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Assessing quality standards in T&T’s tourism sector
From scalding hot water in the bathrooms and bad food to poor customer service and over-priced hotels.
These were some of the comments that Tourism Minister Shamfa Cudjoe read out from review website Trip Advisor at a stakeholder meeting two weeks ago at the Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School in Mt Hope.
These were foreigners who stayed in T&T hotels and expressed their dissatisfaction with the poor service they received.
Noting that there were also positive reviews, the minister encouraged local operators to strive for “value for money” and called on all stakeholders to raise their standards.
In reaction to this, several hotels in both Trinidad and Tobago spoke to Business and Money on their position on quality standards in the industry.
High local standards
Barry Bidaisee, managing director of Cascadia Hotel and Conference Centre, St Ann’s, told Business and Money that the Trip Advisor travel website should not be used as an indicator of how tourists view hotels.
In fact, he said, any one can go to that review website and write negative comments without having actually visited the hotel and destination.
He said it should not be used as a benchmark.
He went on to say that standards are “very high” among local hotels and the tourism sector in general.
Bidaisee used his hotel as an example saying they are continuously upgrading.
“In fact, we are in the process of improving and installing new elevators, we are doing the poolside, we are doing over all our washing facilities in the public areas.”
He admitted that the tourism sector in T&T was down but because not enough is being done to market the tourism product.
“They just finished the car park but look at the condition of Maracas beach. There is a lot of work to be done in the tourism sector. In order for the sector and properties to improve, you need revenue. This revenue comes from people coming to the destination.”
Jacqueline Yorke-Westcott, executive chairman, Mount Irvine Bay Resort, Tobago, said local hotels in general set their own operating standards.
“While standards may vary from one establishment to another, I cannot say they do not meet international or regional standards. Hotels such as ours working with foreign tour operators are contractually bound to meet certain health and safety standards set by the foreign tour operators. Visitors sometimes complain of poor customer service in local establishments but this is not an issue confined to the hospitality industry.”
She said if there are areas of customer service where hotels may fall short in, it is not the hotel industry that should be blamed but it reflects the entire society.
“It is symptomatic of our society as a whole and no amount of training can fix this problem without nationwide cultural change.”
She added that as a destination, T&T is competing not only with the rest of the Caribbean but also with countries such as the Maldives, Seychelles, and other popular long-haul destinations.
“Unlike those countries, where tourism is the main source of gross domestic product (GDP), the T&T hospitality industry does not benefit from the tax exemptions and level of government support afforded to business owners in those destinations.
“Additionally, most of our food and drink is imported. Hence our price point is much higher. We cannot match the offerings of even our Caribbean neighbours.”
When asked what can be done to improve the standards, Yorke-Westcott said it is much more complex than that.
“It is a bit simplistic to say ‘improve the condition of local hotels’ because what is needed is an entire attitude shift towards the tourism industry and hospitality. Establishing mandatory hospitality standards will be a step in the right direction. Of course, this will require training, certification and policing.”
Lisa Shandilya, general manager, The Chancellor Hotel, St Ann’s, told Business and Money via email that they comply with the Bureau of Standards guidelines.
“In essence, standards for hotel operators in the industry aid in differentiating each product offering and the value scale to the customer. Most independent properties are officially registered and those who may have participated with the compliance guidelines from the Bureau of Standards would have followed criterion over the years.
“Unfortunately, the paucity of hotel standards for Tobago has led to the increase in villa rentals which, if not sorted, hotel/guesthouse operators would be left gasping for breath with compliance mandates.”
She said, at the moment, T&T is going through financial, economic and social ills which affects businesses in general, and thus income.
“Short falls of the tourism dollar, that once kept operators afloat, is now driving many out of business. The upgrade incentive given for 2017/2018 is excellent, however, the forex shortage limits the ability of hoteliers to purchase goods of a certain quality (electronic door locks, cabinetry, rugs, etc).
“I would hope that the process of attaining the incentive is not bureaucratic and that the refund would be made within the shortest possible time frame for this program to be a success so that operators could upgrade their facilities.”
New regulatory authority
Brian Frontin, president, Trinidad, Hotels, Restaurants and Tourism Association, said that the concept of standards has to be very country or region specific.
He said the body responsible for standards in T&T is the Bureau of Standards and they have developed critical standards for the industry, one for hotels and one for guest houses.
Referencing the event that the Tourism Minister was speaking at two weeks ago, which centred around the T&T Tourism Regulatory and Licensing Authority, Frontin said:
“This authority going forward will have the remit to have legislative powers to ensure that standards are met.”
He also spoke about different properties that operate in the country that do not subscribe to national standards.
“They use the word ‘hotel’ in their names, as we sometimes read in the papers of certain elements occurring at properties called ‘hotels’.
They are not in any shape or form relevant to the tourism industry. We have a challenge with that happening as some of these properties end up on online sites such as hotels.com and invite tourists to properties that do not subscribe to standards.
“This poses a reputation risk for the destination.”
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