumph only when there are no disabled signs anywhere.

I completely agree.

As I have said, that is a mark of our aspiration to equality.

However, his remarks reminded me of a conversation that I had with some young students at Craigie high school in Dundee, which has a special facility for deaf students.

I was told about the barriers that they face in everyday life, such as ordering their food in McDonald’s, getting a Saturday job and making their way around the city.


What really struck me was the bus issue.


Some of the students were from eastern Europe and had come to live in Scotland.


They reckon that disability provision on buses in Latvia is better, as is provision in other parts of the European Union, because there is much more signage on them.


That matter has been legislated on in Europe and through the Westminster Equality Act 2010.


I wonder whether there is pre-existing legislation on a lot of the issues that we are discussing that we need only to comply with or enforce.


I ask the minister to reflect on that, too.


Nigel Don made a very thoughtful contribution.


The issue that he raised about travelling companions for people who require them and whether they can travel for free on our rail network has come up in my constituency, as well.


Perhaps the minister will also allow me to say that we must bear it in mind that there will always be financial barriers. We can have equal and accessible facilities, but there will be financial barriers to allowing people on lower incomes to access those facilities.


Nigel Don’s point is important, so I ask that the minister has those discussions with ScotRail or that he looks towards the next franchise to sort out the problem.


The Equality Act 2010—which was one of the last very good pieces of legislation of our UK Labour Government—and the public sector duties that are included in it would perhaps address Nigel Don’s point.


Will the Scottish Government explore that, too?


Patricia Ferguson raised a very interesting point about travel insurance premiums and travel abroad, which has also come up in my constituency.


People with disabilities and elderly people face increased travel insurance premiums.


Stewart Stevenson: Some insurance companies restrict insurance for foreign travel to people who are under 70. As someone who is reaching for that shortly, I feel that very keenly.


Jenny Marra: That is absolutely right.


We do not have jurisdiction over the issue in this Parliament; there probably is not even jurisdiction over it in the UK Parliament.


However, we should, across all parties, discuss the matter with our European Union colleagues because it could be dealt with through the European single market and therefore could be raised legitimately in the European Parliament.


I was very struck by the personal experiences in Liam McArthur’s and in Margaret McDougall’s families.


Liam McArthur’s speech raised the importance of good facilities when travelling.


Mark McDonald also mentioned that Scotland’s airports are doing a lot to help people with disabilities to navigate their way through them.


I did not know that, so that was very good to hear.


I return to my point about PAMIS and its changing places toilet facilities campaign, as well as my point about financial inclusion, because those are particularly important issues.


Not everyone in our communities can afford a holiday—we are talking about tourism—but being able to spend time on days out with family or friends makes a real difference to the quality of people’s lives and that opportunity is really restricted for people who do not have access to such changing and toilet facilities.



With the news that there is not one of those facilities in the refurbished national museum of Scotland—I think that Mark McDonald raised that—I wonder whether the Scottish Government could commit to doing an audit of the changing places facilities throughout Scotland and finding out where the gaps are in the tourism industry, shopping facilities and other facilities for a day out.


That might be a good step forward from today’s debate.




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