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2017
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Elevating homestays in CAR to meet ASEAN standards
by Jane Cadalig


The tourist influx brought about by the hit television series “Forevermore” in Tuba, Benguet and the blockbuster movie “That Thing Called Tadhana” in Sagada, Mountain Province provides a bitter-sweet experience for stakeholders – the communities and visitors in particular.

Since the outpouring of people was not anticipated, the community in Tuba, where the fictional La Presa is located, suffered from wanton disregard of the environment and culture. Tourists on the other hand, are taken advantage of by enterprising individuals who jack up pri-ces of their merchandise.

The sad part: Tuba cannot forever bank on La Presa to attract tourists, given the “tourism booster’s” fictional nature. La Presa will cease to exist once the television series ends.

The good news: The community can continue what was started, especially with the natural charm and the potentials of Sitio Pungayan a.k.a. La Presa, as an agricultural area. Tourists will continue visiting the place even if “Forevermore” ended. But this will happen only if the community desires.

In the same manner, the availability of accommodation facilities in Sagada cannot be left to tadhana alone.

While it is no stranger to tourists, the municipality suffers from lack of accommodation facilities during peak season, which it exactly experienced when all roads led to the town during the Holy Week break. Pension houses and inns had a hard time accommodating people from all walks of life who wanted to have a glimpse of the places in the town which they saw on “That Thing Called Tadhana.”

Alternative accommodation

The problem on lack of accommodation is remedied by another form of board and lodging service: Homestay, defined by the Department of Tourism as alternative accommodation facilities operated by its dwellers, offering board and lodging while extending Filipino hospitality, culture, and lifestyle to its guests.

Homestay is not a new concept in the country. In the Cordillera, Sagada and Banaue and Kiangan in Ifugao have been offering homestays for several years now.

While it is ideal in areas that lack  or do not have commercial accommodation facilities at all, homestay is still offered in places that have several pension or guest houses, such as in Sagada.

Robert Pangod, Sagada’s tourism officer, said the municipal government is encouraging more houses to provide homestays, especially during peak season. He said they also want villages located far from the town to be trained on homestays.

 “We want to decongest the town proper so we want more communities to provide homestays,” Pangod said.

Those who want to provide homestay must, however, meet the requirements set by the DOT and the local government units. Foremost of these is the assurance of the safety, sanitation, and availability of rooms and other basic amenities such as clean rest rooms and kitchen and continuous water supply by the homeowner.

In cases when the place available for homestay is far from the town proper, Pangod said visitors are advised immediately of the circumstances to avoid complaints arising from disappointment.

In Benguet, Provincial Tourism Officer Claire Prudencio said homeowners are also being encouraged to participate in the homestay program.

Currently, municipal tourism action officers are asked to list potential homestay providers who could be endorsed for training to be conducted by experts from the DOT Central Office.

Among other things, Prudencio said those who intend to open their homes must undergo training on food and bed preparation.

She said potential homestay providers must be taught on food preparation and presentation, especially since homestay providers are encouraged, as much as possible, to serve dishes that are prepared in the locality so visitors can really experience the host family’s way of life.

“We need to refine the way we prepare food to ensure guest satisfaction,” she said.

Seeing this need, the DOT-Cordillera schedules various culinary and homestay training for restaurant owners, accommodation providers, and other stakeholders in these sectors to equip them with knowledge and skills on how to run their respective livelihood.

Accreditation

While homestays have been offered for some time now, much is yet to be done as far as accreditation of existing providers is concerned. Based on the DOT’s list of accredited establishments as of Feb. 5, most of the accredited homestays in the region are in Kiangan, Ifugao.

Establishments accredited by the DOT are regularly monitored to make sure they comply with the minimum standards imposed by the agency. DOT-accredited establishments are also included in the agency’s promotional brochures.

Philippine Homestay Program and ASEAN integration

Tourism landscape in the Philippines has changed a lot with the implementation of the ASEAN integration 2015. As such, not only are the services of commercial accommodation facilities have been adjusted, but also the homestay program.

The country’s homestay program has been “re-conceptualized” to make it at par with the basics laid out in the ASEAN Homestay Standards, which, among other things, aim to make tourism a community affair that is sustainable and one that benefits the community throughout the year.

The standards are not yet fully implemented, but homeowners are being prepared, trained, and advised that their services are no longer confined only to providing accommodation and breakfast to visitors.

According to the ASEAN standards, the selling point of the homestay program is not the physical entity of the village but is  more on the total village experience, where the community and communal activities are strong influential factors.

DOT OIC Regional Director Mary Bila-got said the thrust now is to make homestay interactive and a community effort.

She said the DOT Central Office has piloted Kiangan for the homestay program in sync with the ASEAN standards. Kiangan is the pilot area for Luzon. The other pilot site is Siargao in Surigao del Norte for Mindanao.

“Kiangan was chosen as pilot area for Luzon because the situation in the place makes it ideal for homestays. While it  is continuously visited by tourists, it lacks commercial accommodation facilities.”

Bilagot said with the new homestay standards, host families and communities are expected to really let the guests experience their way of life by allowing them to participate in activities, especially those that are cultural in nature.

Host families who are engaged in traditional weaving or woodcarving, for example, should allow their guests to try their hand on actual weaving or woodcarving.

“This is why we want that families who provide homestays are really willing to open their homes because the services expected from them are no longer just accommodation. They must now involve their guests in their daily activities. They should really make it a serious business,” Bilagot said.

In Kiangan, the homestay program has been presented first to the community so they know what are expected from them.

Bilagot said other stakeholders in the community are also trained to provide services such as transport groups that are responsible in bringing the guests to the community and tourist spots, restaurant owners, the tour guides who will accompany the visitors as they wander in the community, and the performers who will have to entertain visitors through cultural presentations.

“We are hopeful that Kiangan can sustain what has been started so we can replicate the program in other areas. We really want the homestay program to become a community tourism,” she said.

While it encourages interaction among families and the community, the ASEAN Homestay Standards discourage the participation of guests in activities that will exploit flora and fauna. The standards provide that physical impact of tourists on sensitive natural and cultural environments must be limited and mitigated.

To ensure authenticity, it provides that the homestay community should retain its identity, values, and culture to portray a distinct and authentic experience, preserve local handicrafts, and showcase local performing arts by establishing cultural groups and associations.

The new homestay standards leave a challenge for providers and the community, but with willingness to adopt, attend trainings, and implement what has been learned, communities will experience “forevermore” in tourist arrivals and they will no longer rely on tadhana to sustain their livelihood.

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