Consumer Protection Act – Know your rights

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We all want value for money, but before April 2011, consumers had little or no recourse in terms of ensuring that they received proper service. For the purposes of this piece, specific to the hotel industry. However, the new Consumer Protection Act, effective from 1 April, can help ensure that your hotel accommodation is satisfactory and that you receive the service and value you are paying for. The aim of the Act is, in essence, is to create a fair, accessible, efficient, sustainable and responsible consumer market for consumers in South Africa, through the legal framework created by the Act.

Angelo Christophourou, Director at Biccari Bollo Mariano Attorneys provides some examples of where the Act may protect the hotel consumer: 

       1. A hotel may misrepresent themselves through their marketing, e.g. pictures on the  Internet that indicate a sea-facing view versus the room you actually get – a view of the parking lot.

“The Act prohibits the marketing of a product or service in a manner which is misleading with regard to any material facts, including but not limited to the nature, properties and price. Furthermore, a supplier may not mislead a consumer with regard to any material facts, which includes failure to correct any misapprehension.”

  2. A hotel may charge a four-star rate, but the amenities provided are not up to standard. 

“If a supplier, such as a hotel, misleads the consumer regarding, for example, the facilities of the rooms or the common facilities which are available to the guests, the Consumer will have recourse.”

 3.      You may have booked due to a special deal and when you get there, the hotel is full or there is strike action.

“Should a supplier commit or accept a reservation and fail to supply to the consumer, due to insufficient capacity, such supplier must refund the consumer any monies paid for the reservation, plus interest, plus any costs which the consumer incurred. However, the hotel in such circumstances, will be entitled to arrange an alternate hotel, of similar standard and price, to accommodate the consumer and, should the consumer unreasonably refuse to accept the alternative arrangement, the hotel may escape liability of the consumer’s incidental costs. Furthermore, the hotel may not be liable at all in circumstances where the overbooking occurred due to circumstances beyond its control.”

4.       What do you do when the hotel is dirty, infested with fleas, bed-bugs, you are discriminated against or get food poisoning?

“Should a supplier not meet such expected standards, the consumer may require the supplier to remedy any defect in the quality of the services supplied or refund the consumer a reasonable portion of the price paid for the services performed.”

What avenues of recourse are available to the consumer?

“A consumer whose rights have been infringed may lay a complaint with the National Consumer Commission, an Organ of State, which may direct an investigation into the complaint and, after the conclusion thereof, refer same to the appropriate forum, for example, the Consumer Court or Equality Court, to be dealt with”, says Christophourou. “A supplier who contravenes the Act may be liable to pay a fine or liable to pay for damages caused to the aggrieved consumer.”

The Tourism Grading Council of South Africa (TGCSA) sets the standard for hotels, lodges and other types of accommodation.

Here’s a brief overview of how the TGCSA grades hotels, for each star:

All Stars:

– Onsite representative must be contactable 24 hours a day, seven days a week

– All meals and beverages must be provided from outlets within the complex

– Rooms must be serviced every day

– A formal reception area is required

– Bathroom facilities must be en suite

Additional for four and five-star:
Valet service, 18 to 24-hour room service, concierge, porterage, a central business centre, full housekeeping and laundry, child minding, message service, shoe polish, delivery of newspapers, etc.

The following TGCSA table gives an expectation comparison for the various star gradings:

 

Star Grading

*

**

***

****

*****

Points

330-439

440-579

580-739

740-879

879-1000

Expectations of quality of overall standard of finishes, service and guest care

Acceptable

Good

Very Good

Excellent

Outstanding with meticulous guest care

Room Service

N/A

N/A

N/A

18-hour room service

All day room service

Expectations of meals

Continental or quick-cooked breakfast

Continental breakfast and limited variety of cooked items

Extensive variety of breakfast foods

Fully cooked breakfast served over extended period of time

Fully cooked breakfast available all day including dining area in hotel room

Expectations of bedroom facilities

Clean, comfortable and functional

 

Spacious with added furniture

Large room, working area with desk

Luxurious accommodation

Expectations of bathroom facilities

Soap and bath towel

Soap, hand and bath towel

Bath, shower gel, wrapped soaps, shampoo and both hand and bath towel

Shampoo and conditioner, shower gel, wrapped soap, body lotion, towels, shower cap, bath sheet and face cloth

Full range of amenities plus spa or beauty facilities

 

 

The challenge for consumers?

 

Take the time to know your rights and check out the main points of the Act. But, be warned – a lot of newer hotels cannot qualify for a star grading even though they are (by other standards internationally) on the same level as that of a TGCSA grading, simply because minimum qualifying requirements for grading are outdated in comparison with those that have been deemed fit and proper internationally. Therefore, says Matthijs van Meurs, Director of Innovation & Quality Assurance extrabold, many hoteliers refuse to comply with the newer standards. But when people look for accommodation, they understand grading (a star grading can only be given by the TGCSA).  Two adjacent hotels can have the same standards, but if Hotel A uses ‘star’ terminology, which is misleading, it can be to the detriment of Hotel B that is correctly graded.

 

Melissa Douman

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