Exploring Engadin without barriers
Wheelchair user Stephan Gmür gives tips to travelers, tests services and works as a consultant for the tourism industry in Engadin
Vacation and recreational activities require more extensive preparations for wheelchair users than for pedestrians. Especially if traveling to foreign regions. Where is there a toilet that is accessible? Does the restaurant have an access ramp? And can the hotel pool also be accessed with limited mobility?
Wheelchair users are better able to assess such situations and they know the most critical questions from experience. Stephan Gmür has been working for Tourismus Engadin Scuol Samnaun Val Müstair AG as product manager for accessibility for seven years – and this in rather rough alpine terrain. “We want to show how affected people can still enjoy their holidays” explains the paraplegic who shattered a lumbar vertebra during a paragliding accident in 2014.
The former gastronome and Paralympic ski racer has never considered moving to a flat region for the purpose of simplicity. He now shares his personal experience and tricks with guests in wheelchair – he offers consulting at “eye level”. The guests appreciate this unique service and it leverages the region’s reputation, also among guests from abroad as the travel report of the German author Kim Lumelius shows.
Gmür offers consulting to tourism service providers – for example on Obstacle Free Building or questions of mobility such as the purchase of an offroad hiking wheelchair. “These services are becoming more and more important also for elderly people who have difficulties walking.”
Informing, measuring, training
Detailed information on accessibility, traveling and destinations, hotels and shops can be found on the Engadin Tourism website. Furthermore Stephan Gmür works with app and platform providers such as OK:GO, Pro Infirmis and Ginto who publish the collected data on their maps.
Not all people with disabilities have the same requirements. Where Stephan Gmür is still able to fit through with his 59 cm wide wheelchair others might not. The commonly applied SIA standard for accessibility does, however, not consider this and therefore the indications are often not specific enough. This is why the tourism organization in collaboration with the nature park has measured all its museums, hotels and restaurants in Val Mustair and has made the data available on the Ginto App.
Also Stephan Gmür regularly takes measurements himself. Aside from collecting various data – such as the space beside a hotel bed, the grade of a trail or the maneuvering space in a washroom – another goal of his visits is also creating awareness: “It is important that hotel operators, restaurant owners and train operators understand why something is accessible or also why not – and how they could contribute to better accessibility.”
“Due to the precise measurements and data everybody can decide for themselves whether a grade is doable by wheelchair or whether an entrance is wide enough.”
Stephan Gmür, consultant at Engadin Tourism
This year, during the shoulder season before winter, the persons in charge also want to take measurements of all other important buildings and attractions in Engadin. The initiative is part of the tourist strategy to position the region as health and wellness oasis.
Of course, all these measures require time and effort, not only from Stephan Gmür: “Because I have had times when I reached my limits as consultant to people with disabilities”, so Gmür, “I have now initiated training sessions for employees of guest services”.
The Ginto App has a couple of thousand users
Having data and knowledge of the local situation available is a must for people with limited mobility. This is a well-known fact for Julian Heeb who is dependent on an electric wheelchair. He is the founder of the app “ginto” from Eastern Switzerland and runs and updates the platform together with the association AccessibilityGuide which he founded himself. “A couple of thousand people are using our database today”, he explains.
Due to collaboration with organizations such as Pro Infirmis and OK:GO or measuring initiatives such as the one in Engadin, a lot of data has been collected so far. “Especially cities such as Zurich, Basel and Berne have been documented in detail”, explains Julian Heeb. Good progress has also been made in Eastern Switzerland where the project started, less progress has been made in Romandie or in Ticino.
Aside from collecting further data and from more regions, another future goal is to create widespread trust. “We are achieving this above all by providing correct data and reliable information.”
“A substantial amount of people and funds are required to be able to offer our service nationwide.”
Julian Heeb, developer of the Ginto App
That careful handling of information on accessibility can create a boom in travel destinations is shown by an Innotour project of the Claire & George Foundation: Together with the tourism regions Ascona-Locarno/Ticino, Interlaken, Biel-Seeland, Davos Klosters as well as the Canton of Vaud with its regions Morges and Pays-d’Enhaut launched twelve accessible day trips in early 2022. Only six months later it becomes evident that now also people with disabilities plan their vacation more frequently in these regions: Their bookings have increased by 10 percent on average.
A new app as “tinder for your hobbies”
There is a lot of progress around accessibility and providing the respective data. And there are plenty of further ideas. For example, the tourism specialist Stephan Gmür advocates for inclusion versus only integration: “When I want to go biking with my (able bodied) girlfriend, we first take a look at an app for outdoor sport to find beautiful bike routes.” But when he wants to know whether the chosen tour is suitable for him, he has to look for this information elsewhere on various websites.
His goal: One single app for everyone and everything. The startup MountOn in Lucerne is creating such a platform named SamePassion. Stephan Gmür is also involved in its development. This is how it is supposed to work:
Fifty people have already tested the pilot project and “20 Minuten” wrote about the app as “Tinder for your Hobbies”. The goal is to go online within this year. “Thus people with impairments would no longer need to search for information on accessibility in various places.”
Which apps or platforms would you recommend for planning holidays or activities?