Thursday, 2 June 2011

South Africa - New grading criteria

The Tourism Grading Council of South Africa (TGCSA) recently updated the travel industry with its new grading criteria. I'll admit it's internationally competitive and credible but it still falls short on the most critical issues.

Travelers to this country are entitled to quality assurance. Unfortunately, the majority of first-time travelers don't know what to expect from their chosen lodges / hotel etc. and settle for a less than full experience. This is particularly the case  in the safari industry. It's possible for lodge-owners to secure a top grading without providing the traveler with the appropriate safari-experience, which I imagine, is what the traveler wants from his /her safari in the first place. A 5-star lodge in a small private reserve with semi-tame wildlife does NOT provide the same experience as a 5-star lodge in a wilderness area with free-roaming wildlife. Both lodges advertise their grading and both are entitled to charge a similar rate, yet it's obvious the lodges don't provide the same experience. In fact having been to many of these 5-star lodges in small private reserves, advertised as Big-5 [i.e: free-roaming lion, elephant, rhino, buffalo and leopard] I can say from experience that the vast majority fall woefully short on providing the right wildlife experience. For example, a small pride of lion in a small camp within the reserve, separated from the rest of the wildlife in the reserve, can be legally advertised as 'free-roaming' [ie: not tied to a tree?], but this is NOT the experience we should be providing our visiting guests.

In addition, 5-star lodges with an unacceptable environmental impact should NOT have the same grade as a 5-star lodge with minimal impact on the environment. The same can be said of the facility's social conscience. Lodges which involve the local community should have a better grade than a similar aesthetically appealing lodge which doesn't.

In my opinion food plays an important role too. Defining 'good food' is subjective but it's quite obvious that guests should be exposed to SOUTH AFRICAN cuisine prepared well rather than international cuisine even if well-prepared, particularly in the bush. I would like to think that we can provide local dishes to our visitors without embarrassment. I recall a visit to Londolozi, a private lodge in the world-renowned Sabi Sands, adjacent the Kruger National Park which served my party French cuisine for our entire three-day stay. The food was well-prepared and yet local travelers were VERY unhappy. Our foreign guests, once enlightened, were also unhappy. Even though the game-viewing experience was magnificent, the staff wonderful and the facilities world-class, the EXPERIENCE fell short, badly so and remains the abiding memory from that particular trip.

In the end it's up to the travel industry to enlighten our foreign guests, prove that the REAL South Africa has a place as a world-class travel destination and stands alone as an experience to be remembered as truly South African. Being good at what we're not doesn't differentiate us as a destination.

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