BBH flicks the bird
We have been following media reports of the inaugural New Zealand Backpacking Conference with interest. The backpacker sector seems to be in good heart and has bucked the recession by attracting reasonable numbers to conference along with PM/Minister of Tourism John Key, Tourism NZ chief George Hickton and Tim Cossar head of the Tourism Industry Association.
During a conference presentation , Mark Dumble one of the directors of BBH (Budget Backpacker Hostels NZ Ltd) dared to take a swipe at Qualmark NZ, by labeling its quality benchmarking system as flawed and inconsistent.
While Dumble's comments may appear self-serving, BBH have successfully cornered the Backpacker sector with the majority of operators choosing the BBH quality rating system above Qualmark NZ. Guests that stay at a BBH property can rate their overall experience by responding to a simple question: "On a scale of 1 to 10, how much did you enjoy staying at each of the Backpacker Hostels you've used in New Zealand?"
Every year the responses are collated into a percentage rating to enable future guests to determine the "quality" of the experience of BBH rated accommodation. From what we can see the system is simple but very effective.
As an alternative, Qualmark NZ contract trained assessors to evaluate Backpackers in 3-4 hour stints every year using an exhaustive list of criteria. The star gradings allocated are a credible comparison between other accommodation options assessed by Qualmark, however the majority of Backpacker operators choose not to take part.
Qualmark NZ Ltd, a publicly funded Tourism NZ adjunct (with a minority shareholding by the AA) was originally set up to benchmark quality levels in the accommodation sector. This was to give consumers an easy way to compare options available by ranking accommodation businesses on the quality of services and amenities offered.
BBH has long been a thorn in Qualmark's side by not abiding to its self-appointed official doctrine. A prickly George Hickton hit back at Mark Dumble's discouraging comments by claiming it was unfair to compare a consumer-rated scheme with an accreditation system such as Qualmark. Hicton's disregard for guest feedback is interesting.
Across all accommodation sectors there have been regular claims that Qualmark are not consistent in applying their assessment criteria. We are unable to comment specifically on the Backpacker sector, however within our own Service and Self Contained sector (that includes motels) we believe that Qualmark's assessment consistency performance has been relatively good.
However, there are other concerns common to all accommodation sectors. Qualmark NZ have been accused of focusing more on measuring back office bureaucracy within a tourism business rather than guest demands. There has been questions raised about the the cost of Qualmark to the New Zealand taxpayer and the limited amount of accommodation properties that are willing to subscribe. Are Qualmark focused on what consumers really want? And Is their further risk of political influence, especially after the recent forced introduction of their politically correct environmental criteria?
One common area of concern that should be of more interest to BBH is that Tourism New Zealand have stated that they will only market Qualmark rated tourism product off-shore. This means that Tourism New Zealand that has a majority shareholding in Qualamark NZ Ltd will only allocate taxpayer funding to promote tourism product that has been licensed by its own "accreditation system." Does this sound like a conflict of interest?
There will never be a perfect system that measures quality, however you have to admire the plucky and independent, BBH by their relative success within the Backpacker sector against the larger, publicly funded institution, Qualmark NZ.