The Ministry of Industry and Commerce awarded The Mark, during a ceremony on 2 October, to eateries that successfully passed a strict Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) audit.
This year’s audits punctuate a process that began in March, when staff from Luang Prabang’s top hotels and restaurants raced to Lanith’s (Lao National Institute of Tourism and Hospitality) CIEH-accredited Passport to Success training sessions.
After passing a pair of five-day training modules – Health and Safety in the Workplace and Food Safety – they returned to their kitchens and fine-tuned them to meet global standards and reach The Mark.
“This is The Mark’s second year. In 2014, five hotels and restaurants were certified,” said The Mark Manager Manichan Chanpradid. She added that The Mark is valid for two years, after which the workplaces will be retested. “This ensures sustainability, and is good for Luang Prabang.”
Lanith Food Production Advisor Paul Burnett said the transformation in the participants’ perception of food handling and hygiene was remarkable. “They now know that learning is a life-long process. I am sure this will be reflected in the hotels and restaurants, where they work.”
The Luangsay Residence is among those achieving The Mark, and Hotel Manager Francis Fernandes is already seeing the change. “The most important (accomplishment) was transforming the local staff’s mentality to improve hygiene standards at work and at home.”
Mr. Fernandes noted that Lanith’s training energized the staff and boosted their morale. They are also eager to pass along their new-found knowledge and motivation to their colleagues and the community.
Luangprabang View Hotel Sales Manager Sengmany Chaila explained, “Lao people already know and like Lanith’s Passport to Success. Trained staff also enjoy teaching what they have learned to others.”
Mr. Chaila stressed that locals understand The Mark’s concept and the need for embracing a single, recognizable food-production standard and symbol. “This is one of the reasons why Luangprabang View wanted to achieve The Mark.”
Somsack Sengta, chef at the Blue Lagoon, echoed this sentiment. “Luang Prabang needs to be recognized as an international destination with European standards, and must build confidence in travelers. The Mark will be the symbol that travelers’ trust.”
Mr. Chaila reinforced this view. “Large groups always ask about food safety and hygiene. The Mark proves we offer this.”
Amantaka Human Resources Manager Ratsamee Sisouvith voiced his agreement. “The Mark guarantees we are among the best restaurants in town, and it will attract guests. The Mark also motivates our staff to always deliver quality service.”
Sada Hotel Manager Pheangjai Thaleah offered further insight into what The Mark means. “Travelers come to Luang Prabang to experience culture, which takes time. However, a quick way to learn is through our food. Serving safe meals impresses visitors on any budget, which makes hygienic food production a selling point. The Mark also motivates our staff, who take pride in meeting international standards.”
Maison Souvannaphoum Hotel Manager Yvonne De Suner said her dining outlets already have a certified kitchen system in place. However her company’s mission includes backing community projects.
“We want to support local initiatives…and The Mark reinforces what our staff is being asked to do,” Ms. De Suner said. “They feel good and proud that they achieved The Mark.”
Luang Prabang now has 18 hotels and restaurants displaying The Mark plaque, and Mr. Burnett said, “Lanith will continue growing The Mark, and we hope to have hundreds of certified hotels and restaurants in the coming years.”
The Mark now needs brand exposure among travel agents and international tourists, and those with The Mark plan to place the award in their marketing mix.
“We need to speak out so travelers will recognize The Mark as the symbol for food quality in Luang Prabang,” Mr. Sengta said. He added the Blue Lagoon will promote The Mark on its website and TripAdvisor page.
Mr. Fernandes said The Luangsay Residence will follow suit. “We will definitely feature The Mark on our site. We need to drive travel agents and tourists, so they know Luang Prabang has good food hygiene and safety.”
Ms Thaleah stated the Sada Hotel will place The Mark online. “People need to know we follow high standards on top of providing good service.”
Ms Chanpradid concluded, “A happy guest with a happy stomach will go home and tell everyone that Luang Prabang is a safe and clean place to dine.”
Lanith is The Mark’s operating body, and receives support from UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development Organization) and funding from the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO).