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‘The fault in our stars’

“The fault dear Brutus is not in our stars but in our selves” Shakespeare (Julius Caesar Act 1 – scene 2)

After five days in the “Boondocks” not reading the news, the first thing I read in the Philippine Star was the letter to the editor written by Emmanuel Gonzalez, founder of Plantation Bay Resort in Mactan, Cebu lambasting the Department of Tourism regarding their plans to hire a group out of the UK for $7.1 million for the sole purpose of rating and assigning star-rankings to Philippine hotels and resorts.

Enough has been said to convincingly argue against the plan, since the market and the industry has evolved to such an extent that it is now a customer driven and customer influenced market that calls the shots via Facebook and Twitter. If Shakespeare is to be believed then what is it in “us” or in tourism that is faulty and needs attention? PLENTY!

As the builder & co-founder of Club Paradise Resort which is now Discovery Paradise, and having spent so much time traveling all over the Philippines and abroad, I can competently state that many people in national and local government as well as the private sector know very little about tourism from the stand point of facilities, activities and services. Many people don’t even have an idea of what sustainable tourism is and regrettably many Filipinos are not yet matured travelers in terms of etiquette and behavior in airplanes, hotels and restaurants.

We may have the best global media campaign ever but a serious study of the many tourist spots all over the Philippines, the local environment they are situated in, the standards of facilities and the competency of people who directly engage with tourists will all reveal that as a whole we have much to learn and definitely a need to improve.

The $7.1 million would be better spent as seed money setting up a National Tourism Education program that the Development Academy of the Philippines could put together for all stakeholders in tourism all over the country. People can either come to the DAP to learn or the module can be brought on site, taught and applied directly to the respective localities.

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I have consistently written about the limited or poor information available about destinations in the Philippines, the lack of information on contact numbers, addresses and websites of bus lines, ships and even airlines as well as the absence of schedules that are followed strictly for customer convenience. Many provinces, cities and towns have tourism officers but most of them don’t have the exposure, knowledge or competency to lead their communities towards a high level of tourism excellence. Some don’t even have a proper list of activities and destinations or know whom to call in the many inns, restaurants etc. in their localities. I seriously doubt if local tourism officials under the DILG have a template that they can follow in building up their respective tourism programs.

Unless you have local contacts or are an experienced traveler, you would face quite a challenge figuring out where to go, where to stay, what to ride etc. Tourists are on their own as far as getting around and figuring out costs, prices, distances and travel time. Several foreign tourists are also concerned about insurance coverage in case of accidents in vehicles used by tourists. There is always a level of risk as everyone is a stranger since you don’t really hear, much less see, “accredited” operators, service providers etc. Many localities don’t have visible signs telling guests to register and familiarize themselves with the list of tourist attractions.

Unless you are into TripAdvisor, some web travel forum or the likes, many local tourists learn that finding a place to stay, knowing the costs and having to rely on discovering their standard of service can be very trying and a bad way to waste your vacation time and money.

Most of the places are congested without thought for parking and routing. Baguio for instance should start designing and enforcing one-way systems and really toughen up on violators. Many towns have an over abundance of dogs that roam freely and dumping dog shit all over the place while barking and scaring tourists on foot and many provincial towns visibly mishandle garbage or don’t have proper waste disposal facilities.

Many of the hotels I’ve stayed in were surrounded by roosters who crow in the middle of the night or early morning disrupting one’s sleep. In Sagada and Baguio (where we stayed in an up class hotel) we were awakened by the tooting horn of a “Puto/Kutsinta” (rice cake vendor) who kept going pot-pot every 3 seconds at 6:30 in the morning. If barangay and town officials are trained and understand that such noise pollution and disturbance are unacceptable in a tourism environment, they might take action against the presence of such things that should not be allowed in urban areas.

Many of the pensions and inns up north were obvious fire hazards or traps, had very poor quality water heaters that were susceptible to electrocuting a guest. Most bathrooms were tiny to the point of discomfort, with toilet bowls that were small or too low for foreign tourists or today’s taller people. We noticed that inns, hotels and pensions in Bontoc, Banawe, and Sagada were not screened resulting in a number of guests complaining about mosquitoes and insects.

This is not a rant list but just pointing out that many people invest in local tourism but have no idea, don’t get mandatory training or seminars, or are not aware of the concerns that their customers are expressing or expect to be dealt with. The Department of Tourism should invest on improving the products, the people and their services before grading them or rating them. Tourism is not just about stars, hotels and big resorts. It is also about vision, setting standards, training stakeholders, and empowering them to be competitive and to pursue excellence. We have enough qualified Filipinos to do the teaching and training and that is where we should start, not end: to improve on our selves and not look to the stars.

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E-mail: utalk2ctalk@gmail.com


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