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MAILBOX: Plantation Bay reacts

Open Letter to Mr. Rey Gamboa, author of the column topic “Reaching for the Stars”, published in the Oct. 6 issue of The Philippine Star.

In an op-ed in The Oct. 6 Philippine Star, columnist Rey Gamboa devoted his entire column to apologizing for the Department of Tourism’s hotel star rating program. I wish to thank Mr. Gamboa for helping to raise public awareness of this issue. However, Mr. Gamboa’s information is evidently based on allegations provided by the Department of Tourism. With your indulgence, I would like to correct some mistaken impressions which may have been fed to him by his friends.

Some governments do, some don’t. This is FALSE. Our Department of Tourism is the ONLY NATIONAL GOVERNMENT BODY IN THE WORLD that has imposed a compulsory rating system on hotels, based on essentially subjective criteria. Our DOT is ALONE. The US, Canada, France, UK, Spain, Greece, Germany, Switzerland, Thailand, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand – NONE OF THESE has a national government that meddles in rating hotels.

Trust the DOT’s experts to tell tourists the truth. If the DOT system were made public, we would be the laughing-stock of the entire tourism world. For example, they grade everything from furniture to food service, which can be unacceptable (0 points), very good (six points), excellent (eight points), or outstanding (10 points, perfect). If all your marks are very good, you are 3-Star. When I asked DOT how to raise a very good to an outstanding, the DOT said it was up to me to figure it out. So much for wanting to upgrade hotel standards.

Who decides these grades? A DOT employee. Is he a furniture expert? No. Is he an acclaimed restaurant critic? No. I asked the DOT how many furniture experts and restaurant critics they had on their teams, and they refused to answer. You could repeat the same query for almost every item on their checklist, and they would not have even one person in the entire DOT with the correct expertise to rate that item, whether it is landscape, transportation, lobby condition, artwork, etc., etc. All of this is like a blind man telling the public to trust him to judge the Miss Universe pageant.

Plantation Bay is the only one who protested. An outright lie fed to Mr. Gamboa by his DOT friends. Though we are the only party so far to file a criminal case with the Ombudsman, numerous hotels are against the program, as evidenced in numerous newspaper reports of tourism sector stakeholders objecting. Privately, at least half the hotels we consulted reported dissatisfaction with their ratings or with the arrogant behavior and lack of qualifications or hotel knowledge of the DOT teams which visited them.

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Kulelat na naman ang Philippines. And by the way, back in 1999, Plantation Bay was also the ONLY HOTEL IN THE COUNTRY which went to bat for open skies. It was in large part due to our single hotel’s efforts that the Korean market was first tapped for Philippine tourism. You’re welcome.

So, if the DOT is hoping that we are alone, we aren’t. And if they are hoping we will back down, we won’t. Tingnan natin kung sino ang matatag –a resort with the courage of its convictions and a strong track record of actually helping the tourism industry, or bureaucrats who have mismanaged this country’s tourism and misled the Filipino public for the past five years. The numbers speak for themselves, and the numbers are ugly (source – World Bank compilation):

Our country had 4.8 million foreign tourist arrivals in 2013. Guess how many Vietnam had? 7.6 million. Ever heard of Kazakhstan? 4.9 million. Bulgaria? 6.9 million. Romania – 8 million. Indonesia – 8.8 million, almost all of it from one tiny island. Singapore – 11.9 million. Malaysia – 25.7 million. Thailand – 26 million. Spain – 61 million. France – 85 million.

True, we beat Latvia (1.9 million), Uruguay (2.7 million), and war-torn Lebanon (1.3 million). Yay.

This is a scientific system. The DOT keeps claiming this, but No, it isn’t. It is the ill-informed opinion of government bureaucrats with no practical hotel experience. They are backed up by foreign consultants whose principal past experience was to visit low-end inns in England and Wales to verify if they had telephones and fire escapes. When we challenged the DOT to provide us with a justification for their various rating criteria and weightings, they refused to do so.

The DOT point system was so incompetently designed that to qualify as a resort, “one land sport” and “one water sport” are sufficient. This means that, with a basketball and a flotation ring, and not even a toilet in every room, any two-room hostel can get perfect marks as a resort. Meanwhile, the myriad facilities of a destination resort like Plantation Bay – scuba, parasailing, wall-climbing, conference venues, four freshwater swimming pools, tennis court (host of several Davies Cup International matches), nightly theme dinner buffets, archery, golf excursions, island-hopping, jet-skiing, indoor firing range, fishing, bird-watching, whale-shark excursions – all these are worth exactly ZERO points in the DOT system. All are simply ignored in the DOT rating system, despite the fact the avowed purpose of the program is to rate “quality”.

We will be the laughing-stock of the world.

Someone has to do it. No, no government has to do it, not in the age of the Internet and social media. Would you rather believe real customers reporting real experiences, or the DOT’s unqualified raters? When 2 ½ years ago I challenged the DOT to produce the hotel experience credentials of their raters, the DOT refused to answer.

So what we have is a DOT with local personnel who are unqualified to grade hotels, and foreign consultants who are leftovers of the UK government’s own 2011 decision to pull the plug on hotel star rating programs. The UK government pulled the plug for the exact same reasons I have cited – not necessary, not believed by the public, not meaningful to the average real-world customer. The DOT MUST have known of the 2011 UK decision against a government star rating system, yet those in charge at the DOT chose not to reveal this fact to the Filipino people. Norway was practically the last remaining government trying to set up a star rating system, and it gave up in 2013, pressured by all the hotels there.

When highly intelligent people do things that are patently stupid, devoid of justification, and indisputably against the worldwide trend, one must ask: WHY?

For the answer, we will have to wait for the DOT to answer our question, echoed by everyone around the country who can do arithmetic and long division: How did you manage to budget $7 million to visit 700 hotels, one night each, to the tune of $10,000 per night? After three years of furious press releases trying to justify the program, please account for all this money received from Canada through the Asian Development Bank.

The DOT has refused to answer this question.

And perhaps someone in the Canadian Embassy or at the Asian Development Bank will be good enough to explain how CIDA and ADB could release $7 million to our DOT, to do something Canada itself doesn’t practice? And that no other member-country of ADB practices?


Manny Gonzalez

Founder and resident shareholder

Plantation Bay Resort & Spa


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