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Plantation Bay statement on DOT's hotel rating plan

In a statement published in several newspapers on September 22, DOT Undersecretary Maria Victoria Jasmin calls it "sad" that others attack the DOT's pet project without even talking to the DOT first.

But what is truly sad is that a public official would issue such a statement, in the hope that Filipinos are fools who will believe any lie.

As far back as February 2013 - two and a half years ago - we at Plantation Bay sent Sec. Ramon Jimenez Jr. a detailed letter convincingly explaining why the DOT plan was faulty and unnecessary. Mr. Jimenez totally ignored our letter. Therefore, Ms. Jasmin's claim that we never bothered to talk to them is simply a brazen lie.

Our reasons for objecting to the plan are:

Unnecessary and useless expense

The DOT plan is an unnecessary waste of millions of dollars, because entities like Trip-advisor, Expedia, Orbitz, Agoda, and many others already give ratings of hotels. For free. Our government didn't need to do anything or spend any money. Tourists all over the world consult Tripadvisor, Expedia, etc., and believe in their ratings, because they represent the collective wisdom of real customers with real opinions on what is important in a hotel.

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Now here is our DOT saying "Don't believe them! Who cares what the customers think? We in DOT will tell you what to believe." Is this not the height of arrogance?

Government should not meddle in private enterprise

A national government has no business going around claiming to rate the quality of private companies according to a numerical scale which they then translate into stars. Does our Department of Health give star ratings for hospitals and doctors? Does the DOTC issue stars for shipping companies and taxicab fleets? The idea that our Department of Tourism has the legal or moral authority to rate hotels is absurd. If so, then where will it end? Before we know it, someone in government will want to issue grades to newspapers and tell us which ones to read. How about airlines? Toothpastes? Fast food? Universities?

Intelligent governments are doing exactly the opposite of our DOT.

The DOT has tried to defend its compulsory hotel rating plan by giving the impression that "this is the current trend in advanced countries." That is deliberate and calculated misinformation.

Exactly the opposite is true.

In fact, Canada, the country which gave away its taxpayers' money to fund our DOT, does not even have any national government system for rating hotels. It is incomprehensible how Canada's foreign aid agency CIDA was able to get approval to give us money for something even their own government doesn't believe in.

The US has no government sponsored star rating system, nor does any American State. In Asia, there have been a few attempts at voluntary government systems, but all are failures with few willing participants. In all of Europe only one country of significance, Ireland, has a national government which ventures into rating hotels; and even the Irish stick to counting windows and toilets. They don't stray into subjective quality ratings as our DOT dares to do.

The main European countries with large tourism industries never had such a system, or abandoned it. France, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Austria - no national government hotel rating system. True, many municipalities in Europe give star ratings, with the result that municipal stars in Europe are utterly unreliable.

After spending 10 million Kroner (that's only $ 1.2 million) on its own version of this idea, in 2013 Norway finally gave up. Guess how much our DOT is spending? Read on.

Hiring irrelevant consultants

Most interesting of all, the United Kingdom used to support hotel star rating systems run by its main regions: England, Scotland, and Wales. But in 2011 the UK national government, citing exactly the same arguments as Plantation Bay, cancelled national support for these programs. In effect the UK said that these so-called accreditation experts were useless. Now guess where the DOT's foreign hotel accreditation experts came from? That's right: England, Scotland, and Wales!

Did the DOT know they were hiring leftovers and has-beens? Did they know the UK itself was giving up its support for government-backed star ratings? Surely Sec. Jimenez and Usec. Jasmin, being highly intelligent and careful people, should have known. Yet apparently they either did not know this, or chose not to reveal this fact to the Filipino public, even as they set out to spend $7.1 million to evaluate 700 hotels. $7.1 million! Six times as much as Norway spent before giving up!

We invite readers with calculators to calculate how much each DOT evaluation is going to cost. When you have an answer, remember: that's for a one-night visit to one hotel.

Emmanuel Gonzalez  Founder, Designer, and Resident Shareholder, Plantation Bay

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