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17 Jan, 2014

ASEAN Moves to Provide Quality Toilets to Attract Quality Tourists

By Imtiaz Muqbil at the ASEAN Tourism Forum

Kuching, Malaysia – The process of ASEAN tourism integration could yield its finest result by 2015 with moves to upgrade and standardise the quality of public toilets at all places of tourist interest, transit points and popular shopping areas across the 10 member countries.

For the first time, heads of ASEAN national tourism organisations were presented with draft guidelines for an ASEAN public toilet audit to be carried out within the next year or so in order to help make the region a “quality destination.” The long overdue rationale is that if ASEAN wants to attract “quality tourists”, providing “quality” public toilets at the tourist spots will be an essential part of the visitor experience.

Indeed, the 39th meeting of the ASEAN NTOs was dominated by discussions of a broad range of measures under way to upgrade product standards and professionalism in the industry, indicating a clear shift away from the emphasis on marketing issues in the initial era of growth-creation. Quality clearly is now becoming more important than quantity.

As the industry becomes more management-oriented, other tourism sectors in which ASEAN NTOs are pushing ahead with certification schemes, creation of common standards and auditing processes include university and college tourism courses, spas, homestays, Green Hotels, food and beverage services and community-based tourism spots.

For the first time, the NTOs were also presented with a draft for the creation of an ASEAN “clean tourist city standard audit.”

According to ASEAN tourism sources, the development of an ASEAN public toilet standard is one of the measures developed within the framework of the ASEAN Tourism Strategic Plan 2011-15 “to develop and implement standardised tourism services essential for helping ASEAN to become a quality single destination.”

The NTOs were presented with the report of a special meeting on ASEAN public toilet standards held on 9 January 2014 in Brunei, chaired by Mrs Mariani Binti Haji Sabtu, Acting Director of Tourism Development of the Ministry and Primary Resurces of Brunei Darussalam.

In her opening remarks to that meeting, Mrs Mariani highlighted the importance of development of ASEAN public toilet standards especially since it can affect the tourism image of any country and also addresses related environmental concerns. She said the development of quality ASEAN toilets would enhance the quality of tourism services and strengthen the ASEAN Economic Community in 2015.

The  checklist handbook was developed with the assistance of the International Court Council International, the World Toilet Organisation, the Restroom Association of Singapore, the Asosiasi Toilet Indonesia, Dr Town Planner Clara Greed, British Toilet Association, British Standards Institute, Americans With Disabilities Act, Singapore Building and Construction Authority, and the Singapore National Environmental Agency.

According to the handbook, “A basic yet vital component of the tourism industry that can make or break the tourist experience is when the tourist has to use a public toilet. These toilets need to be clean, dry and hygienic, complete with various amenities, accessories and facilities, located conveniently, well maintained and equipped with proper waste management systems.

“Public toilets should also cater to the needs of people of different, cultural needs and genders, all age groups and people with disabilities.” It notes there are various types of toilets within ASEAN, with different norms and designs that can be traced back to different weather conditions and cultural/religious requirements.

Given that 42% of ASEAN population will comprise of Muslims after 2015, the guidelines also note the importance of accommodating the Muslim toilet etiquette, which relies on water-washing, not paper-wiping.

The handbook is designed to be used as a tool for auditors of the ASEAN public toilet standards to determine the conformity of the assessed public toilets. However, the audit and certification process will be entirely voluntary, and left up to the discretion of member states.

The detailed handbook divides the public toilet standard into 4 main criteria: 1) design and environmental management systems, 2) amenities and facilities, 3) cleanliness and 4) safety. It includes guidelines for assessment and best practices for public toilet design and management, then explains the scoring and classifying criteria.

It is being suggested that the certification should start with tourist destinations and urban-area attractions. It will not include public toilets in hotels, homestays, spas and community-based tourism because they are already covered under other ASEAN standards.

A regional certification body will also need to be set up. The certificate will be valid for two years and feedback from users and visitors will be important to monitor compliance. Extension of the certificate will need to be applied for 6 months before it expires.