In the early 1950s, Jose Cobarrubias, then general manager of Bayview Hotel, wanted to impose a 10-percent service charge on bills to cover for breakages and losses. Hoteliers sided with his idea since the cost had been too great for them to absorb. But restaurateurs, who had fewer breakages and afraid of losing customers, resented it.
“It split the hotels and restaurants into two,” Cobarrubias was quoted in The Golden Years 1951-2002: A Chronicle of the Philippine Hospitality Industry published by HRAP. The squabble would change the course of how the industry is run. During the debate of both sides at Manila Hotel in 1951, players reportedly settled the case by first forming an association called HRAP. It was registered in 1952.
Yap faced a similar problem in 2010 when he was appointed by the association’s board as interim president from vice-president for the hotel when the post was vacated. By a sheer coincidence, another general manager from Bayview (now called Bayview Park Hotel) led the association.
Yap said his initial goal was “to unite the members of the board of directors.” He said, “I wish to harness them in a unison manner.”
In 2011, in what the president described as a joint effort by the board and members, HRAP gradually went back on its feet with the revival of the oldest culinary showdown in the country called Chefs on Parade (COP). “Somewhere along the line, because of many factors, COP was put into a hibernation for a while until we [decided to revive] it in 2010,” he said. The competition had first began as a one-day event at Sea Breeze Hotel in 1974, Bacolod City and was later expanded to include trade exhibits and seminars until COP was discontinued after 2004.
The return that year on February 10 to 12 was well-planned. Thirty student and professional competitions were critiqued by 100 local and foreign judges like Emmanuel Stroobant and Alex Dino and watched by more than 26,000 visitors throughout three days. HRAP launched a coffee-table book on time and the first Larry J. Cruz award. In 2013, COP was expanded to a fourth day.
Players outside of the association’s circle saw COP’s revival as a clear message that HRAP is back. Internally, among the improvements noticed by HRAP director for affiliate and associate division, Maria Christina Aquino, is that “there is now more active and timely response to members’ queries.”
For members, HRAP’s relevance has been about proliferating information on best practices and training. In the past, HRAP hosted Cornell University trainings in 1965 and SHATEC (Singapore Hotel Association Training and Education Center) in 1992 and helped open the UP Asian Institute of Tourism in 1975 and the Hotel and Tourism Institute of the Philippines, now defunct, in 1992.
The culinary showdown’s return reflected this cause, offering three to four days of highly technical and specific free short-courses for the trade and students. Behind the limelight, the association has been active in reforming hospitality and tourism education.
The past three years were very critical times for the education sector, which comprise 30 percent of HRAP’s members. Culinary schools offering technical short-term courses were booming. In 2010, the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) issued a moratorium on the opening of new hotel and restaurant management programs as a measure of controlling quality among the 211 schools offering BS HRM. Aquino, who concurrently sits as Lyceum of the Philippines University’s executive director for planning, said the association made its stand to lift the moratorium.
“I hope it (CHEd) will reconsider this in the future because we need more graduates, courses, and establishments to open up,” Yap told HNM in an interview printed in September 2012. The association no longer has a training school but has been assisting CHEd’s ongoing curricula review for tourism and hospitality management courses.
Perhaps where HRAP solidified best its presence over the past years was in policy-making. “We have dealt with the government on a more eye-level basis,” said the president. In the past years, it has worked with at least 12 government agencies and legislative committees in the areas of energy, environment, agriculture, labor, training, local governance, tourism, statistics, and health.
The association has generally been a strong player in institutionalizing today’s hotel standards since 1952. It was mainly because of HRAP that the service charge became regulated in 1974 through the Labor Code. Its leaders helped put 13th month pay in hotels and airport meet and assist services a norm in the industry in the 70’s, helped decrease further losses from a plummeting tourism economy in the 80’s, and put technical training an industry priority in the 90’s.
During Yap’s time, HRAP was a primary stakeholder in formulating the Department of Tourism (DOT)’s revised hotel accreditation system that reverts back to the star-rating system from the U.S. model devised after EDSA 1. It has chipped in ideas for plans like the National Tourism Development Plan 2011-2016 and represented the industry in monitoring the development of laws, the most recent include a bill to grant 20-percent discount to indigenous people and one covering public beaches.
Amid national and regional developments in tourism, critics argue that current government reforms are commendable but still lack the speed needed to benefit from a single ASEAN market in 2015 and to maximize the massive domestic hotel openings between 2012 and 2017.
Yap, however, maintained his confidence that tourism targets are reachable with a stronger private-public collaboration. Not simply putting the blame on government, he believes that a key to move forward is one that banks on mutual understanding.
This stance was seen in HRAP’s past general meetings where key government heads arrived as speakers. In August 2012, the board invited Jose Angel Honrado, general manager, Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA), to answer the trade’s concern. “We have opened contacts with them. We have asked them to inform our members, to make our members understand the difficulties we are having with the current infrastructure, with our type of government bureaucracy, with our type of government funding,” said Yap. “That alone has eased out pressure on MIAA so they can focus on the improvements much better.”
Directors want the achievements to go even higher for the next administration. Christopher Park, Manila Pavilion Hotel’s general manager, said HRAP would need to build “tighter [and] stronger] liaisons” outside of the DOT, “gather all recognized provincial HRAP chapters under one true umbrella,” and find ways to raise professional and quality standards.
One secret of how HRAP has managed to surpass six decades is by earning collaborators rather than foes, said a source. Having built good working relations with MIAA, HRAP is now set to operate a lounge at NAIA Terminal 1 and will rent it out to the trade. It has done similar operational projects before, from a school to a restaurant, thanks to the strategy. It’s an underlying message Yap wants continued when his term ends this year.