ARE THESE PEOPLE STILL IN KINDERGARTEN? DO THEY THINK WE ARE?

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DETAILS OF THE DEPARTMENT OF TOURISM’S “THIRD-PARTY AUDITORS” CREDENTIALS, TRAINING, and INSPECTIONS

It was long ago pointed out that our government should not try to grade hotels because it simply lacks the experts and the impartiality to carry out the process. The DOT’s answer to this was to say: We hired foreign consultants to structure the program; they’re experts. And don’t worry, because we hired third-party auditors, who are also all experts, to do the evaluations.

Do you believe them? Read this and decide for yourself.

Who Were the Foreign Consultants?

They were almost all from the United Kingdom, veterans of organizations like Visit Scotland and Visit England, which are regional tourism promotion bureaus. In most cases, their job was to inspect rural inns and pubs. What did they inspect? They counted windows, telephones, toilets, and fire escapes. They measured room size. In brief, they were just a kind of building inspector or clerk.

In 2011, the United Kingdom national government decided it would no longer support these regional bureaus. The UK authorities pulled the plug because Tripadvisor, Expedia, and others already rate hotels for free; and because the rigid checklists of these promotion bureaus was out-of-date, irrelevant to what real customers are interested in.

The UK pulled the plug. Overnight, those bureaus suddenly lost most of their budget, and as a result they cut many of their staff.

Enter our Department of Tourism. The DOT hired these now unemployed clerks, apparently on the grounds that the UK’s leftovers were good enough for Filipinos. After all, they’re English.

OMG! Are these DOT officials still in kindergarten? Do they think we are?

Who Were the DOT’s so-called Third-Party Auditors?

To carry out its grand schemes, the DOT needed to hire a small army of persons to carry out the visits and grading of hotels. Since this was going to be part-time work, they were unable to convince experienced high-ranking hoteliers to quit their jobs just to serve the DOT. So, back in 2013, what did they do?

They hired people who were unemployed. Hmm, unemployed. Maybe there were good reasons why these persons were not in Dubai, or Macau, or in any hotel in the Philippines. But the simple fact is they were unemployed.

There were not enough even of these. In 2014, the DOT was desperate for warm bodies to do these audits. So they instituted a program whereby people who had jobs in tourism could moonlight as auditors. The hotels which employed them could earn “brownie points” with the DOT by allowing some of their employees, who apparently needed extra money, to take a few days off every now and then to do an audit.

What kind of hotel would allow this? A hotel running at low occupancy, of course.

This of course led to the anomalous situation where a hotel employee moonlighting for the DOT could grade his competitor hotels, or hotels in another region which might be a competitor to his. So much for “third-party”.

OMG! Are these DOT officials still in kindergarten? Do they think we are?

What Experience did the Third-Party Auditors Have?

In most cases they were persons with some experience in the hotel industry. But they were not senior officers (or they wouldn’t have been unemployed, or available to moonlight for the DOT). No hotel will lend its best officers to work for the government, so we could say that, for the most part, these were mediocre middle-level hoteliers.

Turning to the DOT’s checklist, which has hundreds of items to be rated. Were any of the auditors furniture experts? No. Were any of them structural engineers? No. Were any of them licensed landscape professionals? No. And so on and so forth. It is a safe bet that NOT A SINGLE ONE OF THESE AUDITORS started with even one of the various kinds of expertise that would be needed to knowledgably grade hotels according to the DOT’s formulas.

This is not a statement against the individual auditors, but just to point out that the DOT was asking for a miracle in finding enough people to do its “quality checklist”. And that miracle didn’t happen.

OMG! Are these DOT officials still in kindergarten? Do they think we are?

How Much Were They Paid?

An oft-repeated remark in business is “You get what you pay for”. By this most of us understand that if you pay P 200, you can have an ugly streetwalker, and if you want a beautiful starlet for the weekend, you should probably budget P 100,000.

So, what did the DOT pay for its “expert” third-part auditors? The DOT had US$7 million for 700 hotel evaluations. This works out to $10,000 per hotel rated, or P 500,000. Surely the DOT would splurge and hire the best talent available. Take a wild guess – P 50,000 for the auditor per hotel rated?

Would you believe P 10,000? How about P 5,000?

OMG! The DOT initially paid the grand sum of P 1,800 per audit! When it got some extra funds, it paid P 3,500. Considering the time required to make an audit, including travel, staying in the hotel, tabulating, keypunching, this is at least 50 hours of work! That’s P 70 an hour. Meanwhile the NCR minimum wage is P 60 per hour.

Do you imagine this attracted the best and the brightest? The most beautiful? Or was it only enough for streetwalkers?

OMG! Are these DOT officials still in kindergarten? Do they think we are?

How Were They Trained?

Let’s remember that most of these personnel were just average joes working in hotels, or unemployed. Obviously none of them had any knowledge or expertise to grade hotels according to furniture quality, lobby beauty, food service quality, artwork in lobby, building structure, lighting, etc., etc.? They must have received some training, right? Right.

The common wisdom now, courtesy of Malcolm Gladwell, is that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at most things. If you spent 8 hours a day doing something, whether playing the guitar or cooking Italian food, after 1250 days (almost 4 years, without weekends or holidays) you would be an expert. So, how much time did the DOT allot for these auditors to become simultaneous experts in furniture, landscape, interior design, linen and laundry, fine arts, structural engineering, transport systems, cooking, reservations management, lobby management, etc., etc.?

That’s 10 disciplines times 1250 days each. The total is 12,500 days, or 34 years. (Solid, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.)

Let’s skimp a little, and say, not 1250 but just 50 days per discipline. That’s 500 days, or about two years allowing for weekends and holidays.

Is this a good guess of the amount of training the DOT invested in? 2 years of training per auditor?

Would you believe 1 year? Would you believe 1 month?

OMG! The shocking truth is that each auditor was given FOUR – count ‘em, FOUR – days of training, supplemented later by odd extra days, to total almost 10.

WOW! 10 days to become an expert in grading hotels, that the DOT wants the whole world to rely on.

OMG! Are these DOT officials still in kindergarten? Do they think we are?

The Mystery Shoppers Who Came in from the Cold – Immediately

A cornerstone of the DOT’s claim to “impartial” and “expert” grading by its auditors was the claim that they would be “mystery shoppers”. The Forbes hotel star raters, and the Michelin restaurant reviewers, for example, never identify themselves; they come, stay, pay, and leave, and even afterwards the establishment never finds out who reviewed them.

Did the DOT’s auditors in fact follow the “mystery shopper” principle?

Heck no. They were instructed by the DOT that once they got in the front gate, they should declare their identities to the hotels. This was so they could elicit the hotel’s cooperation in seeing kitchens, checking building structures, and so forth.

But in doing so, they totally voided the whole purpose of the exercise! Obviously, some hotels would show them the best rooms, assign the best staff, replace furniture and linen – whatever it takes to raise their score. And of course we can’t be sure, but perhaps some hotels “talked privately” with their auditors to offer money, male prostitutes, or other inducements to get a higher score. Everything is possible once the mystery shopper’s identity is no longer a secret. In any responsible “mystery shopper” system, the identity of the inspector is NEVER revealed, not even a year later.

All those visits were an absolute waste of time, like conducting a biological experiment without guarding against cross-contamination.

OMG! Are these DOT officials still in kindergarten? Do they think we are?

The Decibel Meters without a Calibrated Noise Source, aka Operating a Receiver in the absence of a Transmitter

The DOT has repeatedly claimed that its program is “scientific”. To this end, they equipped the auditors with decibel meters, so they could measure how quiet a hotel room was. Wow, impressive, right?

Wait a minute. A decibel meter is only ½ of the needed equipment. If you have an IQ of 80, you will realize that you need a noise SOURCE, too – a calibrated source that can be set to emit, say, 100 decibels, and you can then use the decibel meter on the other side of the wall to see what you get. Without the calibrated noise source on the other side, the decibel meter inside a room was totally meaningless. In fact, the more empty the hotel, the higher it would score on “noise attenuation”. Amazingly, not a single person at the DOT or among the auditors figured this out, in 700 hotel visits.

OMG! Are these DOT officials still in kindergarten? Do they think we are?

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