How WR won a prestigious international award for a fictitious restaurant
(A True Story)

Wednesday Ramblings...
Stabroek News
October 29, 2003

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On April 9, Foreign Affairs Minister Rudy Insanally presented the prestigious ‘New Millennium International Award for the Tourist, Hotel and Catering Industry’ to New Thriving Restaurant at a ceremony at its Barr Street, Kitty branch.

According to the article in the Guyana Chronicle, (never one to miss out on sucking up to its advertisers so they forget how few people are actually reading the newspapers), the presentation of the Spanish Wild Bull trophy came on the heels of “a gala ceremony in Madrid, Spain on January 29, 2002, when New Thriving Manager, Mr Xiao Guang Zhao, of the Brickdam and Camp streets eating house, went to accept it.”

A press release said the prize winner was “one of the world’s 161 tourism, hotel and catering industry companies, which was so honoured on the 28th anniversary of the annual award. Judges from Editorial Office Trade Leaders Club “assess the competitors to determine which have attained the highest standards of excellence.”

Since then the restaurant has used the award extensively in its advertising campaign.

What Insanally and the public do not know is how easy it is in fact to ‘win’ one of these awards which are no more than marketing tools designed to lend prestige to a business while requiring no background checks on the applicants or the quality of the service they provide. In fact the ‘committee’ doesn’t even bother to find out if the company exists.

This became clear when a few months ago WR’s investigative unit applied on-line to become a ‘candidate’ for the award.

We invented a restaurant specialising in “upscale Thai cuisine fused with Caribbean accents” known as Thai/Guy Restaurant, filled out the form and clicked ‘Send’.

Last week a letter came back to the Thai/Guy restaurant’s address at 46/47 Robb St - actually the offices of Stabroek News - announcing that the “Selection Committee for the 29th International Award for Tourist, Hotel and Catering Industry, an award created by our publishing house in collaboration with the Trade Leaders Club to honour the most outstanding establishments in the tourist, hotel, restaurant and catering fields has chosen Rest Thai/Guy as a winner of the trophy for the year 2004.”

The letter went on to say that the awards would be presented to the elected firms after a dinner to be held on January 28 2004 at the Melia Castilla Hotel, 43 Capitan Haya St Madrid... coinciding with the international tourism fair “ Fitur 2004...”. “Attending this meeting there will be Spanish authorities belonging to the tourist and hotel VIP’s Press TV reporters, managers of news agencies and foreign correspondents will also be present.”

The letter then invites you to confirm your participation in a form which asks “for a short description or history of your company for publication in the book of award winning companies...”

The fees for attendance are 3,400 euros, about US$3,000, and include hotel accommodation. “Acceptance of the International Tourism Trophy entitles the award-winning company to use the image of the trophy and the various graphic material supplied in any advertising and promotional material it sees fit under the sole condition that the year the trophy was awarded must be mentioned.”

Among the other conditions is that the “Selection committee may withdraw the trophy if the company to which it was awarded does not continue to fulfil the standards of image quality of service on which it was based.”

A glossy brochure accompanied the letter showing pictures of last year’s ceremony where awards were “presented to over 80 companies who had stood out on account of their work promoting tourism.”

These were handed out to companies from Turkey, Indonesia, Ukraine and China among others. “The award winning companies have the right to belong to the Trade Leaders Club” which is consulted on who should receive the awards.

It was as simple as that, the Thai/Guy restaurant had won an award without even serving a meal.

Meanwhile the WR ethics department was tasked with determining if there was anything wrong with the way the award was presented and being used in advertising.

The company selling the award is not in fact breaking any rules as long as the company receiving it, in this case New Thriving understands it is simply a business transaction where one has agreed to take an award from the other and by doing so buy the prestige and cachet that comes with it.

An official of a large hotel chain in Guyana says such mailings are common and mostly ignored as just more junk mail.

But is there something wrong with misrepresenting how you received the award by making it out that you had been selected out of a number of applicants as part a prestigious competition? New Thriving did not directly do this in its press release although to state that the competitors were assessed “to determine which have attained the highest standards of excellence” can not been seen as entirely accurate.

The consumers are led to believe that the restaurant won the award and is considered one of the best in the world when in fact this may not be the case.

WR spoke to Mr Xiao Guang Zhao, the manager of New Thriving who said he had received a notification that he had been selected for the award via an unsolicited letter. He said he thought officials from the committee must have been in Guyana and chosen New Thriving. So he saw nothing dubious about accepting the award. He said he felt comfortable using the trophy in the company’s advertising because he still believed he was deserving of it.

He added that he had paid US$4,000 (US$2,000 per person) excluding airfare to stay in Madrid and accept the trophy.

Getting the Minister of Foreign Affairs to hand over the trophy was a PR coup since both in his official and personal capacity, Insanally would have anointed the award with a certain legitimacy.

WR spoke to Insanally, actually we spoke to his secretary who spoke to him who told her to say that the minister just happened to be available for the handing over and was not aware that the trophy was not what it appeared to be. She did not think the minister would be involved in such events again.

A jeweller and a bakery have in the past won such awards and their trophies have been presented with much fanfare.

Is there any minister out there willing to present WR with our trophy?

Meanwhile Thai/Guy restaurant will be opening its doors in February just as soon as WR gets back from Madrid.

Question of the week

Has the War on Bad Manners made one iota of difference?