Tourism Grading Council and SABS Tourism: briefing

Tourism

30 April 2002
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Meeting report

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The aim of this report is to summarise the main events at the meeting and identify the key role players. This report is not a verbatim transcript of proceedings.

ENVIRONMENTAL AFFAIRS AND TOURISM PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
30 APRIL 2002
BRIEFINGS BY TOURISM GRADING COUNCIL AND SABS TOURISM

Chairperson:
Ms G. Mahlangu

Documents handed out:
Presentation by Tourism Grading Council of South Africa
SABS Tourism Brochure
Presentation by SABS Tourism
Tourism Briefing (DEAT)
[e-mail
info@pmg.org.za for documents]

SUMMARY
The Tourism Grading Council of South Africa and the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) Tourism both presented their tourism grading systems to the Committee. The Committee proceeded to discuss and ask questions in an attempt to clarify the differences between the two and the reasons that the two developed separately. They decided that a follow-up on this issue would be necessary. The Department also presented a tourism briefing on developments in tour guiding, transformation, and integration of previously disadvantaged individuals into the tourism industry. Much work still needed to be done in this regard.

MINUTES
Tourism Grading Council of South Africa
Dr S. Siddo, Executive Director of the Tourism Grading Council, thanked the Committee for the opportunity to present the issue of quality assurance to them. He briefly gave the historical background of tourism grading in South Africa. It had been a function of SATour, but it had only been limited to serving hotels. In 1998 some big groups withdrew from the grading system because of the levy methods, and the grading system subsequently collapsed. A moratorium was declared, and the grading function was taken from SATour. The industry still desires a consultative process in which they have influence and reliable quality assurance can be guaranteed. The process was set in motion to create a new self-funded organisation to perform the function. Dr Siddo stated that the industry agreed at the Tourism Indaba in 2000 that the star grading system of the Grading Council was the acceptable way to proceed. Nominations were called for and representative appointments were made. The role of the Grading Council was to approve a framework for grading across all sectors of the tourism industry in South Africa.

Dr Siddo discussed the benefits it would offer as a marketing tool and for serving the owners and consumers alike. Strategic objectives included making the grading a voluntary procedure so that it could prove its worth, but it would have to be affordable and accessible. Grading would also have to contribute to wider transformation objectives, and this would come with flexibility and accessibility. Dr Siddo identified sectors and sub-sectors that would be open to grading. Principles adopted by the Grading Council included compliance with minimum standards and a user-pays plan, as it would be consumer driven. Grading would also have to be renewed to ensure maintenance of standards. He briefly discussed the meaning of each grading from one to five stars and the assessment procedure. Property owners would be free to choose their assessor, from trained and approved assessors, and the grade they wish to be assessed for, as well as the day on which they are to be assessed. Assessors were independent entrepreneurs trained by THETA and registered with the Grading Council. Dr Siddo also mentioned a programme installed to strengthen transformation with assessors and the achievements and goals for the year. Over half of the 652 establishments in Cape Town were thus far assessed, and this was due to more assessors being located in the area. Efforts to train more assessors in other provinces were taking place.

Dr Siddo then briefly discussed marketing of the grading scheme, and he mentioned the support they received from SATour as well as provincial and other tourism organisations. Through these relationships, they wanted to ensure that at least 50% of assessments made would be made by previously disadvantaged individuals. The Grading Council was also pursuing relationships with providers within the industry, and the next step would be extending the grading scheme to the rest of the industry outside of the accommodation sector. The Grading Council was also the official quality assurance provider for the WSSD.

SABS Tourism
Mr P. McLons of South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) presented next on the grading system set up by SABS Tourism. SABS was established by the Standards Act and was the only standards group in South Africa, and it was also the technical regulator for Trade and Industry. It managed standards setting by studying standards throughout the world, and this was necessary in order to have internationally recognised standards. Though tourism was not their main focus area, consumer-protection was certainly an issue in that area as well.

Ms J. Cain, SABS manager of tourism and crystal grading, proceeded with the presentation to explain the benefits of their crystal grading system. SABS created a grading scheme following the void created when SATour's grading scheme fell. Their grading criteria were developed following a study of three local and eight international grading systems and the grading symbol would be crystals rather than stars. Ms Cain mentioned the benefits that SABS Tourism offered with crystal grading, and they included SMME financial support, training and development, publicity in the Crystal Guide, and representation at travel shows. She then explained the grading system and categories. One vital point was that SABS graded different aspects of each operation individually (e.g. bathroom, bedroom, food and beverage). This was a grading system not limited to South Africa but expanding throughout Southern Africa. She also explained that much of the reliability came from the reputation of SABS, as it was the standards authority.

Mr McLons concluded by saying that their scheme was benchmarked, comprehensive and offered supporting services. SABS had a strong infrastructure to assist in SMME development and many achievements in this field to offer.

Questions and Discussion
Ms C. Ramotsamai (ANC) stated that there was confusion and competition that needed to end. She wanted to know if government funded both bodies and if any laws regulated them. She believed that they could not have two competing grading systems and needed to decide whom to recommend. She also mentioned that this was the first time she had ever heard of the crystal system.

Ms J. Semple (DP) agreed that it was odd to find two systems, but she had no problem with competition, as it was a free market society. On the strength of representation in the Western Cape, it was the biggest market for tourism, so there were more places to be assessed and that could not be changed, though she agreed that something should be done to expand representation in other provinces. She was also concerned about owners being able to choose assessors and the chances for corruption presented itself there.

Another member asked how much of each was government funded. He added that it was concerning that the Grading Council system in letting the facility owner choose the day of assessment. If government did not fund either grading system, he agreed that there was no problem with letting them compete.

Mr McLons replied that, yes, there was competition, but government did not fund the crystal system at all. Funding came from the Department of Trade and Industry for standards development, but other activities were profit based commercial ventures with no link to government-funded schemes.

Mr N. Ntuli, Manager of Tourism Support Services for the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT) gave the background on the Grading Council. It operated under the umbrella of SA Tourism from which it received its start-up funds. By 2003, all government funding would stop and it would be fully self-funded. They initially attempted to find other groups with grading systems that would satisfy all their needs but failed. The Grading Council had a different approach to that of SABS Tourism, and there had not been productive interaction between the two.

Dr Siddo stated that many big organisations had their own internal assessors, and if they gained accreditation by the Grading Council, they could be the assessors for those facilities. To assure quality, they reserved the right to audit ten percent of assessments made by each assessor. If their grading scheme were not supported by the industry, it would not succeed in being self-funded and would end.

Ms Semple mentioned that, if it was in the legislation, they had to have a grading scheme.

Mr R. September (ANC) stated that they needed to know the difference between the systems. He was in favour of clarity and simplicity for the tourists.

Ms Semple asked about the differences in approach.

Mr Ntuli replied that the Grading Council called for the industry to have a say in what developed and was not prescriptive. SABS had developed a commercial industry, but government wanted a credible and independent functioning body without alternative goals.

Ms Cain stated that SABS created their system because there indeed was a vacuum, and they filled the void. She added that they were flexible and not prescriptive.

Dr Siddo said that, according to the Tourism Act of 1993, quality assurance of the tourism industry was a duty of government. SA Tourism went through many phases of transformation, and the grading system in place invoked a conflict between the spirit of the legislation and the way it was applied. They had a mandate from the Minister to create their independent body to fill this function. Their legitimacy was in the legislation.

Ms J. Chalmers (ANC) asked if there were different criteria for receiving particular gradings in different sectors. In the Grading Council system, she wondered if a facility received a lower grading than it wanted, could it ignore this and not present it.

Dr Siddo responded that different criteria were used for different categories, and that information was available on their website (www.tourismgrading.co.za).

Ms Semple then asked where SANParks fit in and whether it was represented. Ms Semple asked about the places that still bore the gradings of the old system.

Dr Siddo replied that they were currently trying to get SANParks on board as they were a very large potential customer. He indicated that, because standards in some of the parks were not up to par, they would be joining in a gradual fashion. Concerning the old grading system, he stated that they had engaged in a public campaign encouraging people to remove references to the old council and buy into the new system. It was currently illegal to represent the old colours on the wall of any establishment, and SATour was busy drafting legal statements to this end.

The Chairperson referred to the SABS credibility for standards and asked where the Grading Council found its credibility.

Dr Siddo replied that they found their credibility in the star as an international symbol of quality assurance.

Mr M. Moss (ANC) commented that, in the Crystal Guide, none of the accommodation facilities were owned by black people. He also wanted to know how they dealt with handicap access in their grading.

Mr McLons stated that SMME assistance was primarily on standards and quality, but they were moving into the area of assistance and development.

Ms Cain added that, within the crystal system, they tried to encourage all their customers to provide handicap assistance, but there was little empathy within the industry, and it was coming along slowly.

Dr Siddo stated that the Grading Council was considering support to previously disadvantaged individuals in assessors. One challenge they were looking into was providing free grading to emerging businesses as well. Concerning disability access, they were not yet sure how they would handle it, but it might entail adding wheelchair symbols to those institutions providing such access.

The Chairperson stated that they had run out of time on that issue, but the Committee would have to look at the legislation and consider the needs. She added that it was dangerous to rely on a system not tied to the law in any way. However, the Grading Council benefited from the 1993 Act that excluded many people. The question remained whether competition was an asset or a hazard in this regard.

Tourism Briefing
Mr Ntuli then briefly presented on tourism principles and direction within the Department. He spoke on the underlying principles including promotion of BEE, ensuring geographical spread, promoting economic growth and job creation, and establishing a globally competitive industry.

Mr Joseph Raputsoe, DEAT Manager of Quality Assurance, then continued with discussion of tour guiding. Black representation within the sector was still low, and they would continue analysing this and the geographical spread. Integration of previously disadvantaged individuals into the tourist guiding sector was not an easy process but was in motion. The Department needed to focus on what to do after they have been trained to ensure meaningful participation. Courses in tour guiding also needed to be affordable and more accessible. The plan was to train individuals to train others and send them to townships and communities. Mr Raputsoe stated that skills development within the tourism sector was vital, but it should be offered to the unemployed. The focus of job creation was with SMMEs and previously disadvantaged. They wanted to utilise tourism for poverty reduction as well.

Mr Raputsoe then briefly mentioned the Welcome Campaign. It promoted enhanced customer care and service within the tourism industry. They had thus far trained 6000 "Welcome" Hosts for the WSSD.

Mr Ntuli then commented that their training was conducted by THETA.

Questions and Discussion
The Chairperson said that they would meet with the Department again on these issues when they had another meeting on tourism. She was also very happy to hear that communities were being brought in and suggested that they focus on provinces with less exposure.

Ms Semple said that they needed to hear back from THETA. She also said they had been invited to SABS and the Grading Council to see how they both run. They should visit each and then could develop their position.

Ms Ramotsamai stated that they needed an accessible and centralised training process, and they should invite individuals trained by THETA to see how they were doing. She agreed that training individuals who end up without jobs was a waste, but THETA had not been accessible for comments, so they were not even certain they were investing in the right area. Those trained needed to have access to the industry.

Prof M. Mbadi (UDM) mentioned DEAT scholarships to study environmental affairs and wondered if this could be extended to tourism as well.

Mr Raputsoe said that people in villages and townships were not aware of such opportunities. Information needed to get out, as education was key. He stated that he had that opportunity and was back in the communities to share it. This was the way that their work would continue to spread.

A representative of the Tourism Business Council of South Africa said that tourism awareness was still a problem in this country. Communities needed to be educated about it so that they could participate and benefit as well as share what they have to offer.

Mr Ntuli added that local and provincial governments needed to be involved in integrating communities into the system as well.

The Chairperson said that the Committee would try to clarify issues that were still unresolved when they met again on tourism with the Department and SA Tourism represented. She added that efforts needed to be made to find out the many other aspects of their history and culture that were often over-looked by tourists and even their own people.

The meeting was adjourned.


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