Martin Heng shares with wheelchairtraveller.org his passion for visiting countries and regions off the beaten track.
Resident in Melbourne, Australia and working for the iconic guidebook publisher Lonely Planet Martin always has been lobbying for services for people with disabilities. He has founded a Blog and a Pinterest account in 2013 to raise awareness on the issue. In late 2013 he was appointed the Lonely Planet’s Accessible Travel Manager and startet to moderate Lonely Planet’s Thorntree branch Travellers with Disabilities. He also established the Travel for All community at Google+.
His future plans are to publish regularly a list with available online platforms as well as a TV-series for wheelchair travel.
Wheelchairtraveller.org is in contact with Martin Heng to find synergies and support each others efforts. Below he gives his take of why Wheelchairtravelling is so special:
Interview with Martin Heng
1. Why are you passionate to promote travel?
I’ve always been a traveller. I made my first overseas trip at 16 years of age, when I cycled down from Birmingham, England, to Brittany in northern France. Since then I’ve visited more than 40 countries and spent the best part of a decade in the 80s and 90s on the road in Asia and Central America.
When I arrived in Melbourne, I had no idea that this city was the home of the iconic guidebook publisher Lonely Planet, whose books I had been using for the previous 10 years. As a career editor and veteran traveller, it was only natural that I should apply for a job with a company whose core belief is that “Travel is a force for good when practised responsibly”. Travel broadens the mind, and teaches us tolerance, understanding and patience. It brings a multitude of opportunities to learn not only about other countries, cultures and societies, but through that exposure also about fundamental human nature. Because of the great variety of people you inevitably meet on the road, travel also facilitates better relationships with other people throughout your life. Practised responsibly, travel benefits the regions travelled to, not only economically, but also through what you personally have to offer through your social interactions with local people.
2. What has been your richest experience while travelling?
Of course, it’s the people you meet – both fellow travellers and locals – which make travelling such a rich personal experience. As a result of travelling, I now have friends all over the world – and a wife, whom I also met while travelling! However, this is not to ignore the amazing places I’ve had the good fortune to visit: the rainforest of Borneo, the Mayan temples of Guatemala, the Great Wall of China, the rice terraces in the northern Philippines, the ryokans and open-air onsens in Japan, the coral reefs in Southeast Asia…
3. How do you think we can motivate more wheelchair travellers to go to places less travelled?
I think the problem is that being a wheelchair user is often only part of the equation: people use wheelchairs because of an underlying problem that is the result of a congenital defect, an illness or an injury, and all of these bring with them issues and/or needs that mean travel to developing countries can be difficult. But difficulties are often not as great as one might imagine and in the experience of many people – including myself – the poorer the country and the worse the infrastructure, the greater the willingness and ability of the local population to help overcome difficulties that may arise. So the biggest issue, really, is fear of the unknown and an unwillingness to step outside one’s comfort zone, which I believe is understandably greater for people with a disability than for the able-bodied. I therefore see my mission as Lonely Planet’s Accessible Travel Manager as threefold:
- To demonstrate to people with a disability that they, too, can enjoy the benefits of travel because so much more is possible that they might at first imagine by highlighting the achievements of others;
- To try to alleviate people’s fear of the unknown by providing as much information as possible about travelling with a disability, about what people with a disability might encounter when visiting specific destinations, and about what resources they might tap into when travelling there;
- To raise awareness among service providers, and local, regional and national tourism bodies that there is a huge underserved market worth billions of dollars made up of people with a disability, their family and friends, including the large proportion of retirees who have time, a large disposable income and, very often, an acquired disability.