In March accommodation establishments were shocked to receive an onerous set of guidelines for a new grading assessment system to be implemented by the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa. It caused such an outcry that the Tourism Grading Council had to delay its implementation of the new grading criteria by four months.
Input was sought from assessors, who themselves appeared to be unhappy with the greater number and more onerous criteria to be evaluated, and from accommodation establishments, both individually and as representatives of accommodation associations, such as the Camps Bay Accommodation association, which I head up. The Tourism Grading Council must have been overwhelmed by the response it received from the industry, to such an extent that it had to go back to the drawing board, and delay the implementation of the new assessment criteria to this month.
The new criteria have been implemented, and many accommodation establishments have been in shock, and taken the bold decision to revoke their star grading, not feeling that they will meet the new criteria sufficiently enough to make them retain their previous star grading. What is surprising is the poor communication by the Tourism Grading Council, in having had feedback that many establishments would withdraw from the voluntary grading assessment system, and that many others were unhappy with the extremely onerous proposed requirements. The CEO of the Tourism Grading Council was invited to speak to accommodation establishments in Franschhoek, Somerset West and Hermanus, but no one (least of all Cape Town Tourism, who sadly remained silent on the topic) set up an information session with Cape Town based accommodation establishments.
We were critical of a number of new grading assessment criteria which were proposed, but are willing to give the new system a try. Despite having been assessed by the Tourism Grading Council since its inception about ten years ago, the new grading systems requires all existing clients of the Tourism Grading Council to be registered from scratch. When I received the close to 20-page document for registration alone, and knowing that I would have to complete it for four Whale Cottages and not just for one guest house, I was immediately switched off, so switched off in fact that I have not had the energy to complete it yet. Some of the information that is requested purely for the registration process includes the following:
* Company turnover (this should have no relevance to the grading)
* Number of employees (this should have no relevance to the grading)
* Number of “visitors handled by your company on an annual basis” – most establishments might know their occupancy, but number of guests per annum is not a standard measurement in an establishment.
* Bank details are required, with onerous details requested such as date of opening the account, with details of the accountant and insurer too, information which has no relevance to the Tourism Grading Council, in our opinion. The questionnaire states that bank details are requested in the case of (unspecified) refunds – however, the ‘Schedule of Conditions’ excludes any refunds to be payable “for any reason whatsoever”.
* Documentation is required for company registration, provincial/municipal registration, ‘sufficient’ insurance cover from one’s insurer (would they ever say it is sufficient?), BEE scorecard compliance, liquor licence and municipal rezoning.
Ten pages are dedicated to the Tourism Grading Council “Schedule of Conditions”, which include the following: assessors may “overnight”, and in that instance accommodation, lunch or dinner (specifying that it be a 3-course meal – most guest houses and B&B’s do not offer meals other than breakfasts), one drink, one local call and one breakfast must be provided. The form on which one has to sign acceptance of these assessor rights differs from the detail provided in the Schedule of Conditions, the former being very vague. We have seen the ‘overnight’ privilege abused in the past, with assessors bringing partners and using their assessment visits as their annual holiday. It is also a way in which establishments can ‘influence’ the assessor in terms of the expenditure on the meal and drinks offered, taking the assessment out of the purely professional level. The time commitment to an “overnighting” assessor is tremendous – instead of a 2 -3 hour assessment visit, one is required to entertain the assessor from late afternoon until check-out the next morning, an extremely onerous time commitment for the owner/manager of the business.
* fees are payable annually, which is as before – in fact the fees must be paid upfront, so that the assessment can take place.
* assessments must be done annually
* “The TGCSA has the choice of the assessor to be assigned for the annual assessment at its discretion” – this is most contentious, as grading is voluntary in general, and one has always been able to select one’s own assessor.
* The Tourism Grading Council will award a star grading.
* One may dispute the grading awarded
* Graded establishments must maintain their establishments’ standards to comply with the grading awarded, and must display their grading plaque (which has been changed, meaning that each establishment must order a new one).
* Establishments must promise to not offer “any gratuity/incentive/bribe to any person in order to influence such person…”, clearly referring to the assessors, and to only provide truthful information
* The Tourism Grading Council excludes its liability for any claims against it caused by any claims which may be lodged against a graded establishment.
* Should the establishment be sold, it cannot cede or sell with it the current grading, which means that it has to be terminated, and the establishment must be assessed from scratch for the new owners.
All of the above relates to the paperwork purely to be (re)registered with the Tourism Grading Council! The application form was not offered to the industry for input originally. We have been told that most of questions are for one to receive government business!
A most pleasant surprise is that the actual assessment has been vastly simplified compared to the initial draft, which ran to 60 pages, and the criteria have been relaxed relative to what was intended in the draft, making most of them little different to the existing assessment criteria. We highlight the most important ones:
* The scoring for 4 stars, which was proposed to change to 74 – 88 % in the draft, has been changed back to the current 85 – 94 %
* The draft document required a security guard, and onerous specified security features. This caused an outcry due to the cost of the extra staff and features needed. Now the minimum requirement is for the ‘best possible” safety and security to be offered for one’s guests, including providing emergency information, contact details of staff on 24 hour call, adequate lighting outside and inside the establishment, the “best possible locking devices”, and a safe for valuables (in the draft the safe was specified to be a laptop size one, but this requirement has been dropped, probably out of cost considerations in replacing existing safes).
* Statutory obligations include being registered as a business; registered with the provincial authority (the exact registration is unclear); having public liability insurance; and complying with local authority fire; and hygiene and building access regulations.
* The establishment must be open throughout the year, except if seasonal in nature, and if being renovated
* No discrimination of any kind is allowed, in terms of denying access to any guests
* Marketing communications must specify the cost of accommodation, meals, refreshments and any extra services, as well as surcharges and levies, and must be quoted inclusive of VAT; the cancellation policy must be communicated; the “in-house rules” must be visibly communicated; and all facilities and amenities must be “honestly” described
* Bed linen and towels must be changed every five days – given water shortages and rising electricity costs, the draft requirement of changing towels daily and of changing bed linen every three days having caused an outcry.
* The bedroom and bathroom size, specified in square meters per accommodation type and star grading in the draft document, has been dropped, the only requirement being that the space “should allow guests to move easily”, with a minimum ceiling height to cater for guests 1,8 m tall, and should provide “freedom of movement”. The minimum bedroom and bathroom sizes were a very sore point in the draft, and would have disqualified many establishments from retaining their current star grading.
* Airconditioning is only required of 5-star establishments – the draft required all 4-star and 5-star establishments to have airconditioning, causing an outcry due to the cost of purchase, as well as cost of running in terms of electricity. A heater or fan must be made available.
* Colour TV’s are required, but no longer have to be flat-screen, as specified in the draft
* “Stationary (sic) and writing materials” must be supplied, a new requirement
* Telephones in guest rooms are optional, and not a requirement
* One of the biggest issues was the provision of an 18 hour reception service in the draft document – this has mercifully been changed to “reasonable hours during the period that the establishment is open”.
* the minimum Breakfast requirement is a Continental one. Breakfast serving time was specified in the draft, and this has been removed.
The Tourism Grading document for Guest Houses contains 38 pages of guidelines of how assessors are likely to score the criteria out of 10 points. Assessors welcome the new criteria and scoring sheet, saying that it takes the subjectivity out of the assessment.
It is a shame that the Tourism Grading Council communicated the initial draconian draft document, as it frightened many of its existing graded properties from renewing their grading. The Tourism Grading Council has made no attempt to inform its clients that the initially strict criteria have been greatly relaxed, making it likely that establishments will retain their existing grading – a PR campaign aimed at existing graded establishments is sorely needed! One wonders how much of taxpayers’ money was wasted by designing a draft assessment document, utilising consultants, when the Tourism Grading Council has largely reverted back to where it was in March this year! It needs to address the registration questionnaire, in terms of length and onerous requirements, as this is now the only off-putting part of being assessed.
POSTSCRIPT 28/10: We believe that this blog post may have led to the Tourism Grading Council sending out an invitation to Cape Town accommodation owners/managers to attend a four hour breakfast presentation at the Cape Town International Convention Centre on 3 November. While we salute this very late attention to Cape Town’s accommodation industry, in trying to obtain buy-in to the new grading assessment criteria, breakfast time is the one time of the day that guest houses and B&B owners cannot be away from their establishments, and certainly not for four hours! It proves how out of the touch the Tourism Grading Council is with its customers.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage