TRAVELERS to the Philippines will soon be guided by internationally accepted standards for tourism enterprises, creating a new mindset among tourists and giving them a sense of confidence to visit and stay in the country.
This is according to third-party assessors (TPAs) commissioned by the Department of Tourism (DOT) for the new star ratings system.
The TPAs, practitioners from the hotel and hospitality fields, assessed quality standards in local accommodations to ensure that global standards and practices are met under the new star ratings system. They were chosen by the DOT after a rigorous application and evaluation process that took more than one year.
“In coming up with the new accommodations standards, we held continuous consultative meetings with different hotels and industry partners to discuss with them our plans and to get their feedback and suggestions,” said DOT Director Rica Bueno, head of the Office of Tourism Standards and Regulation.
“We also sought the expert perspectives of consultants from the industry to create a solid framework and appropriate guidelines,” she added.
“Selected TPAs also had to undergo a series of training workshops to make sure they fully understand the guidelines, their roles as assessors, and the processes involved,” Bueno said.
“Without a doubt, hospitality is second nature to Filipinos. Everybody knows that we are warm, friendly and excellent in communications. However, in order to be at par with our Asean neighbors, there has to be a standardized assessment of facilities and amenities among our resorts and hotels,” said Vanessa Suatengco, one of the TPAs and the general manager of Diamond Hotel.
A member of the Hotel and Restaurant Association of the Philippines and Tourism Congress of the Philippines, Suatengco also worked as resident manager in the EDSA Shangri-la Hotel.
Joyce Alumno, country manager of Aster DM Healthcare and founder and executive director for HealthCORE, the Center for Global Healthcare Management and Medical Tourism Research and Communications, agreed that the Philippines needs to step up its game in order to be considered a top destination globally.
“We need to benchmark ourselves to internationally recognized standards in order for us to be globally competitive. The new accreditation system of DOT provides assurance to domestic and international guests that our hotels and resorts are rated objectively vis-à-vis the best practices in the world,” explained Alumno.
“More than the availability of facilities, the star rating system also includes a critical but objective perspective of the assessor on the condition and quality of facilities and services provided by existing tourism establishments,” said Geuel Felizardo Auste, director of human resources of New World Makati Hotel.
Through an official seal of assurance from DOT, hotel and resort owners will also gain access to assisted skills programs, promotional support such as being included in DOT-accredited listings, technical assistance in planning, research, and development, as well as endorsement to relevant government departments for access to incentives.
Some tourism accommodations were initially wary of the new ratings system, the TPAs said.
“We had to encourage them to feel that we are not there to find fault but rather guide them on how to meet the level of standards set and followed worldwide. Instead of being an audit, as in the past, it had to be a consultative, partnership activity involving the TPAs, DOT representatives and hotel or resort management present,” Alumno said.
“I shared with them the thought that the last day of December 2015 will be start of the Asean integration, and if we would like to globally compete, we in the industry with the help and support of DOT should be ready with our accommodation standards in keeping with international norms,” Auste explained.
The DOT is implementing a compulsory accreditation using the star rating system as mandated by the Tourism Act of 2009. Asian countries that implement the compulsory hotel classification system include Malaysia, Vietnam, and China. Its formal classification system comprises of five levels ranging from one to five stars, assessing quality standards in local accommodations to ensure that global standards and practices are met.
This is based on a point system focusing on service efficiency, availability, condition and quality of a specific facility. The department will soon award new star ratings to the 700 hotels, resorts and other accommodations involved in the assessment.
With the new star ratings system established, DOT hopes to gain the confidence of foreign and domestic travelers who visit the country for business and leisure, as well as raise the country’s profile in competitiveness. The Philippines currently ranks 74th among 140 countries surveyed in world tourism competitiveness rating.