A tourism expert has begun a research project examining how the tourism industry caters toward people living with dementia – and how holidays can be made more inclusive.
Dr Marcus Hansen, programme leader at Wrexham Glyndwr University, is conducting the research across the United States of America, alongside colleagues from two other universities, The University of Central Florida and Edinburgh Napier University.
The researchers have already approached around 4,000 destination managers across the United States to ask them about their views on dementia friendly tourism – and are keen to talk to more as their work progresses.
The project is the latest of a series of research investigations Dr Hansen has undertaken into inclusive and accessible tourism – with the initial idea being sparked while he was on holiday shortly after finishing his PhD.
“I had done lots of focussing on inclusive tourism when I was researching for my PhD, and I was starting to think about finding something else where my research could make a difference,” he explained.
“I was just sitting there by the pool, having started a holiday, and I looked at the pool tiles and thought ‘this pool isn’t dementia friendly’ – a person with dementia wouldn’t know how to get into the pool, as some of the changes in the brain which occur for people with dementia can also affect sight, making patterns like those made by the tiles a challenge to assess.
“I rang up my research supervisor the same day and he asked me what my next idea was – and I mentioned people living with dementia and their experiences of tourism, and he got really interested.
“That was my first step into accessible tourism for people living with dementia.”
Dr Hansen – who has just completed his first term leading Glyndwr’s Hospitality, Tourism and Events Management programme – has already built contacts with organisations across the North Wales region around the university and believes that the area – like much of the UK – has already developed a stronger infrastructure around inclusive and accessible tourism.
He added: “Being dementia friendly is really about removing barriers within society that highlight some of the challenges which people living with dementia may face.
“Research indicates that people living with dementia will come across a number of access issues within the visitor economy in relation to mobility, memory-related problems, visual perception and spatial awareness as well as struggling to interact with the environment and paying for goods and services.
“However, becoming a dementia friendly destination, does not require wholesale changes.
“Initial small steps, such as colour-coding of the infrastructure and having staff trained as dementia friends, will go a long way. Staff trained as dementia friends are better equipped at supporting someone who may be confused and know what signs to look out for, for example.
“In the US, the Alzheimer’s Society has developed standards that are much like what we have in the UK, although the UK appears to be some years ahead on implementing the dementia friendly concept.”
Dr Hansen’s research on dementia is just part of the work he has been doing on inclusive tourism – including a presentation he made on dementia friendly locations at North Wales Tourism’s annual conference, and another which he made to the Nordic Symposium of Hospitality and Tourism in Roskilde this Winter, where he spoke on the issues facing visually impaired tourists.
He added: “It’s all about making tourism accessible for everyone – research shows that leisure time significantly improves quality of life, and it’s all about making sure everyone gets the chance to enjoy that.
“There are benefits for tourism operators too if they make their destinations more accessible.
“For instance, when it comes to making venues dementia friendly, what tourism operators who make those changes will find – quite obviously – is their destination is then accessible to people living with dementia.
“Simply because you live with dementia, it doesn’t mean you give up the right to a holiday – and the locations who work to make those changes will see new visitors, and can make a sound business case for that decision – as well as giving back to wider society as well.
“While we aim to publish our findings in academic papers, we also want to spark a conversation in the industry.
“There is not much research on dementia-friendly tourism in the US – and it’s a subject people don’t really talk about. We want to change that.
More about Wrexham Glyndwr University’s Hospitality, Tourism and Events Management BA (Hons) degree, can be found here.
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