Q&A: TGCSA – Quality Assurance

The Tourism Grading Council of South Africa (TGCSA) provides a rigorous framework and process for the quality assurance that is continuously sought by tourism products seeking to showcase and differentiate their products in the industry. Darryl Erasmus, newly appointed Chief Quality Assurance Officer at the TGCSA, took some time to shed light on the association and its benefits to the tourism industry.

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Q: What’s the value in having one’s property graded by the TGCSA?

A: Grading certification contributes to increased consumer confidence, ensuring the product and the country’s international competiveness as a tourism destination of choice.

Q: What percentage of the South African market, in terms of hotel or accommodation properties is graded by the TGCSA?

A: According to the South African Tourism’s National Product Database, there are 10,000 accommodation and conferencing facilities with just on 55% of them star graded. Our strategy and goal is to assess all these establishments over the next three years.

Q: What are some of the reasons some properties choose not to be graded?

A: Star grading is voluntary in South Africa and establishments must see value in being graded to participate. Over the years, the cost of grading, coupled with the investment needed to maintain the quality standards of the establishments, have been major factors for establishments opting out of the system. With the introduction of the Basket of Benefits, a business services support programme, in 2014, there has been steady decline in the attrition rate. The economic climate has affected the industry and the number of graded establishments.

Q: What would you like to achieve as the new(ish) Chief Quality Assurance Officer of the TGCSA?

A: I will be focusing on driving awareness with consumers of travel products of the benefits and recourse available when utilising graded establishments partly by driving and refining the value proposition of the TGCSA and star grading system with the trade. A targeted marketing and communications plan had already been formulated and will be executed in during 2016/2017. Focusing on this will enable us to reposition the TGCSA as a partner in quality assurance while cultivating the credibility and reputation of the star grading system across South Africa. I will be dedicated to ensuring that the TGCSA business model is modernised to suit the needs of the business, South African Tourism, consumers and all establishments. Another notable focus area is the eradication and elimination of the illegal usage of the star insignia in South Africa through rigorous stakeholder engagements and encouraging all travel product consumers to report the establishments who misrepresent themselves as graded establishments.

Q: How do you plan to make use of technology in the grading space?

A: The use of technology to improve our operating procedures, assessments and client service delivery are a key consideration and emphasis areas for us in the future.

Q: Every three years the TGCSA reviews its grading criteria. 2016 is a review year. What can the industry expect and what is the process?

A: We have taken stock of the feedback received from industry on some elements of our criteria over the past three years and these will certainly be key areas and considerations of review during this process. The TGCSA introduced the Game/Nature Lodge in 2012, and with this came valuable learnings which we will share with the industry and seek their participation in the review process. A new development in the review methodology this year is the incorporation of traveller’s input into the process. We aim to ensure that the final criteria and minimum requirements are a true reflection of the industry, global trends, and are aligned to traveller expectations.

Q: The UNWTO wants to globally integrate online reviews into the grading process. What are your thoughts on that?

A: We have recently commissioned and implemented a pilot project called Tourism Analytics Programme (TAP) It takes the classification process to the digital/social sphere, and entails integration of content from some key online travel review website such as TripAdvisor, Bookings.com, Expedia.com and Trivago into the TGCSA’s grading system. This development presents major opportunity for the hospitality industry. The insights from TAP enable the TGCSA assessors to offer holistic assessments of accommodation and conferencing establishments. In turn, establishments also have access to insights that enable them to understand the shortcomings of their establishments. The integration also provides an opportunity for a credible and transparent adjudication of the national recognition awards programme, Lilizela Tourism Awards. Establishments that offer outstanding service and a quality offering are recognised and rewarded through the Awards and receive extensive profiling through South African Tourism.

Q: South Africa’s Treasury is reviewing government travel spend. Why is this important in the grading space?

A: In 2002, Cabinet issued a directive that requires all state entities to only procure accommodation and conferencing facilities from star graded establishments. As an entity, we have been proactively engaging with the National Treasury to seek a ways in which we can get this directive applied and complied with by all. We are confident that the recent developments within National Treasury coupled with the roll out of the Centralised Supplier Database (CSD) procurement system, will go a long way toward addressing this matter, something that would bode very well for graded establishments and the TGCSA value proposition as government travel spend is estimated to be in the vicinity of R10 billion annually.