Falls Creek could soon become the adaptive tourism capital of the country, with Disabled Wintersports Australia looking to expand its alpine presence into the green season.
The move would ensure activities suitable for people with a disability were available all year round, which could increase the number of tourists and staff employed through the alpine region in warmer months.
DWA chief executive Rick Coate and paralympian Mark Soyer were in North East Victoria’s alpine region this week exploring the feasibility of adaptive activities from hiking to water sports.
Mr Coate said Falls Creek, which already has an accessible accommodation facility at Howmans Gap, would be the hub of the alpine adaptive region.
“We want to make the North East, Australia’s number one destination for adaptive tourism,” he said.
“We know the average winter participant spends $2000 a year in Victoria.
“Even if we achieve 25 per cent of [winter attendance] in the first summer it would be a significant economic impact.”
Mr Coate said DWA was a registered provider with NDIS, meaning government rebates were available for participants in the adaptive activities, creating a newly funded customer base.
“Research shows that when people with a disability travel they travel with three to five people making it a significant market and customer base,” he said.
“Now it’s funded through NDIS it means tourism operators need to be prepared for an increase in people with a disability requesting services.”
Mr Coate said they were looking at possibilities across many alpine resorts, but Falls Creek’s location made it a likely hub for the boom.
The accessible facility at Howman’s Gap, near Falls Creek, was a ten year effort by DWA.
The $4.5 million project was funded by the Victorian government and the facility contains a public access changing place and bathroom with 36 beds with universal access.
He said the activities would cater for people with a vast range of physical or intellectual disabilities.
“We’re looking at a range of activities from adaptive mountain biking through to water sports, fishing, hiking, flora and fauna activities,” he said.
“We’re also interested in doing camp programs at the facilities in Howmans Gap, we’re with people with anything from autism to visual impairment or amputees.
“We’re really interested in the mental health space as well.
“We hope to create sustainable inbound tourism and create employment opportunities for local residents and tourism providers.”
Mr Coate said they were looking to provide a feasibility study, recommendations and an outcome to the government in June before hopefully rolling out the first of the adaptive green season activities next summer.
He said the project was commissioned by the Victorian Sports and Recreation department.
Mr Coate said they were even working with Wodonga TAFE to develop a Certificate III in Adaptive Alpine Activities, to help train staff and volunteers involved.
The course, which Mr Coate hopes will be available mid to late 2020, would be similar to an outdoor education certificate but focusing on adaptive activities.
Ideally, staff across alpine resorts would be able to stay on all year round.
“We’re keen to engage alpine communities through our volunteer network program but on top of that alpine resorts could look at retaining staff all year round rather than having seasonal employees,” he said.
Paralympian Mark Soyer, who attended Benalla College, knows how important adaptive activities can be.
It’s a new customer base for the alpine region and regional centres so we’re really excited.Rick Coate
It was through a DWA program that the sit-skiier learnt adaptive para-alpine ski techniques.
“The program has been really successful in winter and obviously in Australia it’s only a four month season, summer is an eight month season so we can really create longer term tourism for people with disability in the high country,” he said.
“Hopefully bring whole bunch of tourism and with tourism comes more accommodation, more food venues – everyone should be able to benefit.”
Mr Coate said turning the region into an adaptive tourism destination was also about creating an inclusive space.
“Another thing we would do is it provide awareness and empathy training to stakeholders, tourism providers and accommodation provider particularly the alpine resorts, particularly in the around cognitive or learning disabilities,” he said
“It’s important people in a customer service capacity know how to cater for people with differing physical or mental needs.
“It’s important because of the amount of Australians who have a disability, but also it fits in with what we’re trying to achieve as a society overall – inclusion and diversity.”
Mr Coate said people’s self esteem and self worth seemed to improve through the alpine activities program, and the programs also provide a respite for families.
North east tourism bodies, accommodation providers and resorts had been very keen to discuss expanding adaptive tourism in the green season, Mr Coate said.
“The future is really exciting, we’ve certainly got bold plans,” he said.
“One in five Australians identify as someone with a disability currently, and that number is increasing.
“It’s a new customer base for the alpine region and regional centres so we’re really excited and we know everyone will get involved and embrace these activities.”
“The program has been really successful in winter and obviously in Australia it’s only a four month season, summer is an eight month season so we can really create long term tourism for people with disability in the high country,” he said.
“Hopefully bring whole bunch of tourism with tourism come more accommodation more food venues, everyone should be able to benefit.”
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