Private tourism stakeholders step up to ease SEA Games woes

SEVERAL associations of private tourism stakeholders have stepped up to assist in smoothening the arrivals and bookings of athletes from countries participating in the Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games), which begins on November 30.

In an interview with the BusinessMirror, Hotel Sales and Marketing Association Inc. (HSMA) President Christine U. Ibarreta confirmed that she had been contacting several of her members to ensure that athlete-guests would be well assisted in their bookings and room assignments, as well as accorded the best service until they leave to go home to their respective countries.

She said she personally could no longer stomach the criticisms about the country’s hosting of the SEA Games, especially since “we [hotels] work so hard in inviting tourists to come here….So I wanted to get to the bottom of these [issues].”

She said she has already spoken with some 10 hotels in Metro Manila and in Subic to find out if any issues need to be addressed urgently, and to see what the establishments can do to ramp up their services and make a good impression on the athletes.

Ibarreta said the hotels “will extend whatever courtesies we can without breaking the bank. Like we can allow late checkouts, provide entertainment, etc.; just to emphasize the fun [here in the Philippines]. Just be extra nice to them [the athletes],  and provide the Mabuhay service.”

The Cambodian football team earlier had complained that Century Park Hotel did not have their rooms ready when they arrived. But Ibarreta said the hotel was not notified of the change in the team’s arrival, which was supposed to be on Nov. 23, and not Nov. 21. She stressed all the organizers — the Philippine Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee Foundation Inc. (Phisgoc) — had to do was to “write us [hotels] and request for an early check-in.”

This developed as the Department of Tourism (DOT) released a statement on Tuesday saying the agency, along with members of the Tourism Congress of the Philippines (TCP) “remain committed to implementing the best practices in welcoming international guests to the country.”

The agency said it “already assigned personnel to be present during all airport reception and departure activities for all SEA Games  delegates, in coordination with Phisgoc.” Through the TCP, the agency is also now “in touch with all hotels and related industries engaged in the SEA Games.”

The DOT called on the public to “unite and live up to the Filipino brand of service and fun that we are known for. Let us rise to the occasion and put our best foot forward.”

TCP President Jose C. Clemente III said he will be meeting with DOT and HSMA officials today “to see how else we can help ease the difficulties of the athletes.”

The Yanson family, owners of Ceres Transport, and private firm Vallacar Transit, on Tuesday deployed some of their buses to assist in the transport of 17 football teams playing at the SEA Games.

Messages from private individuals and organizations willing to host and feed athletes at their homes, as well as help in transporting the delegates from their hotels to their event locations were posted on Twitter.

Meanwhile, sources familiar with the situation disclosed that “there’s still some hesitance on the part of Phisgoc” to let DOT assist in the welcome reception. “For instance, the DOT is assigned to only hold the leis to put around the athletes’s necks, when they arrive at the airport.”

The same sources intimated that DOT had been offering “even before” to help Phisgoc in organizing the hotel bookings, “but they [Phisgoc] repeatedly kept saying they would do it on their own.”

A member of the organizing committee for the SEA Games in 1991 and 2005, who requested anonymity, told this paper that the Philippine Convention and Visitors Corp., the forerunner of the Tourism Promotions Board, “used to chair the  [Games’] food and accommodations committee.” The source added that “previous organizing committees were a combination of private and government officials.”

Seasoned theater actor Bart Guingona, on Twitter, also emphasized that all the athletes are fed by the host country. “When I worked in the 2005 SEAGames, we knew ahead of time when the athletes would arrive, how many they were and what their food restrictions were. And we fed them from the day they arrived to the end of the games.” He added, the athletes were provided with “packed breakfast (with halal choices) and buffet lunch.”

Filipina footballers on Monday revealed that they were given a packed breakfast of “Kikiam, rice, and egg,” which were below the dietary requirements of athletes. Netizens also quipped that kikiam, made of pork, is not considered halal food by Muslims, who comprise many of the participating Southeast Asian teams.

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