Accessible tourism: a crossborder Carinthian project

Using a wheelchair or living with a sensory impairment doesn’t mean you don’t enjoy a holiday. But it may mean that you have more practical aspects to consider in choosing a destination than other travellers. A project involving partners in adjoining parts of Austria and Slovenia has smoothed the path for people with disabilities visiting their area. 

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Cyclists with disabilities  © Archive Društvo paraplegikov Koroške Cyclists with disabilities © Archive Društvo paraplegikov Koroške

" One of the main outcomes of the project is that awareness has been raised. Our area now offers far better possibilities for tourists with disabilities, and comprehensive, up-to-date information is available. "

Stojan Rozman, Project Coordinator, Carinthian Paraplegic Association, Slovenia

Partners from Austria’s Lavant Valley area and the Carinthia Statistical Region in Slovenia teamed up in the project in a bid to make tourism in their area more inclusive. They reached out to local businesses and institutions, raising awareness and supplying expertise. 

The partners also organised training to promote a better understanding of the specific needs of visitors with various disabilities. Other activities included testing and developing leisure and cultural activities, as well as the dissemination of information.

Revisiting hospitality

There is nothing unusual about tourists with disabilities, the partners believe. This is reflected in the name they chose for their project, which translates as “Different is normal  — Accessible crossborder tourism”.

The aims of the project included establishing a market segment, increasing the number of overnight stays, developing a crossborder network of companies involved in the leisure and tourism industry, promoting barrier-free catering and accommodation, and developing or upgrading the offer available to tourists with disabilities.

To generate momentum for this drive, the partners engaged with a wide variety of stakeholders in their respective parts of the wider Carinthian area, approaching organisations, businesses, institutions and local authorities to rally support. Joining forces across the border was identified as a way to develop a far more diversified and consequently far more attractive offer for tourists in the area than the participating territories could have provided individually. 

The partners also organised awareness raising activities, which included an art exhibition, and cooperation with a tourism school. They produced a variety of publications, such as tourist guides and brochures highlighting specific offers, and a map detailing features of particular interest in the Slovenian town of Slovenj Gradec.

Dismantling barriers

Much attention in the project was dedicated to providing guidance on ways to make venues and services accessible to tourists with disabilities. Extensive improvements were notably made on the premises of project partner Kainz Inn, where a lift was put in, two rooms were refurbished to align with the needs of guests using wheelchairs, and the dining area was redesigned for accessibility. An initiative carried out in Slovenj Gradec focused on the availability of accessible public toilets.

Requirement profiles were elaborated in cooperation with associations representing specific target groups, such as blind and visually impaired persons, deaf and hearing-impaired persons, and persons with reduced mobility. The partners assessed hotels and museums, restaurants and leisure facilities and identified the necessary improvements. More than 40 businesses are reported to have joined in.

In addition to accessibility assessment, the project dispensed training, enabling staff in the participating businesses and institutions to boost their understanding of the practicalities of travelling with various types of disability, and hone their ability to provide the support that may be helpful. According to examples provided by Slovenia’s Carinthian Paraplegic Association, a partner in the project, participants learned how to assist a guest with impaired mobility over a flight of steps, or how to catch a deaf guest’s attention politely if they are not in the person’s line of sight. 

The project, which was led by an association dedicated to the promotion of tourism in the Austrian town of St. Andrä and the wider Lavant Valley area, ended in May 2014. While it focused primarily on tourists with disabilities, its advances also benefit other target groups. Elderly visitors, for example, will also find some of the adaptations useful, the partners argue, adding that these improvements could therefore also add to the area’s attractions for older tourists. 


Total investment and EU funding 

Total investment for the project “Anders ist normal — Grenzüberschreitender barrierefreier Tourismus / Drugačnost je normalna — čezmejni turizem brez ovir” is EUR 577 853, with the EU’s European Regional Development Fund contributing EUR 322 260 through the Operational Programme Slovenia-Austria for the 2007-2013 programming period. The investment falls under the priority “Competitiveness, knowledge and economic cooperation”. 


Draft date