Notes from the Field

From Sri Lanka: Hotel Grading System Improves Standards

November 18, 2009

Kurunegala, the capital of Sri Lanka’s Northwestern province, derives its name from an elephant-shaped rock, reaching 316 meters at an altitude of 116 meters above sea level. Situated 94 kilometers from Colombo, the region is known for its huge, rocky outcrops that charm visitors with their resemblance to different animal shapes.

Its proximity to a number of famous sights and its temperate climate also makes Kurunegala a prominent transit town for travelers, especially tourists. An estimated 100,000 people travel through Kurunegala daily, far surpassing the town’s resident population of 40,000. Most of the visitors are long-distance travelers who stop to relax en route to other destinations. Although numerous restaurants cater to these visitors, the quality of service doesn’t always satisfy expectations. In order to better cater to the needs of this increasing influx of transit travelers, the Kurunegala Municipal Council and the private sector have collaborated to initiate and implement a way to effectively improve the quality of food and services in hotels and restaurants in the area.

“The system that was in place where the hoteliers are fined on the basis of routine checks by the Public Health Inspector was not found to be effective, as the hotel owners paid the fine, but continued to make the same mistakes,” says Dr. Gayani Dassanayake, Medical Officer of the Kurunegala Municipal Council. “So we thought of introducing a new system of grading, through which the hotels were to be graded based on performance.”

Now up and running, the new performance-based grading system includes a comprehensive questionnaire to measure safety and quality standards. Hotels were given marks on a 100-point scale and then given an overall grade of  A, B, C, or D. Certificates have been awarded by the Mayor of Kurunegala the Hon. Chandrasiri De Silva to hotel owners that earned a B or higher.

One of the unique features of this initiative is that it is a partnership between Sri Lanka’s public and private sectors. The two sectors met on a common platform through “working groups,” a mechanism initiated and promoted by The Asia Foundation, in which the business community and local authorities collectively identify challenges in their respective localities to more effectively work toward overcoming them.

The working group in Kurunegala, for example, actively supported the hotel grading initiative by helping to spread awareness of the new initiative and by recognizing and rewarding hotels that ranked high with certificates and plaques.

A number of hotel managers reported increases in occupancy rates as hotels improved services in order to achieve a higher ranking. In addition to an increase in revenue, some hotel owners noticed that the improved services resulted in a positive shift in clientele.

Also, some hotels that initially received a B or C have recently been upgraded to an A. The system has worked so well that the city is exploring the idea of extending it to places like teashops, bakeries, and restaurants to encourage quality improvement in those businesses as well.

By recognizing and rewarding higher standards in service, the grading system  has generated enthusiasm and competitiveness among the hotel owners, and has motivated them to strive to achieve the best possible standards. This is good for the hotels, the larger business community, and good for the guests.

Following the success of this initiative, two other localities, Kuliyapitiya Urban Council and Nuwara Eliya Municipal Council, with technical support from The Asia Foundation, have initiated activities based on similar private-public partnership to upgrade and improve hotel services, as well.

Anila SK is a Consultant in The Asia Foundation’s Sri Lanka office. She can be reached at anilask@asiafound.org.

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