In developing news, The Tourism Grading Council of South Africa (TGCSA) has declared that there are plans underway to design a separate Game Lodge category in its revised grading system.

All lodges were given a chance to provide feedback on the existing criteria during the initial consultation process. Thekiso Rakolojane, Marketing & Communications Manager at TGCSA mentioned that “The feedback allowed us to amend the existing criteria according to industry requirements. It also informed us of the fact that it was crucial for a separate game lodge category to be created. We have just gone out on tender to find the right partner to assist us with the consultation with the game lodge industry.”

Thekiso Rakolojane believes that the previous grading system was unclear and set false anticipations. “Due to its inconsistency and vagueness, assessors were able to interpret it as they saw fit, which resulted in differing levels of quality within graded establishments. The current grading system seeks to correct that very problematic practice.” He says the revised grading system will bring consistency to the grading system. This will then have a positive impact on tourism as a whole.

Many in the industry have mentioned that the existing system of grading game lodges in South Africa is incorrect as it doesn’t reflect the game lodge experience as a whole. As confirmed by Allison Kennedy, md Game Lodge Destinations, says: “I personally don’t feel that the current grading system is honest and true to the Game Lodge industry. There are five-star game lodges and then there are true five-star game lodges. To me, the lodges should also be graded on the quality of their guides, vehicle seating capacity, traversing size of land and wildlife, game drive snacks etc. – not only on the accommodation aspect.”

It is noted that the TGCSA has always classified the lodge category under “a formal accommodation facility providing full or limited services, located in natural surroundings beyond that of the immediate garden area”. For an establishment to be graded in this category it had to have an activity connected to the accommodation establishment (either a game drive, wildlife etc.). However, the star rating was only based on the accommodation establishment and not on the activities that were provided.

Jackie Diack, marketing and reservations at Tau Game Lodge weighed in on the issue saying that grading lodges according to their own criteria would be perfect but it is also unrealistic: “Game loges offer a completely different experience from a hotel and therefore should be judged completely differently, but the practicality and reality of the situation make this a difficult distinction.” She continued on by saying that there are too many external factors influencing a game experience, such as season and weather conditions as well as environmental factors that could affect the overall grading. “Simply including quality of sightings would make the grader’s job very complicated or require him to trust information supplied by the lodge or park itself, which would then lessen the objectivity of his final evaluation.”

Brett Thomson, marketing director Africa on Foot believes that “Advertising a five-star game viewing experience is setting yourself up for a lot of issues.” Thomson believes that there needs to be more education for guests of what the game viewing and wildlife actually involves.

Many others believe that the grading system is completely out-dated. Chris McIntyre, md Expert Africa, is a strong believer that the grading system is not relevant anymore: “I view grading systems as things that were really useful 30 years ago when there was often no other info available about a place than its grading… I’d like to see the whole thing scrapped so that hoteliers can spend their time and money improving their visitors’ experience rather than worrying if they will tick enough boxes to gain a certain star rating.”