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CEO Roundtable puts spotlight on Queensland’s Year of Accessible Tourism

17 Nov 2023

Unveiling a $735 million opportunity: How Rachael Watson and Mark Townend spearheaded a game-changing CEO Roundtable, pushing for inclusive tourism in Queensland amidst the Year of Accessible Tourism and the drive towards the Brisbane 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Gold medal winning Paralympian and Queensland Disability Advisory Council’s Rachael Watson OAM joined Spinal Life Australia’s CEO Mark Townend AM to shed light on lived disability experience and unconscious bias at a recent CEO Roundtable.

Hosted by the Honourable Stirling Hinchliffe MP, Minister for Tourism, Innovation and Sport and Minister Assisting the Premier on Olympics and Paralympics Sport and Engagement, the event brought together industry leaders to discuss embedding and leading accessible and inclusive tourism in Queensland.

People living with a disability make up approximately 20 per cent of Australia’s population, representing a significant and untapped industry opportunity worth $735 million or $1.8 billion when including a travel party.

Mr Townend said by inviting CEOs and senior decision makers from the mix of organisations represented at the meeting, the Government had the ‘right people at the table’.

“The tourism industry is critical to the economic success of Queensland, and the influential organisations represented can develop and implement policies and approaches that can literally lead to systems change in the longer term,” he said.

“The interconnections of various parts of the tourism industry require collaborative approaches and solutions and this group is well placed to ensure that Queensland becomes the most accessible and inclusive tourism market in Australia.”

Ms Watson said the Roundtable attendees highlighted common themes and expressed strong need for action to be taken on crucial matters.

“One of the most common key takeaways from the roundtable was that it's "ok not say no...but..." meaning if someone asks "is it accessible" and your venue or experience isn't, learning to be upfront and honest with people whilst seeking to help and make it accessible,” Ms Watson said.

“Ask questions, lots of questions, because that's the best way to learn and to do it right the first time instead of having to retrofit or not be able to accommodate for accessibility at all.

“And continue the conversation. Don't let the great ideas go to waste. Expand on them, think about further ideas and put the words into action.”

In the Year of Accessible Tourism, Mr Townend said he enjoyed the conversations about what was being done and where the industry was headed.

“The Year of Accessible Tourism has created momentum for a whole range of activities and projects and will lead to long term permanent change and while there remains much to do, we have really started the journey towards a more inclusive and accessible Queensland for all,” he said.

“There is clear commitment from attendees to improve their offerings and to encourage industry wide changes and improvements and there is a strong sense of collaboration and partnership with a desire to continue the momentum that has built.”

Mr Townend said moving forward embedding the principles of accessibility and inclusion in organisations and business partnership was essential.

“Without deep understanding and appreciation for people with disability and how to welcome them as customers, our efforts won’t be effective in the long term,” he said.

“There is much to be done to change societal attitudes to including people with disability, from disability awareness training of our staff, to embedding access and inclusion principles in our businesses to planning to improve access and inclusion at all of our sites, facilities and experiences.

“It is a huge job to get from where we are to a truly inclusive and welcoming tourism industry but one that I am excited to be a part of.”

Ms Watson and Mr Townend both called on the State Government to continue to encourage improvements by tourism operators through including accessible tourism in strategic plans and providing funding through targeted grants to stimulate increased interest in pursuing access and inclusion at all levels in the industry.

Better visitor accessibility is a key initiative of the Towards Tourism 2032 industry strategy, and part of the commitment to making the Brisbane 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games the most accessible and inclusive sporting event in world history.

The Roundtable included members from airlines, airports, industry associations, accommodation providers, key tourism experiences and convention centres.

For more information:

The Queensland Government has a range of programs and resources to assist Queensland tourism and events operators and organisations: