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How important are those stars?

Written by  Staff
| in Toerisme
| July 7, 2015

Think of a night’s stay in a luxury hotel as a mink coat and a night’s stay in a budget guesthouse or self-catering unit as a faux fur coat.

Regardless of which type of fur coat you prefer, you want to know the quality thereof. Unlike most consumer products, purchasing a night’s stay in an accommodation establishment is not tangible. It does not come with a return policy, you cannot exchange it and you certainly cannot try it on before buying. How then do you tell your guest what to expect? According to Marius Stols, lecturer in Hospitality Management at The Private Hotel School in Stellenbosch, the answer lies with hotel grading and classification systems.

“Grading is the process by which an independent organisation classifies an accommodation property according to the organisation’s predetermined standards,” says Marius.  “Most countries have their own classification system and/or grading authorities; and in South Africa the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa (TGCSA) is the only officially recognised grading body.” Grading of tourism establishments is a voluntary process. The TGCSA has unique grading criteria for nearly all types of tourism and hospitality establishments, ranging from hotels to backpackers. They also have grading criteria for other tourism entities such as conference, exhibition and special events venues. Establishments are graded according to stars (one to five) and in relation to the relevant property type. In this manner consumers can better gauge the level of service and comfort they can expect.

“Naturally you do not need to be officially graded by the TGCSA to adhere to the standards set by them”.

Naturally you do not need to be officially graded by the TGCSA to adhere to the standards set by them. The grading criteria as well as classification of the various tourism establishments are readily available from their website www.tourismgrading.co.za.  “However, we strongly advise that establishments have themselves officially graded,” says Marius.  “Being a graded establishment boosts your marketing effort as potential guests can search for graded establishments on the TGCSA website and might feel more comfortable choosing such a transparent establishment.”

What does it all mean?

A summary of the requirements for the different stars might give you an idea of where you can pitch your farm guesthouse:  
Five Stars: all the facilities and service offerings must be of outstanding quality. Everything is expected to meet the best international standards. Breakfast is guaranteed to encompass all tastes, be served all day and include seated and in-room dining. Room service can be ordered 24 hours a day.
Four Stars:  furnishings, amenities and all services must be of excellent quality. Your guests must be able to enjoy a full breakfast over an extended period and have the option of being served at their own table. Room service should be available at least 18 hours of every day. Rooms have to have a work area that includes a desk and the bathroom should be better stocked than your guest’s home.

Three Stars:  the quality of service, furnishings and guest care must be of a particularly good quality and your guests should be able to order just about anything for breakfast if breakfast is included in your offering.
Two Stars:  good quality can be expected of a two star-graded establishment.  Your guests can expect breakfast with at least some hot food, and hand towels, bath towels and soap in the bathrooms.
One Star: is basic and of acceptable quality.


Other options

The AA of South Africa also grades accom-modation establishments by categorising member establishments. Their recommendations fall within four categories, namely Recommended, Highly Recommended, Superior and Eco (properties in game parks and nature reserves).

Officially grading is not a guarantee. Guests can still be swindled by charlatans who unashamedly make use of stars in their marketing drive to give the impression that they are officially graded. Should your guesthouse fall in the super luxury category, you can also affiliate with established brands such as Relais and Chateaux, Leading Hotels of the World and Luxury Small Hotels of the World. By doing so you will have the benefits of being part of a recognised international brand (similar to that of a franchise) without having to compromise on individual style (as would be required for franchise rights). The guest, on the other hand, is safe in the knowledge that they can expect a certain level of luxury and service regardless of the property they visit.

Guest House Accommodation of South Africa (GHASA) may be a better fit for smaller accommodation establishments who primarily target the South African market. GHASA’s aim over the past 19 years has been to improve the guesthouse industry and they provide valuable assistance to members.

“The guest, on the other hand, is safe in the know-ledge that they can expect a certain level of luxury...”

Regardless of size, affiliation, or grading, it is highly advisable to be a member of the Federated Hospitality Association of Southern Africa (FEDHASA). FEDHASA has membership categories for all hospitality-related businesses, from hotels, small accommodations to trade and industry partners. FEDHASA is recognised by government as the official umbrella organisation representing hospitality organisations. Being a member of   FEDHASA offers numerous benefits ranging from legislative support, to tangible benefits such as discounts from a number of industry suppliers.

To grade or not to grade – that is the question            

Talk to other guesthouses  who have chosen the grading route for tips and experiences, and ask guests how much attention they give to the number of stars mentioned on your website. If you have nothing to hide, and  want to meet your guests’ expectations, three or four stars might just give you that edge.