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02 June 2008
Tourism Grading Council Alerts Industry To Millions Of Potential Travellers Not Catered For

“Our research indicates that South Africa has well over ten million persons that live with limited functionality (disabled) people, almost one-fifth of the total population, whose travel has, up to now, been hampered through a lack of access and information about facilities’ abilities to accommodate those who are able and willing to travel” says Thembi Kunene, CEO of The Tourism Grading Council of South Africa. “This is a significant portion of the population who are not fully catered for when it comes to holiday or business accommodation.”

The three groupings, namely mobility, visual and communications impaired, incorporate a wide range of people including those who use wheelchairs or other assistive devises, have no or limited visual capacity, or experience complete or limited hearing (are deaf). Furthermore there are millions of South Africans who use walking sticks, wear spectacles, are frail and elderly, or are in some other way limited by the environment (differently abled), including mothers pushing prams who experience great difficulty -getting around.

To improve access to accommodation for these groups, the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa (TGCSA) has implemented a Universal Acceptability grading scheme, which aims to encourage the hospitality industry to understand and adapt to the limitations that exist for so many of our fellow South Africans. This will be done by upgrading facilities so that they are accessible to the majority of these identified groups of people. Hospitality providers are able to apply for different standards of ratings, and not all every room needs to be adapted to qualify for a rating.

This is particularly important given that South Africa will be hosting the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup™ and there will be a huge influx of both able-bodied and persons with limited functionality (disabled) tourists to the country. Should South Africa decide to bid for the Olympic and Paralympic Games in future, it will also be vital for local accommodation owners to be able to accommodate these athletes and visitors.

“The objective of the Grading Council of South Africa is to maintain a high standard of accommodation throughout South Africa and to provide all tourists with peace of mind when making travel arrangements. The new Universal Accessibility rating will create additional independence and open up a host of travel opportunities to a large sector of travelers”, Kunene continues.

The Universal Accessibility grading scheme provides the accommodation owner in South Africa with yet another opportunity to gain access to an untapped market. As the grading system is market-driven and voluntary, it stimulates improvement across all levels of service offering. This process continuously encourages the industry to re-invent, re-value and grow itself while developing and transforming tourism in South Africa.

Heinrich Spies has been retained by the TGCSA to assist with UA Grading, and together with 22 other specially trained Assessors, is geared to making tourism products in South Africa more accessible. Spies explains that, “We have consulted widely with industry players to develop these specialised grading criteria and all the Stakeholders are very satisfied by the outcome. They all look forward to the day when all South Africans have equal access to facilities countrywide.”

The first guest house to receive a Universal Accessibility rating in South Africa was recently named as Francolinhof, which is located in Hermanus. Their Mobility Gold rating means that they have at least one bedroom and all of their public areas complying with the standards set by the Grading Council in terms of universal accessibility. Assessment includes criteria such as the size of door openings, signage, flashing lights on phones and slip resistant surfaces.

For the whole spectrum of (both able-bodied and disabled) visitors, the benefits of staying at a graded property are evident in the standards that one can expect to find. Annual quality checks are held, allowing travelers peace of mind when visiting a new hotel or guest house. Recourse can also be taken if problems are encountered, and feedback from visitors to the Tourism Grading Council is strongly encouraged and welcomed. If the property is not star graded, the Grading Council is unable to mediate between the establishment and the traveler.

“The new Universal Accessibility rating system will hopefully encourage the South African hospitality industry to open their doors to persons who experience any form of limitation due to the environment (the disabled), and will in turn reap the benefits of attracting an increasing number of local and international visitors”, concludes Kunene.


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