Sunday, August 3, 2008

Qualmark’s Dark Green Agenda

Qualmark have bowed to political pressure by inserting an onerous environmental criteria into its quality assurance assessment system for accommodation providers, visitor activities, transport and services.

This is a knee-jerk reaction to appease political correctness and nanny state’s broader initiative to introduce an environmental doctrine to businesses and the public.

Qualmark New Zealand Limited describes itself as New Zealand tourism's official quality agency. It is a government - private sector partnership between Tourism New Zealand and New Zealand Automobile Association.

Accommodation providers undergo an assessment to become part of the Qualmark licensing system. Properties are required to meet minimum standards and star ratings are appraised on cleanliness, safety, security, comfort and a range of guest services. The new environmental criteria has been unilaterally inserted into the quality assurance assessment and has undermined an arguably robust quality benchmarking system. Businesses are now expected to “tell a story” to the public about their commitment to “Responsible Tourism” as defined by Qualmark.

The environmental criteria will focus primarily on environmental concerns but will also measure any public-good social activities the operator chooses to engage in.

For Qualmark licence holders providing motel accommodation, the new environmental criteria will simply be inserted as a separate section in Qualmark’s overall quality assurance assessment criteria. This means that environmental and social initiatives will be assessed alongside other practical sections of the assessment and will be reflected in the final Qualmark star gradings.

What sort of weighting will Qualmark give to their new environmental criteria? Well, it will start off at 5% and it is has been claimed that it will eventually blossom to 12% of the of the total quality assurance assessment. If this occurs, the priority of importance given to environmental issues in the assessment will be prioritised first equal with cleanliness. Properties will be effectively forced to comply or put their star grading at risk.

Qualmark have imposed their new environmental criteria to licence holders on 1 August 2008. There is an assurance from Qualmark that there will be no extra cost, however it is unclear how long this will be able to be sustained. The environmental criteria was seeded by government funding in 2006 with an injection of $300,000 over 2 years for research and development. The Government have pledged further funding of $840,000 over the next 3-years to assist tourism businesses grasp the new Qualmark standards.

What impact will this have? Arguably accommodation providers that introduce worm farms, compost waste and engage in feel good community activities such as sponsoring the local cat shelter could well boost the chances of a favorable star rating. Arguably the opposite could also occur with accommodation providers that have little opportunity or find it economically unsustainable to fully embrace the new environmental mantra.

This will do nothing to advance the accommodation industry and will erode Qualmark’s assessment credibility with operators. Arguably this may also confuse the public whom will face difficultly trying to decipher what the tangible differences are between Qualmark’s star gradings.

There is no denying that Qualmark’s environmental guidelines are all worthy niche marketing opportunities for some accommodation providers. Most Accommodation providers already have environmental practices based on actual consumer demand and economic sustainability. It should be up to the individual operator to choose if they wish their environmental and social practices to be furthered and promoted.

This initiative by Qualmark is the biggest shake up of its quality assurance assessment criteria since its inception. Ironically this has been announced with no direct consultation with the very operators that this will have the greatest impact on. There seems to be little understanding or empathy with what impact this may have on typical Ma & Pa small tourism businesses and will take the focus away from economic sustainability, quality and tangible guest services.

Environmental and social ideology has no place in a quality assurance system.

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