The accommodation industry is up in arms about the 83-page document they have been sent by the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa, asking it to comment on the proposed new assessment criteria to be used by assessors for their annual assessment from October onwards, to confirm the maintenance, upgrade or downgrading of their star allocation within a very short period of time.
Initially accommodation establishments were given only six days to comment, but the Council has extended its deadline for the feedback to 9 April due to the furore which the document has caused. It appears that assessors themselves may not be happy with all the proposed changes. The final assessment criteria will be announced at Indaba in Durban on 8 May, reports the Southern African Tourism Update.
The majority of the criteria are as before, and this should be good news to owners of accommodation establishments. However, some of the requirements are radically stringent, and as they imply costs in meeting the new criteria, they are highly contentious, especially given the poor state of the economy and the precarious financial situation that many establishments find themselves in. The reaction of many establishments in seeing the criteria is that they will withdraw from the grading system, which is the opposite to what the Tourism Grading Council would be wishing to achieve with the new criteria. Establishments in the lower star grading bands and B&B’s may be especially tempted to withdraw from the system.
The document does not state how much time establishments have to adjust to the new criteria, if they are an established business. Feedback from the National Accommodation Association (NAA) indicates that properties will be given 2 years to implement the new criteria. New establishments will obviously have to meet the new criteria from October onwards.
The new assessment criteria were compiled with input from accommodation owners, as well as research which consulting firm KPMG conducted to benchmark South Africa’s grading criteria against international standards (mainly UK, New Zealand and Australia).
The document was assessed in this post from a 4-star Guest House, B&B and Country House perspective, for which the criteria are the same, with the emphasis on Guest Houses:
1. The practicality of completing a 66 page document is questioned, meaning that the current two-hour assessment visit will double in time, given the large number of aspects to be assessed. This can only imply that the assessment fees, already around R2000 per visit, will have to increase.
2. Guest house owners/hosts must live in a separate entity if they live on the property, but may not live more than a 10-minute drive away for check-ins. Breakfast must be served every day, rooms must be serviced daily, and a guest lounge and breakfast room must be available for guests’ exclusive use. All these criteria appear fair.
3. All three accommodation types must meet “minimum entry requirements” before they can be assessed:
* public liability insurance
* the safety and security of guests, which includes lockable doors and secured windows
* the visual privacy of guests from the street
* the booking service must be available all year
* “health and safety certificate – fire and building regulations” (the exact requirement in this regard is not clear)
* must be registered as a business with the provincial authority (no such registration requirement is known in the Western Cape)
* “no lawful discrimination on the basis of race, gender, citizenship, physical and mental conditions, etc” (the word “lawful” seems a contradiction!)
* clear and visible signage (this could be contentious, as many establishments, B&B’s in particular, wish to remain low key about their existence)
* staff dealing with guests must be professional and courteous at all times
4. The marks awarded from the assessment are to change in determining the star grading, meaning more 4 and 5 star establishments potentially, as the mark requirement has dropped. This contradicts the previous tightening of the percentages, as it was felt that there were too many 4 and 5 star establishments (this should be generally acceptable to establishments) :
* 1 star 30 – 43%
* 2 star 44 – 58 %
* 3 star 58 – 74 %
* 4 star 74 – 88 % (currently is 85 – 94 %)
* 5 star 88 – 100 % (currently 95 – 100%)
5. The assessment allows for the establishments’ Universal Access to be evaluated at no extra charge, and for a bronze, silver, gold or platinum plaque to be awarded to establishments that cater for guests with disabilities. Establishments will not be penalised for not offering these facilities. The evaluation for the Universal Access takes up a large part of the space on the assessment questionnaire, making it feel longer and more onerous than it is if the Universal Access is not evaluated.
6. Some of the key requirements are the following:
* One off-street parking bay per bedroom must be offered, but can be up to 2 rooms per bay in “urban areas” (this should be what most establishments have already)
* Staff must be on 24 hour call as far as safety and security is concerned (this probably is in place in most establishments)
* Contentious could be the minimum room and bathroom sizes specified, given that the current dimensions of rooms in existing establishments cannot be altered: a 4* guest establishment must have a size of at least 30 sq. meters for the bedroom, bathroom and landing. The bedroom must have at least 9 sq meters of “free floor space”, and the bathroom 2 sq. meters of such space
* All 4* and 5* establishments must offer a safe fitting a “17 inch” laptop – this could be very contentious, given that most guest houses have built-in safes for valuables already. This could be a very costly requirement change to meet
* Each wardrobe must have a minimum of 14 clothes hangers in it (one wonders how they came to this number – surely 10 can do?)
* All 4* and 5* establishments must have airconditioning – this is the most costly requirement change, and will create resentment amongst those establishments that do not have airconditioners, especially for B&B’s, as well as for those that do, given the punitive electricity cost increases
* Each bedroom must have a “master lighting switch” at the beside, something which requires installation at building stage, so this too can cause controversy and cost
* Mirrors must measure 120 x 40 cm, and may not be on the back of the door. Most establishment mirrors are on the back of the bedroom door!
* Bathrooms may be open plan to the bedroom, but the toilet must have a lockable door. Guests must be informed about open plan bathrooms when they book.
* Towels have to be changed every day – this is very controversial, given water shortages and punitive electricity charge increases from 1 April. Bed linen must be changed every 3 days.
* A hot and a cold breakfast choice must be offered, and the breakfast time must be at least three hours (this is a fair requirement).
* A laundry service must be offered on at least 5 days a week (this is a fair requirement)
* An internet service must be offered in 3*, 4* and 5 * establishments (this is a fair requirement, given guest needs, but will add to the running costs of the business).
* The MOST controversial requirement is an 18 hour Reception service, from 6h00 – midnight, in 4* establishments. Guest house staff work an extremely long day, and given the recession, this is a most irrational and expensive requirement. Staff working until midnight without their own cars cannot get home if they do not live on the property, given the lack of public transport at that time of night!
The full document regarding the proposed Tourism Grading Council grading criteria for Country Houses, Guest Houses and B&B’s can be read here.
POSTSCRIPT 1: The deadline for comments has now been extended to 27 April, reports South African Tourism Update on 31 March.
POSTSCRIPT 2 : The accommodation establishments will be given one year to implement the new criteria, says an e-mail sent to them by the Tourism Grading Council on 31 March, and not 2 years as the NAA wrote.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com