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Meeting ASEAN standards for "quality single destination"
Courier News Desk

MORE FUN IN THE PHILIPPINES -- The ever-hospitable Filipinos like the Ifugao tribesmen have a lot of fun to offer to foreign visitors, who wish to explore the beauty and wonders of the 7,100 islands in the country. -- Harley Palangchao


The Cordillera region, with its deep history, unique way of life, and vast ecological features, is not lagging behind in terms of must-visit, must-taste, and must-experience offerings for local and foreign tourists and visitors. In fact, much have been said and written about its famous places, people, events, and culinary aspects that Cordillera should have no problem keeping up with its counterpart tourist destinations in the Philippines.

However, still many areas and sites – those that are emerging, waiting to be discovered, and even the already famous ones – have difficulty making its way into the tourism map or sustaining its pull of tourists, therefore losing either the opportunity to have a thriving industry or retain its staying power in the light of the heightened competition among tourist destinations in the country. In some instances, host communities are left paying the price of tourism that lacked planning and foresight – unsafeguarded environment and too much commercialization at the expense of culture and traditions.

Setting some standards and placing the role of the community in the forefront, the Department of Tourism-Cordillera has aimed for a “revived Cordillera” through the Rev-Bloom tourism campaign that aims to revive, restore, revisit, and revitalize Baguio City and other tourist spots in the region through programs that instigate re-blooming to make tourism its sustainable industry.

For Baguio, in particular, and in similar situations, strategic interventions are focused on re-greening and re-blooming projects and infrastructure development.

With the Philippines’ membership in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which targets to accelerate economic growth, enhance trade development in the region, and allow the free movement of goods, services, skilled labor, and capital, tourism stakeholders of the Cordillera need to be informed of the standards agreed upon by ASEAN members in order to help the region, and the country as a whole, figure in better standing in the ASEAN and be globally competitive in terms of tourism.

The standards aim to help position ASEAN as one “quality single destination” by establishing criteria and requirements that must be met by stakeholders in each country’s tourism sector.

ASEAN tourism standards

Member countries of the ASEAN came up with standardization of goods and services that are essential in helping transform ASEAN into a stable and highly competitive region, among them are the benchmarks for tourism services. There are six tourism standards that were agreed upon – Green Hotel, Food and Beverage Services, Public Restroom, Home Stay, Ecotourism, and Tourism Heritage.

Under the ASEAN Green Hotel Standard, one of the major criteria to be observed by hotels is environmental policy and actions, which require the use of local and environment-friendly products in hotel operations and the introduction of waste management techniques like recycling, waste segregation, and composting.

Other criteria are energy efficiency, which requires introduction of energy saving techniques and /or energy-saving technology and equipment for hotel; water efficiency, which encourages introduction of water saving techniques and/or use of water-saving technology; air quality management; noise pollution control; wastewater treatment and management, which require the use of mechanisms to prevent water contamination and reduce wastewater generation; and proper toxic and chemical substance disposal management.

Under the Food and Beverage Services Standard, the following requirements, among other things, must be met: floors, walls, and ceilings of food premises must be easy to clean and should not absorb grease, food particles, and water; effective sewage and wastewater disposal system; use of appropriate containers to store the food; provision of training for staff on cleanliness and hygiene for food operation; maintenance of food premises to a standard of cleanliness; and provision of mechanism or platform for visitors to feedback on service quality.

The Public Restroom for Tourism Standard requires that public restrooms must have good waste water management system and water treatment system; harmonized design with the surrounding environment; provision of adequate facilities for disabled and elderly; provision of sufficient amenities such as tissue and soap; adequate air circulation and ventilation system; must smell good and no dirty slough; and must not have slippery ground.

The ASEAN Homestay Standard has also set criteria on accommodation, food and beverage, safety and security, activities offered to visitors as part of home stay program, environmental conditions, local benefits, and marketing and promotion.

On accommodation, the standards emphasize the use of local design and materials, furniture, and interior decoration; provision of good ventilation system to avoid any smell, and regular check for insects and nuisance animals; and regular monitoring and maintenance of lock of doors and windows to ensure high safety for visitors.

On food and beverages, the standards underscore cleanliness and safety – clean and safe kitchen and kitchenware; clean and safe fresh water; and good hygiene and sanitation in food and beverage preparation and handling, among the other requirements.

On safety and security, it requires the provision of training on safety and security, availability of emergency guidelines or measures; and accessibility to public facilities like hospital and clinic, public telephones, post office, and police station.

In offering activities to visitors as part of home stay program, the standards mandate the provision of environmentally friendly activities that do not create any negative impacts to the area; involvement of visitors in local activities like handicrafts making, arts, language, traditional dance, traditional events and festivals; and provision of necessary information about cultural activities to visitors.

On environment conditions, the standards require that the number of visitors, scale, and type of tourism activities, period of visit at each natural or cultural attraction do not exceed the carrying capacity of the sites and regular monitoring for environmental condition of the attractions must be done.

On ensuring that the locals benefit from the arrival of tourists, the standards require that residents must be provided education and training programs on various aspects of home stay management and entrepreneurship. Maintenance and enhancement of local culture, natural environment, and authenticity of the community and the area are also required.

The availability of interpretation plan or program that helps increase understanding of visitors and local people on the significance and authenticity of the place must also be assured, as well as the provision of a mechanism or platform for visitors to feedback on service standard.

There must also be marketing and promotion plan or activities to include clear target visitors and their needs. There must be promotional materials like brochure, interpretative and directional signage, panels about the program and community.

Under the ASEAN Ecotourism Standard, the criteria focus on the place’s ecotourism potential, accessibility of tourism activities, environmental management, site management, safety and security, and interpretation and educational program.

For areas that have ecotourism potentials, the standards require that nature should be the focus of tourism attraction; there must be diversity of ecological resources or natural habitats; undisturbed environments or environments demonstrating natural process at work like wetlands, wilderness areas, or coastal areas; the site is a habitat for rare and/or unique species; and the culture of local community that lived or living in the natural site and the cultural resources in the area must be authentic.

The standards also require appropriate and sufficient access, adequacy of clear directional signage to the site, and safety of visitors travelling to the site.

Tourism activities must also be planned and controlled, subject to the guidelines of the relevant authorities conducted in high natural significant area or sensitive/fragile area to minimize the negative impact on the environment; must be compatible with local heritage, values, and character; and must be planned so that tourists follow specific path to minimize the negative impact on the environment.

The ecotourism standards further require the determination of the carrying capacity of the site; there should be an environmental planning and impact assessment, which includes use of appropriate design and materials for infrastructure compatible with the local environment; minimum site disturbance in constructing new facilities/product promoting energy conservation policy; availability of energy conservation program; promoting solid waste reuse and recycling; appropriate waste disposal; minimize environmental impact caused by disposal of wastewater; minimum noise impacts to a level equal to or lower than background noise in the local setting; minimum disturbance to wildlife; minimum impact on local air quality; and availability of clean restrooms.

An appropriate ecotourism trail must be created; a visitor center or information booth to provide updated and accurate information must be set up; and well-trained local guides/interpreters serving visitors must be provided. Codes of conduct to educate visitors on what should or should not do when visiting the site should be introduced and the ASEAN Traveler’s Code must be promoted.

Under the ASEAN Tourism Heritage Standard, the criteria focus on the uniqueness and characteristics of heritage, site protection and conservation, tourism and site management, environmental management, accessibility, and support facilities.

On ensuring the uniqueness and characteristics of natural heritage, the following must be met: significance of ecological systems and natural habitats; undisturbed environments or environments demonstrating natural process at work like wetlands, wilderness areas, or coastal areas; and existence of rare and unique species present at the site.

On ensuring the uniqueness and characteristics of cultural heritage, the following must be met: significance of the existing cultural and historical resources; authenticity and integrity; and degree of survival of the archaeological remains, human values, ways of life, customs, land use, events and living traditions.

On site protection and conservation, the standards require the existence of management control/measures to ensure that the site capacity (in terms of resources and facilities) can absorb tourism activities; and implementation of preventive measures/management mechanisms to minimize degradation of resources.

On tourism and site management, the standards provide that there must be appropriate tourism activities compatible with local heritage, values and character; involvement of local communities in the development and the management of the cultural and the natural heritage site; creation of jobs that encourage the use of local knowledge, skills and traditions; use of appropriate off-site and on-site interpretive media to educate visitors; availability of well-trained local guides/ interpreters to serve visitors; introduction of codes of conduct to educate visitors on what should or should not do when visiting the site; and a monitoring program in place to assess tourism impacts on the site.

On environmental management of heritage sites, there must be provision of appropriate and sufficient waste management system; putting in place of waste water treatment; zoning of parking area for the site; and control and regulation of the entry of objects materials and vehicles to the site.

On accessibility, there must be sufficient infrastructure and facilities to enable easy and safe access and adequate and clear directional signage to the site.

On support facilities, the adequacy of facilities such as medical care, food and beverage outlets, electricity, water supply, restrooms, and communication tools must be met including the availability of skilled staff, officials/local guards and other measures to take care of safety and security for visitors.

The ASEAN Standards on Tourism provide the outline for member countries to comply towards the region’s push for one identity. These standards have also set the pace for the crafting of more detailed benchmarks for homestay, community-based tourism, and spa services, among the other tourism-related services.

VILLAGE HOMESTAY -- The establishment of homestay facilities in eco-tourism sites in the countryside like the Maligcong Rice Terraces in Bontoc, Mountain Province is one of the major thrusts of the Department of Tourism in line with the country’s bid to promote tourism to the ASEAN market. -- Harley Palangchao


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