Fit for purpose

As of 1 April this year, the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa has a new set of grading criteria, following an 18-month review process and three ministerial changes. With the dust now settled, it seemed a good time to catch up with Chief Quality Assurance Officer, Darryl Erasmus, to break down the changes and understand the thinking behind the new set of criteria.

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South Africa now has 5,201 graded establishments – totaling 124,268 rooms – across the TGCSA’s three main categories of ‘Hotel’, ‘Non-Hotel Accommodation’, and ‘Venues’.

That’s after a pretty intensive 18 months of introspection into the TGCSA’s existing grading criteria and plenty of consultation with industry bodies such as SAACI and FEDHASA, along with input from the country’s hotel groups.

Following all of this, Erasmus is confident that the TGCSA is where it needs to be.

“What we have now is a much more streamlined set of criteria,” he says. “The reason for reviewing was that we had a vast set of criteria and when we did the global bench-marking, we found that we were overly-prescriptive in many cases. What we needed to do was find a balance between giving you something that was globally competitive, but also allowed businesses to implement something that was fit for purpose.”

After a period of inertia prior to this set of changes, the TGCSA has undertaken to review its criteria every three years, with the next review process set to start by the beginning of 2021.

“The way in which technology and the digitisation of the globe is affecting hospitality is phenomenal,” says Erasmus. “If you go back a couple of years in our criteria and you look for ‘wi-fi’, you probably won’t find it. Now it ’s the first thing a guest asks for. If you don’t take those things into consideration, you lose relevance, and if you lose relevance, you’re dead.”

Three main changes to the Grading Council’s criteria stand out.

Firstly, it’s the restating, with Erasmus and his team making the criteria easier to read and understand, by putting them into tabular form.

Secondly, there’s been a change in grading levels. Previously, you had just one to five-star properties, but, according to Erasmus, there is a developing global trend of a premium offering that sits above the five–star category.

So, you now have ‘Five-Star Premium’ for those South African properties that really stand out. Currently, 13 properties make the grade, ranging from The Silo Hotel, Birkenhead House, Cape Grace and Ellerman House in the Western Cape, to Royal Malewane and Palala Boutique Game Lodge & Spa in Limpopo.

“This is reserved for properties in South Africa that epitomise the essence of what ultra-luxury travel is,” says Erasmus. “That’s not just in the product offering, facilities, amenities etc, but also in the service.”

Properties can motivate for this grading, with the TGCSA looking at a variety of factors, such as awards won, location, staff ratios etc.

The last significant adjustment has seen a change in categories. For example, previously there was just a broad ‘Hotel’ category, which has now been broken down into ‘Apartment Hotel’, ‘Boutique Hotel’, ‘Small Hotel’, and ‘Hotel’.

There’s also a new ‘Venues’ category, which has more focus, with it broken down into ‘Conference Centre’, ‘Convention & Exhibition Centre’, ‘Events Venue’, ‘Function Venue’, ‘Historical Venue’, ‘In-Hotel Conference Centre’, and ‘MESE’ (Meetings, Exhibitions & Special Events), with MESE the former name of this overall category.

The ‘Non-Hotel Accommodation’ category has also been tweaked, whilst Erasmus and his team have also added what they are calling ‘Accolades’ across the board. There are currently 17 of these ‘accolades’ and allow properties to be classified, for example, ‘family friendly’, ‘wedding venue’, ‘equestrian’, ‘4×4’, ‘biking’, wellness etc.

“Travellers are becoming a lot more discerning and have specific needs, and what the Accolades programme allows is the sourcing and securing of quality offerings that speak more to the traveller’s needs,” says Erasmus. “We’re also allowing the product owner to get the type of guest they want. It’s almost like a match made in heaven.”

Erasmus would like to say the same for the new criteria and the South African travel trade, which is a big focus area for TGCSA.

He wants the trade to see value in the criteria, just as he wants the consumer to.

Ultimately, he wants to win on both fronts, and this new set of criteria looks to be a significant step in the right direction.