Entries tagged with “iPad”.

On Thursday afternoon I attended the launch of UberEATS in a private home in Willesden Road in Camps Bay, with the backdrop of a beautiful sunset. The launch follows that in Johannesburg four months ago, the city having seen 200000 downloads of the UberEATS App in the first two months of its launch.  (more…)

Hlala PanziThe Sweet Service Award goes to Gill Spargo of Hlala Panzi Guest House in Parkhurst in Johannesburg, who assisted me in finding a room for Tuesday evening, when Johannesburg accommodation seemed very hard to find. Despite being fully booked already, she called around to other guest house ‘colleagues’ in the area, and gave me some numbers. I also found 6 on Sixth in Parktown North, around the corner from Cube restaurant where I ate last night, via her. Each one of the guest house owners (Bridge House, Wind Mill, Remote Corner) gave me another name and another number, until I made a booking at La Bougain Villa (see below). (more…)

WhaleTalesTourism, Food, and Wine news headlines

*   The South African wine industry should be more assertive, and not try to please everybody, says Johann Krige, owner of Kanonkop and outgoing Chairman of Wines of South Africa (WOSA), who has handed over the reins to Dr Michael Jordaan.  Transformation in the industry of 680 members of WOSA and exporting collectively 550000 litres of wine is vital, Krige said. He said that the two windfalls of the ‘Mandela factor’ and a weak rand may have been bad for the industry, despite benefiting it financially, allowing inferior wines to be produced too.  The Board of WOSA has the five largest ‘black exporters‘ on its Board of 15, a positive development, Krige added.  He praised his Board members for working together for the ‘good of the whole industry‘.   Bulk wine exports are environmentally-friendly, it being more ‘green’ to bottle at the destination.  He urged the industry to be ‘terroirists‘, planting cultivars suitable to the soils on its farms.  He added that the government sees the wine industry as ‘too white, too male and too Afrikaans‘, and has not acknowledged the transformation that has already taken place.

*   Cape Town is praised in the British InStyle, writing with the headline ‘Why Cape Town should be your next holiday destination’ and stating that ‘Cape Town is the place to be’.  Focusing largely on the Mount Nelson Hotel, almost sounding like an advertorial, it does encourage visitors to go up Table Mountain and to experience Robben Island; go on a walking tour of the city centre; visit the ‘Boulders Penguin Colony‘;  see whales, dolphins, and seals, and even Great White sharks; experience the Neighbourgoods Market on Saturday mornings; and go to Greenmarket Square.

*   An Africa tourism tax on flights and accommodation, currently being considered by the African Union, would have a (more…)

Anthonij Rupert entrance Whale Cottage PortfolioYesterday we visited the Anthonij Rupert Tasting Room, one of two tasting rooms at Anthonij Rupert Wines, which previously belonged to Graham Beck Wines, and was bought by Johan Rupert from L’Ormarins next door, to enhance his access to water.  Anthonij Rupert Wines has five wine brands, and 25 sub-brands, the largest range in Franschhoek, to our knowledge.   Our invitation via PR consultancy Smart Communications & Events was to see the new tasting room and to try their new High Tea.

It was a grey wintry day, and the lit fire in the lounge was welcome and made the room cosy.  Hospitality Manager Gidi Caetano, whom we know from her days as Manager of Salt Restaurant at the Ambassador Hotel, and then as GM of  the previous French Toast Wine & Tapas Bar, explained the tasting room and company structure to us while we enjoyed the treats from the three tier High Tea stand, Anthonij Rupert High Tea close up Whale Cottage Portfoliowhich consisted of scones, cream and jam, chocolate cupcakes, and candied orange and gooseberry tarts, prepared by Chef HW Pieterse  and his team, beautifully decorated with rose buds, lavender, and pansies. We were served The Wellness Group teas,  with its tea leaves in muslin bags.  A range of flavours is available.   One can book the High Tea with 24 hour notice, and organise a tea party to celebrate a special birthday, anniversary, stork tea, or just a special spoiling. Anthonij Rupert Cutlery Whale Cottage Portfolio The High Tea will usually include smoked salmon blinis, and cucumber, dill and horseradish sandwiches too.  The treats offered change regularly, and could also include orange infused koeksisters, mini chocolate and hazelnut mousse pots, chocolate salami, and red berry tarts.  Gidi told us about the herb garden growing alongside the manor house, with 32 medicinal (for educational use) and cooking herbs, the latter used in the food preparation on the estate.  It was started from scratch a year ago.


Having had the misfortune to connect with The South African Butler Academy, and its Recruitment Head Adriaan Coetzer last week in respect of their graduate Hettie Novacovic, we have done more homework on this dishonourable and unprofessional butler training and recruitment body based in Cape Town.

A phone call to Coetzer, to chat to him about Mrs Novacovic’s short-lived employment with us, was professional and honest, Coetzer agreeing that Mrs Novacovic had acted unprofessionally by not arriving for work without giving notice, was late for work twice in four days, did not follow instructions about the breakfast serving time or any other instructions for that matter, did not own up to damages she caused to our property which cost us a call-out fee for the pool company, did not want to interact with our guests over breakfast (one couple asked her to leave the table, something we have not experienced in our 17 years of operation!), she refused to shake hands to welcome our new guests, was unable to manage the housekeepers, left to go home midway during guest check-in training, prepared a dreadfully kitsch table for our wedding anniversary guests we wanted to spoil (contrary to my request of how I wanted it to be made special for them), was closed off to any communication with guests and ourselves, documented (unbeknown to us at the time) everything she had seen and learnt with us in the four days on her iPad, and generously took a coffee and a breakfast break herself while the rest of the staff were focused on getting the rooms ready for the new arriving guests.  Coetzer agreed that appointing her was a liability for most potential employers, as she has a husband on pension, who has to be ’employed’ too, but may not earn any income so as to not lose his pension!   He accepted that Mrs Novacovic’s poor work ethic was a very negative reflection on the SA Academy of Butlers and its training standards!  She was dishonest about the rate she quoted for her daily fee, quoting the most qualified butler fee of R800 per 12 hour day, and therefore we reduced her hours to 8h00 – 14h00.  While Mrs Novacovic was not appointed via Guild Recruitment, the placement arm of the SA Butlers’ Academy, Coetzer welcomed the feedback telephonically.

Coetzer promised to have a chat with the butler graduate, having a meeting with her later in the day.  The e-mail response was one of a changed person, making wild unproven allegations, and disputing any weaknesses of Mrs Novacovic, to which he had agreed earlier in the day, which earned him a Sour Service Award! Mrs Novacovic had replied to our Gumtree advertisement for a half day assistant for Whale Cottage Camps Bay, sharing that she was annoyed by Guild Recruitment taking so much of her fee for their placement fee of 20% on the advertised butler rates.  She was therefore applying for jobs directly, and not via the SA Butler Academy recruitment service, an important part of the Academy’s misleading marketing to attract students.

The SA Butler Academy website (and its Facebook page) is riddled with typing errors, and is over-written with extravagant exaggerated claims:

*  It is a ‘non-profit’ training establishment – yet they charge R19500 for local students, and €5000 for international students inclusive of accommodation!

*   It is aimed at ‘hospitality candidates‘, who have a ‘desire to step into a lavish world of Wealth and Fortune‘ – yet Mrs Novacovic has no clue of the hospitality industry!

*   Its Principal is ‘world renowned’ Newton Cross, but a Google search only provides links to his Academy’s website!  Cross has trained as a butler in the UK, worked on some cruise liners, at Fancourt in George, and at Clarendon House in ‘Fresnay’ (sic)! It is claimed that he has worked for Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki, Michael Schumacher, Tiger Woods, Bill Clinton, and ‘George Senior Bush (sic)’.

*   Butler student applicants should be fluent in English, but neither the Academy’s website, its Facebook page, nor Mrs Novacovic’s writing reflects this fluency!

*   The ‘Academy is the finest in the world’, and ‘the finest Private Sector training institute in the world and most certainly in South Africa’, but these claims are not substantiated on the website!

*   The Academy is World renowned for our modern approach to Butler Service in private households, resorts, exclusive yachts and passenger liners‘.  Again, no substantiation is offered.

*   The Mission Statement is the ultimate in exaggeration by the Academy, no substantiation reflected in its website or via Google: “The Academy is tantamount with professional Butler training which prides itself on the highest form of dedicated Butler Training. At The South African Butler Academy you will be taught how to run an effective modern private estate or household with grace and professionalism not just and estate but also a Yacht, Hotel Butler department and Boutique Resorts. The Academy course is 8 weeks of intense Butler training governed by experienced celebrity Butlers who are qualified as professional Butlers. The Academy will provide you with all the skills and certification to perform Butler duties. Our Training standards are exceptionally high and admired by International press and media. We are the world’s number one leading Butler Academy and the apex of all estates and households. Become part of SABA and celebrate service”  (our underlining).

*   The logo (provided cheekily by the Academy yesterday) reflects five stars – however the Academy is not graded by the Tourism Grading Council, and its use of the stars is therefore unlawful, SA Tourism having decreed that the star quality denotion is exclusive to the Tourism Grading Council!

It is the claim We are proud to have a legacy in the market as our clients are kept confidential and above all “disclosure” is our highest priority” (our underlining).  Clearly they may have meant ‘discretion’ or ‘non-disclosure’, which ironically is the most dishonest of all the SA Butler Academy claims, with it publishing the slanderous feedback of Mrs Novacovic on its website, reflecting the unprofessional nature of the Academy and its graduates. Any potential employer of a SA Butler Academy graduate should fear that ‘discretion’ is not guaranteed by The SA Butler Academy or its graduates, and in particular by Mrs Novacovic.

Discretion is the most direct association one would have with a butler, and it is reflected in the Florida-based Institute of Modern Butlers’ Professional Butler Code of Ethics, which highlights Integrity, Confidentiality, Service, Lawful Behaviour, Dedication, Personal Development, Respect, Professional Relationship, and Promotion.  The SA Butler Academy and its graduate Mrs Novacovic have breached this international Code of Conduct in a number of respects.  Interesting is that the SA Butler Academy does not have a Code of Conduct!

At a cost of R19500 for an 8 week course, it would appear that The SA Butler Academy students themselves are being taken for a ride, as this time period is not long enough to teach any student the full theoretical spectrum of hospitality, customer service, staff management, table service, silver service, etiquette and protocol, security, home automation, interpersonal management skills, culinary training, household management, and executive housekeeping, all elements of The SA Butler Academy curriculum, and certainly not at a practical level!

Mrs Novacovic made no effort to learn my job, which she was meant to take over, lurking in the kitchen and washing the dishes most of the time, the most expensive dishwasher we have ever employed!  Our staff are served breakfast during the course of our very busy mornings, prepared by our chef, a different egg type daily, which Mrs Novacovic enjoyed too, and they are provided with lunch too.   I love writing this blog, and do so mainly at night, as there is no way that I could do it justice in writing it while sitting in a busy Reception dealing with the guests that we accommodate daily, e-mail enquiries and correspondence having priority during the day.  We deny Mrs Novacovic’s false and libellous allegations, deplore her attempts to discredit ourselves, our staff, and our guests, and reserve our rights to take action against Mrs Novacovic and the SA Academy of Butlers for defamation.

Needless to say, we would warn any potential butler student, and any potential employer of a butler via The SA Butler Academy’s Guild Recruitment, against any dealings with The SA Butler Academy!

POSTSCRIPT 27/2: We have received feedback from a number of our blog readers and past guests that their comments in support of ourselves have not been allowed on the SA Butler Academy blog, another proof of its unprofessionalism and one-sided presentation of information!

POSTSCRIPT 4/3: The SA Butler Academy has taken note of our comments about its exaggerated claims and spelling errors, having removed all the quotes we featured in the above blogpost.  Profiles of the owner Newton Cross and his partner Adriaan Coetzee have been removed.  An attempt has been made to remove the illegal use of the five stars in its logo!

POSTSCRIPT 4/7/17:  We were summonsed early this year by the SA Butler Academy with an intermediate interdict, demanding the removal of this Blogpost, four years after I wrote it. This came after a written request by the Butler Academy that I remove the Blogpost, which I was not prepared to do. Last week the judge hearing the case rejected the Butler Academy demand. I am extremely grateful to my superb advocate, for this outcome. The Butler Academy is threatening a further legal case, to claim compensation for alleged defamation, a case which is likely to be heard in 2018. 

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage


The Red Table Restaurant at Nederburg opened last week, and is the first restaurant to operate on this historic wine estate.  As Nederburg is synonymous with MasterChef SA, it was a surprise that the restaurant interior, service, and food are so far removed from what the reality TV series epitomises, and the quality positioning of the award-winning Nederburg wine brand.

The decor was done by Espresso, an interior design consultancy specialising in contemporary furniture for kitchens, bedrooms and living spaces from leading Italian furniture brands including Euromobil™, Zalf™, Silenia™, Desiree™ and Tonon™. The latest Italian functionality, practicality and style is brought to life by our award winning design team. We have showrooms in London and Cape Town” its website states.  No signs of this were to be seen in the restaurant, which consists of the main room and the side room (in which classic concerts were held) in the Manor House.

One notices the red signage for the restaurant as one arrives, odd looking small signs giving one a temporary feel, directing one to the restaurant at short intervals.  In the parking area, an overturned table holds the signage, and square exterior tiles have been painted red, as if to resemble a red carpet, to indicate the path one is to follow.  One is led to the front of the Manor House, shown the many tables outside, and enters the restaurant here, and no longer at its back entrance.  Pot plant holders have been painted red, and one took strain from the terrible southeaster blowing a gale at the wine estate on Friday. The tables look like they were original antiques from the Manor House, their tops having been given a red lacquer treatment, but I was assured that they were newly made. So too the chairs, with riempie seats, were painted white with one red backrest.  The 212 year old manor house has retained its beautiful wooden ceiling, and its brass lamps, but red splashes of colour are carried throughout both the rooms, with red ice buckets, red plant holders, red edging on weird shelves that look like tables ‘growing’ out of the wall, and red print on the menu.

I could not help but feel that the decor was amateurish, forced, someone having chosen a colour and creating a faux interior, clashing with the historic interior of the building.  Burrata’s use of its colour red is sophisticated and classy by comparison. Green touches are everywhere, with a ‘portrait’ of succulents over the fireplace in the second room, and hanging plants in the main room. The grand piano serves as a display surface, with bell jars containing stacked cups and saucers, books, and music scores. A children’s collection consists of a drum, a Children’s Britannica set, marbles, dinosaurs, Scrabble, sports cups, and more.  The fireplace is stacked with almost perfectly shaped logs. There are no curtains or drapes anymore, making the previous concert room echo.  The Persian carpets have been retained.  Books form part of the decor display.  No red serviettes have been used to carry through the colour theme.  The bathroom decor is untouched, with heavy drapes, a contradiction to the design of the restaurant rooms next door!  Sarah explained that the design is meant to be ‘colourful, vibey, aimed at modernising the brand, and attracting a broader group of people‘.

Cutlery was an ordinary looking Forum.  The table had tiny bowls with coarse salt and crushed black pepper. The orange pincushion protea in the vase on the table did not match the red colour scheme. The restaurant brochure (incorrectly) waxes lyrical about the restaurant: “Picture a novel (pardon the pun!) configuration of red tables meandering (sic) through the heritage building Manor House and into the gorgeous gardens (one enters FROM the garden into the building!) with lots of fun activities for both young and old, like croquet, giant Jenga games, skittles, reading spots and other fun options“!

I happened to walk in at the same time as did Sarah Proudfoot, the Restaurant Consultant working with Dish Food & Social, which operates the restaurant.  We talked about MasterChef SA, and she said that M-Net is working on a new set design for the second season of the TV show, everything used for season one having been removed.  The venue will be used for events after the second season has come to an end, meaning that a third season seems unlikely.  Sarah bent over backwards to find information, and to keep things running as smoothly as possible.  Dish Foods & Social has been contracted to operate the restaurant, a further shock, given the high standard and quality one associates with Nederburg and its wines. The contract caterer runs SideDish, the restaurant at The Theatre on the Bay, and does catering for functions and events. All staff have been brought in by Dish Foods & Social, and wear black pants and shirts, with a red branded The Red Table Restaurant apron.  Waitress Elmarie addressed me in German immediately, which would have been a sweet touch had I been a tourist.  She told me that she had grown up in Paarl, and recently returned from Germany after living there for 15 years! The more I replied in English, the more she spoke back in German, whereas the other tables with German tourists did not benefit from her language proficiency.  The Chef is called Mr X, as most of the staff cannot remember or say his name, being Nqobani Mlagisi, who was a member of one of The Ultimate Braaimaster teams.  It was here that Oscar Foulkes, husband of Dish Foods & Social owner Andrea and also a participant in the Braai competition, had met Nqobani.

The menu is an odd collection of loose slim pages, only two for the food, and seven pages dedicated to beverages, all wines being from Nederburg, clipped to a wooden board.  Strangely one page is dedicated to Dish Food & Social, but none to the history of Nederburg or a description of its wines and its awards overall. The menu is introduced as follows: “One of life’s delights is eating with friends, second to that is talking about eating. And, for an unsurpassed double whammy (who writes copy like this!?), there is talking about eating while you are eating with friends”!

Rolls were brought to the table on a wooden board, with soft butter.  The waitron staff take the order via iPad, but on my visit this hi-tech tool was not foolproof!  I ordered the Chilled gazpacho with roasted tomato and cucumber salad served with crispy parmesan chards (R45), a thick chunky refreshing portion brought to the table within minutes of placing the order, the only fast service I experienced. Other starter options are Salad Lyonnaise (with lettuce, bacon, croutons and poached egg), available as a starter or a main (R40/R60); a Brie, roasted wild mushroom and caramelised onion tart (R50); Confit duck, roast beetroot, orange and baby spinach salad, served both as a starter and main course (R60/R90); and a twice-baked cheese soufflé (R50). For the main course I ordered Kingklip with a pesto soufflé, crispy new potatoes, and peperonata (R115) from the blackboard. A staff member came back to tell me that the kingklip was sold out.  Sarah returned and apologised, saying that mine was the last portion of kingklip.  It was the most disappointing kingklip I have ever eaten, being over-complicated with the pesto ‘soufflé’, and the pesto clashing with the ice cold peperonata and the lemon aioli. The potatoes were not an ideal combination with the fish either.  The menu main course options are very restricted, and not particularly attractive: a venison, avocado, and caramelised onion burger (R95), Mozzarella roulade filled with aubergines, peppers, grana padano cheese, and basil pesto (R65); chicken and mushroom pot pies (R65); and free-range sirloin steak with fries and salad (R95).  Children can order a sirloin steak roll, a thin-based pizza, or sticky chicken skewers, at R40 – R50.

For dessert there are only four options ranging in price from R35 – R45, of which two are brûléed, being a lemon tart with mini strawberry milkshake, and an espresso brûlée.  I ordered the yoghurt panacotta with a refreshing strawberry and mint salad, and a cappuccino with it (requested as dry, with coffee and foam, but what came to the table was undrinkable). What followed was a case of broken telephone, the iPad no longer being used.  I was asked what I wanted for dessert, and I said that I had already ordered.  Sarah returned, saying that the staff said that I had said that I had already paid.  I explained to her that I had said that I had already ordered the dessert.  She returned to the kitchen, but they clearly could not find the order, and so she had to return to ask what I had ordered.  Sarah comped the dessert, as an apology for the dessert disaster, which cost almost an hour of waiting time.  One can also order a chocolate fondant with ice cream, or a cheese and preserves platter (R65).

The Nederburg wines are very reasonably priced, and many are available by the glass. The Première Cuvèe Brut costs R22/R69; 56Hundred Chenin Blanc 2012 R16/R55 and Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 R18/R60; Winemaster’s Reserve ranges from R18/R57 – R27/R87; Baronne 2011 R62; Manor House Shiraz 2009 R43/R125, Sauvignon Blanc 2011 R115, and Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 R125; the Heritage Heroes R39/R105 – R43/R120; Ingenuity at R175; and II Centuries Cabernet Sauvignon costs R245.

The only classy red touch in all the redness of The Red Table Restaurant at Nederburg was the bill brought to the table in a red envelope!  Odd was the choice of a Friday lunchtime for a major construction project at the entrance to the wine estate, meaning that one had to drive on a grass verge without any warning or guidance.

Originally the restaurant was meant to be a pop-up one until the end of April, but it has since been decided to continue running it through the winter.  I must commend Sarah for her calmness in trying to deal with the staff problems, given that the restaurant had only been open for three days, although they had ‘practised’ on Nederburg staff before opening.  I found it a shame that the lovely Nederburg Manor House, a national monument, has been cheapened with such a faux interior, such a poor menu, such poor food quality, and such poor service!  I would find it hard to give it a second try unless there is a radical improvement and change.  Poor Johann Graue, one of the earlier owners of the building, must be turning in his grave!

POSTSCRIPT 9/12: in reconciling my credit card slips this evening, I saw on the slip for my lunch at Nederburg that the credit card machine has been set up as ‘Dish Nederberg (sic)’.

The Red Table Restaurant at Nederburg, Nederburg Wines, Sonstraal Road, Daljosafat, Paarl.  Tel (021) 862-3104.   www.nederburg.com Twitter: @Nederburg  Wednesday – Saturday à la carte lunch, Sunday lunch buffet (R195).

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage

The Sweet Service Award goes to Pick ‘n Pay Camps Bay, and its manager Chris, for the kind gesture of offering some paper clips from the office of the store, when it did not have any paperclips in stock.   The Camps Bay store is one of my least favourite because of the poor service experienced week after week, so the gesture was a very welcome surprise.  The service at the tills is usually poor and the staff disrespectful.  Numerous complaints to the Pick ‘n Pay Head Office have made no difference at all.  On Twitter numerous Camps Bay residents have voiced their frustration at the poor service of this store.

The Sour Service Award goes to Bosman’s at Grande Roche in Paarl. A recent visit started with the predictable battle to get through the boom, the operator wanting to know why I was there!  On arriving at the terrace, two staff were packing away umbrellas, no restaurant staff coming outside to greet the new arrival, although they had been alerted by security.  I was then asked if I had come for dinner (at 5 pm)!  I was given a terrace menu, and I asked about their sparkling wines.  The cheapest (and only one) served is a Silverthorn, at R85 per glass, which I declined on price on principle!  The German waiter Tom seemed very irritated and aggressive in his service, yet inappropriately familiar in addressing me as if we had met before.  He stretched across me to lay the cutlery on the table, even though he had more than enough space to come around.  The Apfelstrudel came with a teaspoonful of ice cream, and when I commented about it, Tom brought another tiny ball.  German hotel guests sat on the terrace with bare feet, and Skyped on their iPad full blast, without consideration of other guests.  I was forced to sit close to the guests, as all other tables had been set up for the dinner service already. The service was disappointing for a hotel with 5-stars and the restaurant being on the Eat Out Top 20 Restaurant shortlist. The reaction on Twitter of the hotel to our Tweet was inappropriate: Thanks for the feedback. Bosman’s is only open from 7pm for fine dining. We like our guests to feel at home. Enjoy the evening”!

The WhaleTales Sweet & Sour Service Awards are presented every Friday on the WhaleTales blog.  Nominations for the Sweet and Sour Service Awards can be sent to Chris von Ulmenstein at info@whalecottage.com.   Past winners of the Sweet and Sour Service Awards can be read on the Friday posts of this blog, and in the WhaleTales newsletters on the www.whalecottage.com website.

The Sweet Service Award  goes to GumTree, for quickly removing four fraudulently placed ads, on Saturday evening, for an iPhone, an iPad and a cottage to rent, which had been posted with my name and cell number, causing a flood of calls and sms-messages throughout the night.   Gumtree has an easy Fraud Report system, and its response time was impressive.


The Sour Service Award goes to SafariNow.com and its MD Dylan Rothschild, for its unprofessional and rude communication.  The company’s booking website has some odd rules, and one of these is that payment is made to accommodation suppliers on certain weekdays only.  A guest who wished to stay at Whale Cottage Hermanus, and who could only pay on the day of her arrival, being a weekend day, could not be accommodated with immediate payment to Whale Cottage Hermanus, and the client cancelled the booking as a result. Mr Rothschild continued communicating about the matter via e-mail, even after the booking cancellation, and telephonically on a Saturday morning at 8h00!

The WhaleTales Sweet & Sour Service Awards are presented every Friday on the WhaleTales blog.  Nominations for the Sweet and Sour Service Awards can be sent to Chris von Ulmenstein at info@whalecottage.com.   Past winners of the Sweet and Sour Service Awards can be read on the Friday posts of this blog, and in the WhaleTales newsletters on the www.whalecottage.com website.

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

Despite posting an invitation via Twitter to the SA Blog Awards organising committee of JP Naude, Dave Duarte and Chris Rawlinson to respond to our criticism of the SA Blog Awards 2010, we received nothing more than a not-so-understandable Direct Message on Twitter from Chris Rawlinson: “I think if you had taken a few mins to call me you may have most of what you said is simply not true. Hope all well. Chris”

In addition, the organising committee posted a response, two days after our blog post appeared, to the criticism documented not only on our blog, but also written by many other bloggers (see via a Google search), on their website www.sablogawards.com, in the News section, and not on their Home Page, where it should have been featured.  Massive criticism of the Awards organisation also swamped Twitter on Sunday!  One would have thought that the organisers would have sent the response to the criticism to each of the nominees by e-mail, to win their favour for the 2011 Awards!

The following issues raised have not been addressed in the reply of the Organising Committee:

1.   The change in rules in the Awards competition over the two month period

2.   The exclusion from the Awards dinner for the Top 10 finalists, originally indicated to be open to all

3.   Voting at nomination stage

4.   Organisers’ names not revealed

5.   Judges names not revealed, and questionable capabilities of some judges, in not being bloggers

6.   Poor standard of organisation generally

7.   No communication about the rules to those that entered

8.   Massive changes between the 2009 and 2010 competition procedure, categories, prizes and dinner inclusion/exclusion

9.  Sponsorship of some categories, but not all

10.   Role of Afrigator

11.   The controversial choice of www.watkykjy.co.za as Best Blog in South Africa.

12.  Not mentioned previously is the male dominance of the organising committee (3 males), executive judges (5 males) and judges (48 of the 64 were male).  I would like to predict that there are more female than male bloggers, and therefore they may not have been able to appreciate the female touch.  We suggest a more balanced gender distribution for 2011!   From what I could see at the Vista Bar, there were definitely more male than female winners.

We are delighted to read that each of the Top 10 finalists in each category will receive a ‘digital badge’ to feature on their blogs.   We also acknowledge their salute to bloggers and the great work that they do, and the thanks expressed to all participants.  

What is really obvious from the reply is that traditional media such as PR featured more strongly than social media in marketing the SA Blog Awards, an absolute contradiction, given that blogging is the foundation of social media marketing.  The Twitter presence was poor, and the SA Blog Awards should have had a blog!

This is the official response from the SA Blog Awards to criticism received:

“On behalf of the SA Blog Awards we would like to thank all of the participants who contributed this year. These include the public, the nominees, the South African Bloggers and the judges. A special thanks to News 24, our other sponsors and suppliers and partners, without who the awards would not have been possible.

A tremendous effort was made this year to move the SA Blog Awards to a new level. We feel that this has been accomplished. Where there are a few criticisms in the blogging industry, we welcome these and will look to learn from those that are factually correct. In addition we will shortly be implementing our review process, which we hope all will participate in.

The SA Blog Awards has been run by volunteers and goodwill up to now and the time and effort has been quite taxing. The new CEO, JP Naude, stepped in after a casual conversations with Chris Rawlinson and Dave Duarte, and recognising the potential of the SA Blog Awards began implementing new support structures, media policies and other processes on a very short notice, and as such was still saddled with some systems which had been in place in the previous years. JP is well aware of the current flaws and has already, in a very short time added enormous additional value. JP immediately recognised that the first priority was to re-establish the credibility and integrity of the SA Blog Awards.

Contrary to what has been written in the public space regarding the nomination, registration and voting phases. (sic) We made every effort to notify bloggers to register; we did this via the Afrigator database, email, twitter and notifications on our site. In addition we notified former voters of the nomination phase. During the nomination phase, the public vote phase and the judging phase we continually asked for nominees to register their contact details with us. After all phases had closed we still continued asking nominees to register their contact details. To date we are still struggling to get final correct details, in some cases nominees entered incorrect email addresses. During this process we manually went to the blogs and looked for contact details or mailed them from their site requesting details. Where we had contact details we used them to the best of our ability.

When we talk about moving the blog awards up to a new level, we mean an improved voting process, more awareness for the bloggers of South Africa, better criteria for the judges to understand, and ensuring an equal platform for all nominees. All of these were done, but will again be reviewed in order to find the best possible formula. 

We asked judges which were subject related to the category to judge. This means the category was judged by an expert in the subject matter of that category which hopefully will assist the bloggers with better recognition, should they choose to seek endorsements or financial support for their blog.

This year the SA Blog Awards was supported by News24 who have applied their online support for the bloggers. In addition the SA Blog Awards radio partner, Good Hope FM, supplied radio coverage pre -and post the event. Further has been garnered from the SABC News, SAFM, Cape Talk, 702, eTV News, The Digital Edge and several other online publications. All this was for the first time arranged with the kind support of Atmosphere PR, which added a much more professional dimension than in previous years.

As a sponsor and supplier to the SA Blog Awards, Ogilvy Cape Town added their support with additional fun and creativity using a digital photographic concept on the night. These social media pictures have been published and will surely bring enjoyment to all bloggers and other viewers.

Our emphasis this year was on the readers of the blogs, with the judges in place to act as the guardians of the categories. We believe the readers of the blogs are of great importance and as such gave them a greater say in the voting process. The public vote counted for 70% and the judges vote 30%. This led us to the 24 hr voting system. This system allowed for blogs with regular readers to show their appreciation, and as such the blogs which have a loyal regular following rose to the top. Falling in line with our policy to continue striving for a better formula this process will be reviewed.

We increased the number of active voters in excess of 300% from 2009 to 2010.

Our judges were given several criteria to look at, these included, Design, Content Quality, Reader Engagement, Relevance to the category, and Overall Experience. These are factors that we believe make a good blog and bring the reader to the forefront. A factor we believe the judges must prioritise during scoring.

Finally we asked an executive judging panel to look at the winners of each category in order to determine an overall winner. The Executive Judging panel then scored the top three blogs they thought were most deserving.  These scores were compiled and an end result calculated to indicate the final overall winner. The results were conclusive.

The night itself was an overwhelming success bar one or two glitches. The night was invite only, this meant we arranged an event which was limited in numbers, however free to the nominees and invited guests. The venue, The One & Only, we believe was befitting the stature of the event and was appropriate considering that we were recognising the best bloggers in South Africa. Furthermore the night was well arranged, sound was excellent, light, and multimedia quality was good. In addition, our MC Mumzy was also exceptional.  We would have loved to have all top ten nominees at the awards, but during the 2010 stage this was just not logistically or financially feasible.

In terms of prizes we have had queries on several fronts, many say prizes are not necessary and that the prize is the prestige of winning, some say there should be financial incentives. Again we will engage our audience and ask the question.  Which do they prefer? Our overall winner received an iPad from News 24, a Black Berry from Vodacom and vouchers from, Rocket seed, Sunglass Hut and Obox. In addition we commissioned a fantastic glass sculpture as the overall award, again a step up from years before.

The category winners each received a glass award engraved with the details of that category as well as the aforementioned vouchers. Each top ten finalist will still receive a digital  badge to showcase on their blog, with category winners, and the overall winner receiving relevant winners badges.
Finally we engaged local computer wholesaler Infinitix to supply us with PC equipment for a charity of our choosing. We chose the community centre in Bridgetown. This community is plagued by violence, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, teenage pregnancy and several other social evils. Marlon Parker from Rlabs is involved with this community centre, and they have made a significant improvement in changing the lives of many within this community using social media. We trust that the PC equipment we handover to Marlon will help him with his continued effort to use social media to better the lives of those suffering under the hardships they live in.

We once again urge the bloggers of South Africa to stand by the SA Blog Awards and work towards improving the process together with us. The respect of the blogging community lies in the hands of the bloggers.

At the SA Blog Awards we will continue to seek, recognise and reward the best bloggers in South Africa. Our work is however not finished. We will keep the pulse of the SA Blog Awards alive in South Africa constantly.

Once again congratulations to the bloggers of South Africa whether good or bad, big or small, we are proud of the fact that you are blogging. You are the new voice of society”. 

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com