What exactly does an Accredited Grading Assessor do, and why are their jobs so important?
By Refiloe Mothibe.
Main image credit: Long Lee Manor, Shamwari Game Reserve.
One of the things that makes travel so exciting is its wild unpredictability. A tourist may have an inkling of what a destination is like from the Internet or TV, but tasting the mustard on a hot dog in Central Park is very different to reading a review of the experience. That unpredictability is what makes travel exciting – but it also means that when it comes to accommodation, it can be comforting for a traveller to know exactly what they’re getting.
That’s why the work of the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa’s (TGCSA) Accredited Grading Assessors is crucial. Think of it this way: if a visitor fancies a little luxury when they’re on holiday – soft gowns, in-room wifi and the option of a good cup of coffee from their filter machine when they wake up – they’d be disappointed to find that the five-star hotel they had so carefully researched offers none of these amenities.
In a word, it’s about uniformity. And while that might not sound like the most exciting concept, it’s the bedrock on which an efficient and successful tourism industry is built.
This is where grading assessors come in. TGCSA works with a team of carefully vetted individuals with extensive experience in the hospitality industry to ensure that accommodation and conferencing establishments’ standards in South Africa are not only globally competitive, but most importantly what they promise to be. Grading assessors need to be confident, accurate, knowledgeable and mindful during their assessments. Attention to detail and knowing what to look for during the grading process is what makes quality assurance a success.
The TGCSA ensures that assessors are able to do this through the Annual Assessors Conference* where they receive refresher training and accreditation from the TGCSA. Ad hoc workshops are also are also conducted which are in line with the TGCSA objectives. This ensures consistency of graded establishments and the assessors themselves within the tourism industry.
Assessors use the same principle applied by leading global brands to ensure consistency in the experiences provided by their brands: wherever in the world you experience the brand, your experience should be the same. Thus, a traveller who has, in the past, booked into a three-star bed and breakfast anywhere in South Africa and was happy with the service and product provided would expect to encounter the same quality standards at another establishment offering the same type of accommodation, with the same star grading status.
There is no better judge of an establishment or service than a paying guest or customer, hence the development of the Tourism Analytical Program (TAP). The team now have access to this honest and informative online platform developed by the TGCSA, which provides a holistic assessment of an establishment straight form the horse’s mouth, so to speak. This online platform aids and allows assessors access to guest reviews about their experiences at the various establishments, which in turn allows for improvements and amendments where necessary.
Of course, one person’s impression of a venue may be dramatically different from that of their friend – perhaps the establishment’s service was a bit off that day, or maybe their definition of what constitutes ‘luxury’ is different. This is why assessors work according to a stringent set of criteria and minimum requirements of entry. These criteria and requirements outline what must be in place for an establishment to qualify for a certain number of stars, ensuring that the process is as open and objective as possible. Rather than basing the criteria and requirements on nebulous factors, like the view or vibe, the TGCSA globally benchmarked standards take a pragmatic look at the type of linen on offer, the type of flooring in place, curtains and window coverings, the quality of the furnishings, electronics and accessories, security, spaciousness and even the wardrobes to name a few.
Also important is the fact that different establishments offer different types of experiences. For example, at a game lodge, the experience is just as important as the accommodation itself. Similarly, it may not be possible for a guest house to provide the same atmosphere as a hotel – and it wouldn’t be fair to compare a self-catering establishment to either of these. This is why different criteria have been laid out for each of the different accommodation types, from game and nature lodges to backpackers and hostels, campsites and meetings, exhibitions and special events venues.
It’s worth noting that establishment owners usually have an idea of how many stars they might be able to earn. TGCSA encourages this self-grading, but also reminds owners that it’s important to be realistic. Once they have applied online for assessment, owners can then select the assessor they feel is best suited to adjudge their property. Assessors enjoy working with property owners to ensure they know exactly how the process works, what it costs and how they will benefit. They’re also on hand to advise on how to improve a star grading through possible quality and service enhancements.
Ultimately, while every accommodation owner may dream of securing a five star grading, it’s worth remembering that not all tourists have the budget – or desire – for this kind of experience. What they do want, however, is to know that they’re getting what they signed up for. And when they do, they have the TGCSA assessors to thank.
* The Tourism Grading Council of South Africa hosted its Annual Assessor Conference at the Riverside Sun Hotel from 25 to 27 September to co-incide with Tourism Month. One of the many key themes at this year’s conference was Universal Accessibility, keeping in line with the national campaign of #TourismForAll for Tourism Month.
For more information visit the recently revamped TGCSA website at www.tourismgrading.co.za
About the author: Refiloe Mothibe is an Account Executive at FCBJOBURG. www.fcb.co.za
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