NEELS’ RALLY TENT
A five-star camping experience is a bit more than private bathrooms with marble tiles and shiny taps, says Neels van Heerden.
In the Bushveld there is a place that brags about its five-star ablution facilities. It’s even proclaimed in a radio ad that’s often broadcast on Bosveld Stereo. But nowhere on the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa (TGCSA) website will you find any mention of this particular campsite’s star grading. Which makes me wonder: Is it just excessive bragging – a deliberate misrepresentation – or is it total ignorance of how the star grading system works? It’s probably a bit of both. I also think the TGCSA doesn’t have enough clout to challenge a campsite like this. If someone complains to the TGCSA about misrepresentation, you’d hope that the resort would get a polite phone call. The biggest damage to a campsite’s reputation is false claims made in radio jingles, printed ads or on a website, creating unrealistic expectations. It only leads to disappointed campers. And the end result is criticism voiced on social media, where things can turn ugly. A recognised star grading creates its own problems – and you can see it in the desperation of resort owners to get a fouror five-star grading. To some people a three-star grading indicates “average” and anything less means the campsite is not on par. A grading should rather be an indication that a resort adheres to certain minimum requirements. A LONG, LONG TIME ago, I was involved in the star-grading system. A campsite is evaluated in a large range of categories, and even if it has an official grading and that grading is lower than five, it’s not allowed to claim it has five-star ablution facilities. I believe a grading of three or four stars is the safest. If owners support this grading with excellent service, visible and constant maintenance, and friendly staff, success is virtually guaranteed. The star grading system has received a lot of criticism over the years – mostly because of irregularities in the awarding of stars in the formal accommodation category. There was some tinkering with a few campsites’ gradings, but it was soon discovered because the camping community is alert. One example is where a campsite bribed a grading official to award them four stars. After a number of complaints, a reevaluation was done and the site was downgraded to two and eventually zero stars. With time the TGCSA has made the requirements for a five-star grading so strict that it’s almost impossible to adhere to it. A guesthouse with a few rooms doesn’t require the same intense level of maintenance than a campsite. The TGCSA then decided to appoint so-called expert officials to audit all grading reports. That’s when I butted heads with the expert from Limpopo. He had no camping experience but still rejected one grading after another. It also wasn’t long before he got involved in an email war with a resort owner. At that stage the owner in question had the top campsite in the country and took serious exception when the official described his resort’s bathroom as “sub-standard” because the taps didn’t compare to the expensive imported ones in the Mount Nelson Hotel. The resort owner withdrew from the grading system. WHAT DO FIVE STARS look like to me? Many years ago the late Jim Reeves wooed the country with this rendition of De Waal and Van Rooyen’s song “Daar doer in die bosveld”. A few words from the song perfectly sum up my opinion of a five-star camping experience:
A three- or four-star grading is the safest, and if owners back it up with excellent service, visible and constant maintenance, and friendly staff, success is guaranteed.