By Gary Hatigeva
THE Ministry of Culture and Tourism (MCT) has started rolling out its newly introduced Minimum Standards and Classification for Tourism Accommodation programme, which was adopted in the middle of this year.
This was confirmed to Island Sun by Ministry’s Permanent Secretary, Andrew Nihopara in an earlier interview this week.
Last week, Ministry officials were out in four provinces, including parts of Honiara, holding awareness activities on the programme with tourism operators particularly, the accommodation service providers.
Nihopara explained that the awareness comes as part of the first phase of the roll out for the programme, which is done in three rounds of visits.
He said operators will be given insights to the programme, which is pretty much getting people to understand its application and how it will be helpful and beneficial for both the ministry, and particularly the operators.
Meanwhile, the Ministry’s Director of its Tourism Division, Bunyan Sivoro in an interview yesterday confirmed and further explained that the rounds will also include assessment activities.
Sivoro said in the assessment aspect, officials will look to determine whether existing operators fulfil the categories of classifications, and then to be followed by reports that are expected to help operators understand their status or upgrade if need be, to meet the minimum standards.
The Minimum Standards are a set of measurable criteria that outline items and services that must be in place for a tourism accommodation to operate, according to internationally recognised standards.
There are eight categories under the minimum standards and classification programme, and according to the Director, it is from this programme, accommodation providers will then be classified into one of eight categories, which include ‘Hotels, Resorts, Lodges, Backpackers, and four others.
The Tourism Director said currently, some operators are wrongly naming the status of their accommodation services and the programme will ensure that tourists are not misguided by these statuses, with anticipation to have at least the percentage that is actively using these programs, are properly classified.
He added that there are were worries expressed by some operators on the issue of development capacity to meet the standards, fearing they might lose out on business if they are to upgrade or be part of the programme.
But the Director is encouraging all operators to try as it (programme) will come back to benefit their operations with proper ratings or categories, which will also help guide the ministry and responsible authorities in their programmes as far as marketing the right standards are concerned.
“To be known properly in terms of status and be involved in a competitive market, it is important that operators get involved so to know exactly their status, and based on reports, if they wish to upgrade to another category, they can do so, and this will also give them the confidence to be part of whatever potential markets out there.
“Operators’ participation in this programme is also important because, often at times, tourists are have been mislead on the advertised status of accommodation services, who in most cases, only come to realise that operations are actually lower, and with this, businesses can lose reputations,” Mr Sivoro explained.
When questioned, the Tourism Director revealed that so far, based on the first round of visits, three operators have been identified to have undervalued or used lower standards but are qualified to be upgraded straight away.
All in all, the MCT Director of Tourism explained that while people will feel uncomfortable about this programme, the main benefactors would eventually be the tourism operators themselves.
“The tourism department is very excited about this new chapter in the development of our tourisms sector, and note that it is our wish to see it grow to the country’s advantage,” he said.
This programme has also got Tourism Solomons Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Josefa ‘Jo’ Tuamoto excited, describing the move as a major step in the right direction for the country’s tourism industry.
CEO Tuamoto in an earlier statement, said the introduction of the programme was timely in view of the efforts Solomon Islands has gone to in recent times to increase its profile on the international tourism stage.
“This long-awaited but carefully laid out program will act as a catalyst for the local tourism accommodation sector to take a holistic approach to service excellence,” he said.
Officially launched by the Minister for Culture & Tourism, Bartholomew Parapolo at Honiara’s Heritage Park Hotel, the main thrust behind the programme is to implement what is seen as an essential improvement of standards in the tourism accommodation sector.
Currently there are 160 accommodation providers operating in Solomon Islands but only less than a quarter of these can be sold by international wholesalers offering Solomon Islands travel packages.
Despite only agreeing to three rounds of visits, the Tourism Director has assured that because not all may have been covered by then, and the ministry will continue with a few more visits after, which he suggested that by then, many would be ready to take part in what has been described as, a very important programme, as far as taking the tourism sector in the right direction, is concerned.