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.

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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.

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