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The universal design concept enables hotels and resorts to cater to an ageing society
Speaking at a recent seminar on "Hotel Business Development For Shining Market", organised by the Thai Hotels Association, the ASA's Building Safety Committee chairman Bundit Pradabsuk said universal design enables hotels and resorts to welcome all types of guests regardless of age, ability or size.
"Universal design is a design for all. It does not only apply to the disabled, because when people get older, some might need wheelchairs while some might have impaired vision, but they still want to travel,"... he said.
Universal design has been widely applied in hotels and public service sectors in Japan and Europe, featuring facilities to help the disabled and the elderly, especially those in wheelchairs, live their lives like other people.
"Universal design architecture is limited in Thailand so those groups of travellers chose to travel to other countries where they can enjoy their stay instead of coming to our country," he said, adding that it was a pity because these groups often have high purchasing power.
The universal design concept can be applied in many ways, he said. Prime examples include sloping walkways, bathrooms and dining tables for wheelchair users, offering different types of bottle designs for shampoo and liquid soap to help those who are visually impaired to distinguish the bottles.
A check-in counter should not be too high so that hotel staff can properly communicate with those in wheelchairs. Furthermore, all doors should have lever handles rather than knobs so that they are easier to open. Graphic images should be used instead of words to convey important messages like signs for emergency exits or fire escapes because the signs represent a universal language regardless of differences in nationality.
"Universal design then will benefit all types of hotel guests," Bundit said, adding that when hotels have facilities for the elderly, they can grow revenues by attracting more retirees.
According to Mahidol University's Institute for Population and Social Research, the ageing society refers to people above the age of 60. At present, about 15% of Thailand's population is past retirement age. The ratio will increase to more than 25% by 2040 when the proportion of the elderly will outnumber working-age people.
"The elderly and the disabled also want to travel. Some may not want other people to take care of them as they prefer an independent lifestyle. If a hotel has facilities for them as well as staff with a good attitude towards them, it will expand the business to another growing market," he said. According to Thai Medical and Wellness Tourism Association advisor Opas Netraumpai, hotels should consider having at least one room for wheelchair users and also ramps in addition to stairs.
"New hotels should consider having the facilities to show that they care for every guest. This will eventually benefit the hotels because those who need medical care also travel with their relatives or friends," Opas said, adding that they need good accommodation where they can stay before and after treatment.
More than 1.5 million people travelled to Thailand for medical treatment in 2010, he said. This group of visitors generated about 138 billion baht and the segment is expected to increase to 2.4 million visitors in 2015. They are also high-income visitors who expect value-for-money services. Hotels can also add more value to their stays by offering special spa treatments, transportation and health-conscious menus.
Environmental sustainability is another issue that hotels should focus on. Travellers from Europe would rather choose to stay in a hotel that has a green policy, said Chirapol Sintunawa, who is vice-president and secretary-general of the Green Leaf Foundation, an independent organisation that certifies green standards.
Many local hotel operators are too slow to make a move even being green can help reduce their operation costs," he said.
For example, having a louvre door for a bathroom makes an air-conditioner work harder to maintain a steady room temperature and eventually reflects in high electricity bills.
Many hotels still add chlorine to their swimming pool water. The chemical not only kills germs in the pool but also bacteria in the waste-water management system.
It can also trigger skin allergies and can kill small creatures if the water is released into rivers or the sea.
"Salt is a better choice, not only for the environment, but also for guests. The upfront payment for salt is around 10 times cheaper than chlorine and the management cost is only one third," Chirapol said.
Furthermore, hotels should also take more advantage of natural light, grow local trees and plants in their garden and also have activities that help improve the quality of life of communities around their properties.
"Local hotel operators need to work smart not only work hard," he added.
1. A relaxing corner at the A-One Hotel in Pattaya. In 2010, the hotel won acclaim from the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security for catering specially to handicapped guests.
2. A ramp and a walkway for wheelchair-users at Khum Klao Teak Hut Resort in Bangkok’s Min Buri district
The Association of Siamese Architects (ASA) Under Royal Patronage
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Web Site: www.asa.or.th
Source: Bangkok Post Newspaper Travel Feature section Life