From calm spaces to clear dietary labeling, stakeholders across the Asia-Pacific are making a bigger effort to create a welcoming environment for all delegates
In today’s globalised world, the inclusivity and accessibility of venues for meetings and conferences are becoming increasingly important.
Accessibility was already a key topic pre-pandemic, with BestCities unveiling its Universal Accessibility in Meetings research at the ICCA Congress five years ago in November 2018.
Over the last few years, various CVBs and venue suppliers in Asia-Pacific have been working diligently to ensure that their facilities cater to a more diverse delegation, including those with special needs – which sometimes requires thinking outside the box.
Commitment to inclusivity
The Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau (TCEB) has embraced the principle of “No one left behind” in alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), stating that it wants to make Thailand more welcoming for delegates with physical and non-visible disabilities.
“MICE stakeholders, especially venues, should be equipped with accessible facilities to welcome all MICE travellers with special needs to uplift their services to meet the international standard,” emphasised TCEB’s president Chiruit Isarangkun Na Ayuthaya.
To support industry stakeholders in implementing welcoming environments, the organisation’s MICE Capabilities Development Department recently developed the Thai-language Friendly Design Venue Guidebook for MICE in partnership with local foundations Friendly Design for All & Friendly Design Ambassadors, to guide Certified Venues under the Thailand MICE Venue Standard.
Available upon request, the e-booklet includes guidelines for developing convenient, safe, fair and equitable facilities at an international standard. An accessibility audit form is also included at the end of the guidebook for venues to self-assess their current status for serving the elderly, differently-abled or wheelchair-ridden individuals.
Over in Queensland, Australia, the state designated 2023 to be the Year of Accessible Tourism, part of the Towards Tourism 2032 strategy to provide better destination experiences for visitors of all abilities, as well as provide legacy outcomes – including built infrastructure and skills development for tourism operators – across the state in preparation for Brisbane Olympics 2032.
The strategy gets A$12 million (US$7.7 million) in government funding, of which A$1 million has been designated to raising awareness of accessibility needs and services, another A$1 million to promoting accessible Queensland visitor experiences, and the remaining A$10 million is set aside for the Accessible Tourism Fund for small and medium businesses to build infrastructure and install technology to assist travellers with an impairment.
Thinking outside the box
When it comes to accessibility and inclusivity, it is important for venues & organisers to also think outside the box to accommodate non-visible disabilities or identities. This includes those who are neurodivergent, or those with alternate gender identities.
In Singapore, cultural institutions are leading the way to create sensory-friendly spaces. The National Museum of Singapore in July 2019 launched a Quiet
Room that caters to visitors, especially children with autism, who may experience sensory overload. This room features soft, even lighting with adjustable colour settings to accommodate individual preferences.
The National Gallery, meanwhile, offers a similar space, The Calm Room, a dedicated area for visitors to rest and recharge if they feel overstimulated. This space is specifically designed to help autistic, neurodivergent and disabled people with hypersensitivity and other differences in sensing to regulate their stress responses and regain focus.
These initiatives reflect Singapore’s commitment to promoting mental wellness and inclusivity.
Over in Taiwan, Ricky Chen, assistant manager of Taiwan Tour Co., highlighted the destination’s commitment to inclusivity through the proliferation of gender-friendly bathrooms. These facilities are not restricted by traditional male or female designations, making them accessible and welcoming to all.
“Gender inclusivity is proliferated throughout the educational systems in Taiwan, starting from elementary school. Such facilities are implemented early on so that children won’t see it as strange when they grow up. (It’s integrated throughout our culture), with the option of public restrooms that are gender-friendly,” he stated.
Accessibility in activities and entertainment
Topgolf Thailand, led by Golf Entertainment Company’s managing director Tim Boda, is setting a unique standard for wheelchair accessibility.
Aside from having an accessible interior, the facility also offers a flexible setup that can be adjusted to accommodate wheelchair users, ensuring that anyone can easily access and enjoy their facilities.
“Our premises are fully accessible and designed with wheelchairs in mind. This includes the format of our elevators, ramps, and toilets. The sporting area also includes a half mat for wheelchairs. Being able to change the setup of how you play within minutes to be wheelchair accessible – that’s very unique for a golf range,” emphasised Boda.
As part of its brand standard, the company also provides specialised golf equipment for differently-abled players, making it a standout choice for those with mobility challenges.
“Topgolf clubs have outlets to accommodate disabled people. That’s also (inspired by the corporate culture) in the US, where they have a very strong link to the US Army. Topgolf has often hosted special days for army veterans,” he added.
A modern standard for new hotels
Sakawan Bunlar, cluster assistant director of sales at the Grand Centre Point Space Pattaya, stated that the new hotel goes above and beyond to ensure accessibility in the design of its 490 rooms and 600-person ballroom.
“This extends to its physical layout, with no steps encountered from the lobby to the rooms or even around the swimming pool area. These wheelchair-accessible features align with the brand standard of the hotel,” she elaborated.
The hotel takes it one step further to accommodate dietary needs.
“Our hotel is attentive to dietary needs and allergies, including gluten-free and Halal options,” Bunlar shared. “The staff are well-educated to support attendees with food allergies and dietary restrictions, because it is of paramount importance to us that every guest can enjoy their dining experience comfortably and safely.”
Clear labelling and gluten-free or lactose-free options at breakfast buffets, meals, and coffee breaks – including separating gluten-free bakery items to avoid cross-contamination for celiacs – as well as the staff who are educated on food allergies can make a big difference for attendees struggling with food allergies.
More progress needed
The Asia-Pacific region is making significant strides in creating accessible and inclusive meeting facilities, but for many cities, the concept is still quite new. The unfamiliarity, however, should not discourage venues from educating themselves on inclusivity and taking steps in the right direction.
“We recognise that CVBs and DMCs have limited control over the accessibility situation in their cities. These issues are complex, multi-layered and involve stakeholders from commercial, governmental and meeting supply sectors.
“However, building an understanding of the broader issues of delegate accessibility will encourage the industry to cater better for people who have a range of needs,” Gary Grimmer, CEO of GainingEdge, pointed out.