The life-changing form of tourism that involves everything but sightseeing

The life-changing form of tourism that involves everything but sightseeing

A new kind of tourism is emerging in Australia, but it involves everything except sight seeing.

Sensory tourism has changed the lives of many people with a vision impairment, allowing them to have more inclusive tourist experiences.

Key points:

  • Sensory tourism helping vision impaired people to have new experiences
  • NSW dad living with condition says the tours have been ‘life-changing’
  • Advocacy group expects sensory tours to increase in popularity

Sydney-based James McFarlane has been a tour guide for more than a decade, but it was not until recently that he saw a gap in the market when a blind person came on one of his trips.

“We do things where you can take advantages of your other senses,” Mr McFarlane said.

“The Kiama blowhole is perfect for this because you can hear the build up and just listen to the waves.

“It’s a totally different experience to seeing it.”

Mr McFarlane’s company, Cocky Guides, takes people on day trips from Sydney to the South Coast, Illawarra and Hunter Valley.

Life-changing trips

Danny Noonan, from Dapto in the Illawarra, has been on sensory tours with his wife, who is also vision impaired, and their two daughters.

He said being able to experience things in his own way through smell, taste and touch has been extremely rewarding for him.

“Travelling can be difficult, frustrating and demoralising,” Mr Noonan said.


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“These tours give us an environment to feel safe an comfortable, and get some understanding from the people taking us around.

“I wish there was a lot more of it.”

Mr Noonan also said he worries his daughters, aged 16 and 19 have missed out on the opportunity to be tourists because he and his wife are unable to participate in so many activities.

He said the opportunities offered by sensory tourism were making life a lot brighter.

“This kind of tourism is huge for us,” he said.

“I like family things we can all do together because community participation is a massive issue right across the [disability] sector.”

Support groups on board

Vision Australia has thrown its support behind this new wave of tourism, advocating for more of these sorts of inclusive tourism opportunities.

Spokesperson Jordan Ashby said the disability tourism industry in general is beginning to thrive, with vision impaired people now able to seek financial assistance from the NDIS for holidays or day trips.

“For people who like to travel, this sort of sensory experience allows them to broaden their horizons,” Mr Ashby said.

“It can be quite common for a vision impaired person to be on a regular tour, sitting at the back of the bus and not asking questions.

“Tourism as a whole can be a bit focussed on what we see and not what we get out of the experience.”

Vision Australia estimates sensory tourism will grow significantly more within the next few years, with estimates suggesting more than half a million people in Australia have a vision impairment.


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