Mimi Hudoyo examines Indonesia’s quest to certify its tourism professionals and businesses in the run-up to the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC)

Indonesia is trying to get its tourism businesses certified to ensure that they achieve certain standards as the country prepares to compete regionally, especially with greater economic integration coming in the form of AEC 2015.

According to local laws,  all professionals working in the industry must attain competency standards, while products, services and management of tourism businesses have minimum business requirements to meet.

Indonesia's outgoing minister of tourism and creative economy, Mari Elka Pangestu, said: "In 2013, travel to ASEAN grew 12 per cent, the highest growth worldwide, to 92.7 million. Out of this, 46 per cent was intra-ASEAN traffic. This region has a lot of potential."

Citing the latest World Economic Forum Competitiveness Index on Travel and Tourism, Mari added: "Indonesia's position is 70th out of 140 countries. Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and Brunei are ahead of us.

"In terms of human resources, Indonesia ranks 38th. The position is not bad, but...it is our homework to move up."

How the standards work
Currently, 24 out of 56 standards for the industry have been established, covering areas like accommodation, restaurants, tourist attractions, tour operators and travel agencies. The target is to finalise 28 standards by this year and the rest in 2015.

Spelling out the regulations at a recent workshop organised by the Association of the Indonesian Tours & Travel Agencies (ASITA) Jakarta Chapter, Agus Priyono, director of tourism industry, Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy, said a tour operator must be a legal entity and sell more than one tour package, with at least one of them being a package the company creates. A travel agency can be a one-person operation selling tickets and accommodation.

He explained: "Although it is a one-person operation selling products online, a travel agency must have an office, even if it is at home, as long as the office is a separate area from household activities.

"This means that OTAs that do not have a land address are not recognised as travel agencies."

Another stipulation is that those working in both tour operators and travel agencies must hold competency standards.

Agus said: "This is a gradual process. If we impose the law requiring companies to employ certified staff fully, no tourism-related company will be able to pass the certification process."

Major tourism enterprises must be audited and certified within the next two years, while SMEs are given four years to comply with the government regulation, according to Agus.

He added that there is, in fact, a growing demand for certification beyond Indonesia. "The new China law, for example, states that only certified guides can lead tours from the country," he pointed out.

Implementation obstacles
While the government is pushing for the implementation of the regulations, it acknowledges several challenges.

The number of business certification agencies and auditors as well as the number of professional certification agencies and assessors are still limited. Also, there seems to be a lack of urgency among industry players to engage in the certification process for both their staff and companies.

Agus said: "In the hotel industry, for example, there are 16,000 hotels to certify in the country. However, there are currently only 60 auditors and they will only be able to audit 3,000 hotels in one year.

"Other than encouraging business certification agencies to increase the number of auditors, we are also encouraging them to appoint auditors in secondary destinations."

As for manpower, the certification programmes supported by the ministry have turned out 64,000 professionals this year.

"While this is higher than our targeted 50,000, the number is still small compared to the (industry's) 10 million workforce," Mari noted.

Herna Danuningrat, president of Citra Netratama Tours & Travel and advisor of ASITA Jakarta, said: "Travel-related associations have been conducting training and inviting members to take part in the professional certification process, but the industry bosses are concerned that their staff will later be hijacked by other companies. Also, for this programme to succeed, we need the government to finance it."

Rudiana, board member of ASITA Jakarta, raised the same point. "The government needs to assist small companies, with subsidised or free trainings and upgrading," he said.

Herna added: "While ASITA Jakarta has 130 registered members, there are more people selling travel without legal entities that we have to compete with. While tour companies are required to go through audits and be certified, we need law enforcement to curb illegal operators, especially those operating online."

Sebastian Ng, managing director of Incito Travel and board member of ASITA South Sulawesi, agreed. "ASITA South Sulawesi has received several complaints from travellers who booked and paid a tour from an OTA scammer. When things go wrong, people turn to ASITA even though it is the government's mandate to stop this from happening," he said.

Speeding up the process
A suggestion is for bigger companies to become certification agencies as well, working alongside the tourism academy and professional certification agencies.

"Major hotels, for example, need a huge number of staff for their own properties. They can send human resource development staff to be certified as assessors for their internal certification," Mari said.

Sumarna Abdurahman, vice chairman of the National Professional Certification Agency, said: "The way to make the programme work is not through law enforcement but encouragement of industry participation with government incentives.

"In Australia, for example, the government funded the industry (association) to create the standards. It then brought the standards to the educational institutions, with the government giving funding support to schools that use the standards in their curriculum. Similarly, some incentives were given to industry members that met the standards.

"Within 15 years, the system worked so well that the government did not need to give incentives."

Indonesia's Ministry of National Development Planning has plans to roll out something similar although this is still being discussed, according to Sumarna. The idea is to maximise the use of the government's education trust fund for accelerating professional certification.

Source: ttgasia.com 



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