The recent attempt by the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa to completely overhaul its grading assessment criteria, and then to withdraw most of the proposed changes due to the outcry from the accommodation industry, is the biggest PR gaffe of the body that has been tasked by South African Tourism to set accommodation quality standards. The Tourism Grading Council’s charming Chief Quality Assurance Officer Thembi Kunene admitted that an error had been made in presenting the first draft to the industry.
We wrote recently about the final decisions the Tourism Grading Council made, relative to the draft proposal, in its new accommodation grading assessment criteria. At a presentation to the Cape Town accommodation industry at the Cape Town International Convention Centre earlier this week, Ms Kunene was commendably honest in her feedback about the effect the draft proposals had, and that the potential loss of many accommodation establishments from the grading system led to a rethink, and a delay by about four months, in introducing the new assessment criteria.
The Tourism Grading Council was criticised for only setting up the meeting in Cape Town in November, the city with the largest number of graded establishments in the country, when it had done presentations in Hermanus and Franschhoek, for example, in September already. The Tourism Grading Council is clearly sensing a concern, and is doing a road show throughout the country during November, to reassure its clients. The only problem was that the meeting was set for 8h00 – 12h00, the busiest time of day for accommodation establishments – the smaller they are, the more likely it is that the owners are hands-on in their establishments in making breakfast and checking out their guests, and therefore were unable to attend the meeting. Ironically, an establishment owner said that the only reason why he was able to attend was because he had no guests in his guest house!
What is not understandable, despite the fact that Ogilvy PR handles the public relations for the Tourism Grading Council, is that no PR campaign has been launched to repair the damage caused to its image amongst its clients through the draft assessment criteria document, which was sent to all star-graded properties. No current star-graded establishment has received any communication to explain that the bulk of the proposed controversial assessment criteria have been scrapped. Assessors also seem to have been overwhelmed by the controversial process and the number of calls they had to field about the proposed changes, that they themselves have not been proactive in informing their clients about the dramatic turnaround in the new grading assessment criteria.
A sensitive issue is that the Tourism Grading Council has chosen a new formula for the calculation of its annual fees, by weighting the average room rate and number of rooms to come up with the new fee. In an example provided for a 2-star guest house in Soweto, the fee increase was shown to be 10 %, whereas it was a far larger increase for a larger higher-starred guest house. The fee increase in excess of the inflation rate attracted strong criticism amongst the attendees, when accommodation establishments have frozen their rates, some as far back as 2007 already. The fact that a breakfast was provided was raised by Ms Kunene, as if the establishment owners should have been grateful for the mediocre Convention Centre breakfast, consisting of fruit, cereals, yoghurt, rolls and cold meats, and that it should justify the fee increase! Ironically, Ms Kunene talked about her new iPad, and one wonders why such a R9000 purchase was necessary! Each attendee also received a gift on departure, unusable to most and thus a wasted expenditure. One also wonders why KPMG was contracted to handle the revision of the grading criteria assessment, and how much they were paid, for a proposal that has dented the image of the Tourism Grading Council, and with it that of SA Tourism!
We have written previously that technically very little has changed in the assessment criteria. It was interesting to hear which of the proposed assessment criteria changes attracted the largest industry criticism:
* airconditioning – an “air temperature control system” is now acceptable as an alternative to airconditioning, but must have adjustable controls, to be set for the level of comfort of the guest.
* dinner service – whilst the criteria say that such a service must be made “available”, it is meant that one must make bookings at restaurants for guests, or allow Mr Delivery access to the establishment for food delivery
* room service and hours – this only applies to hotels now
* statutory requirements – each province has different requirements for rezoning, trading etc, and therefore a full list had been supplied. Now the directive is that the applicable provincial requirements must be adhered to.
* armchairs – this had led to a debate of the exact definition of such chairs, and therefore the criterion was redefined to be a ‘seating space’ per person
* shower over bath – a glass partition must be made available for 4 and 5-star establishments
Lesser issues in terms of feedback received related to security requirements (scrapped), room dimensions (scrapped), size of TV screen and initial directive that the TV be a flatscreen one (now dropped), down pillows (scrapped), master switch next to bed (scrapped), wardrobe size (scrapped), number of basins in 5-star bathrooms (scrapped), size and placement of mirrors (scrapped), number of clothes hangers (scrapped), breakfast duration (scrapped), and private toilet in open-plan bathrooms (criterion retained).
Another issue was the application form – yes, no matter how long one has been graded, one has to register from scratch. Here a number of onerous and off-putting information requirements led to further controversy. They were justified by the Tourism Grading Council as being necessary if one wants to offer accommodation to Government officials. These information requirements have now been dropped, yet establishments have not been informed of this recent change.
Whilst the Tourism Grading Council demonstrated its willingness to listen to its customers, the graded establishments of South Africa, its image is severly dented, and it needs to regain the trust and respect of thousands of graded establishments who are considering not renewing their grading or who were inconvenienced by the drama surrounding the attempted changes to the assessment criteria.
Ms Kunene called me the morning after the presentation, to personally thank me for my contribution to the meeting during question time. She impressed with her openness and willingness to hear her customers, and requested that I assist the Tourism Grading Council in spreading the word about the fact that barely any changes have in fact been made in the new grading assessment criteria, which we have already done through our previous blog post.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter @WhaleCottage