Saturday, August 22, 2015

DOT Signs ASEAN Tourism Agreement Anew

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The Department of Tourism (DOT) recently signed an ASEAN Tourism Agreement (ATA) with other member states, establishing among others a Regional Secretariat that will oversee and facilitate the full implementation of the Mutual Recognition Arrangement (MRA) on Tourism Professionals, which was previously signed in November 2012.

The said ATA underlines cooperation of member states in facilitating travel into and within ASEAN; further cooperation in the tourism industry among ASEAN member states in order to improve efficiency and competitiveness; less restrictions on trade in tourism and travel services among member states; the development and promotion of ASEAN as a single tourism destination with world-class standards, facilities, and attractions; enhanced mutual assistance in human resource development and cooperation in developing, upgrading and expanding of tourism and travel facilities and services in ASEAN; and the creation of favorable conditions for the public and private sectors to engage more deeply in tourism development, intra-ASEAN travel and investment in tourism services and facilities.

The MRA on Tourism Professionals, on the other hand, aims to facilitate the mobility of tourism professionals, the exchange of information on best practices in competency-based education and training for tourism professionals, and to provide opportunities for cooperation and capacity-building across ASEAN member states. It was established by ASEAN as an active response to the booming tourism demand in the region, raising the bar in the quality of service delivered by tourism professionals. At present, there are thirty-two (32) work positions covered under the MRA, ranging from housekeeping, front office, food and beverage services, and food production for hospitality, to travel agencies and tour operator for tourism enterprises, among others.

Based on the January 2014 committee progress report delivered during the ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF) in Kuching, Malaysia, measures to step up competitiveness of the tourism workforce through the MRA are 75% completed, including improvement in connectivity via the open skies policy; a more simplified visa procedure through the ASEAN common visa; readiness for crisis and climate change; quality tourism through the standards on hotel, homestay, public toilet, spa service, tourism safety and security; and a sustainable tourist destinations and products.

Since 2012, the Philippines has sent select representatives from the academe, training institutes, and industry practitioners to train in Bali, Indonesia; and Bangkok, Thailand. The training resulted in a pool of 12 Master Trainers and 12 Master Assessors who now compose a team from the ten ASEAN member countries that will assist the Tourism Professional Certification Board (TPCB) and the National Tourism Profession Body (NTPB) in the implementation of the Programs under the ASEAN MRA for Tourism Professionals.

ASEAN MRA Awareness seminars continue to be held all over the country since 2013, with the DOT and industry partners initiating them. The regular conduct of National Masters Trainers and Masters Assessors Training programs on the four labor divisions continue in key tourist destinations. According to DOT-OTSR Director Maria Rica Bueno, assessment and certification of tourism workers from major destination areas of Davao, Cebu, Bohol, and Palawan have already been done.

Tourism Secretary Ramon R. Jimenez, Jr. said that this ATA will not only strengthen cooperation among ASEAN member states in facilitating better mobility into and within the region, but will also raise the bar of the tourism profession under the MRA. “Thanks to ASEAN Mutual Recognition Arrangement (MRA) for tourism professionals, we get to exchange information on best practices in competency-based education and training of our workforce. More doors of opportunities for cooperation and capacity building across ASEAN member states are now opulently wide,” Secretary Jimenez enthused.

Assistant Secretary for Tourism Development Rolando CaƱizal said that the ASEAN Tourism Agreement reaffirms that the tourism industry is important for sustainable socio-economic growth of the ASEAN member states, recognizing it as a human resource intensive industry that brings in investment and creates employment. Furthermore, the parties agreed that the availability of skilled and trained labor is crucial in the success of tourism industry. It also took note of the limited numbers of skilled tourism professionals in the region as a stumbling block to the development of tourism and service industry.

Also to ensue is the development of a toolbox for travel and tour services and an ASEAN Tourism Professional Registration System (ATPRS), a web-based facility to register and disseminate details on certified ASEAN tourism professionals (ATPs). Such also will serve as a job-matching platform between the industry and ATPs.

“With the signing of the ATA, we are assured of better market access, free flow of trade, competition, and innovation. We can also anticipate further cooperation among member nations, and discipline in standards of operations. This will certainly play a crucial role for tourism to contribute significantly to regional economic growth as well as pave the road towards the integration of ASEAN and realization of an open, dynamic and resilient ASEAN Community by year-end,” the tourism chief shared.

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