It’s no secret that coronavirus has wreaked havoc globally and the subsequent lockdown has seen many forced to cancel their holiday plans for the foreseeable future. But, there is light at the end of the tunnel, according to Shaun Lamont, Managing Director of First Group, a leading leisure company that manages over 25 holiday properties across South Africa. “Whilst most people have written the next few months off, many have already started booking their local 2021 holidays online.”
He adds that for others, booking holiday accommodation online can be scary; what if the hotel or resort looks nothing like the breath-taking photos on the website? What if what you thought was ‘cheap and cheerful’ turns out to be ‘downright dreary’?
“A well-known way to confirm that what you’re seeing online is more than likely what you’ll get when you arrive at your holiday destination, is by checking out the star grading system. But don’t be misled into thinking that hotel stars are a rating of quality,” warns Shaun. “They are in fact a measure of the facilities on offer (unlike the Michelin star rating which is an indication of the quality of the restaurant and cuisine). So, a one-star hotel isn’t necessarily a dodgy dive in a bad location, it simply offers basic accommodation, with no frills or fuss. And, sometimes a three-star hotel may be more luxurious (i.e. it has more facilities on offer), but if the décor is tired and has not been revamped in years, or the cleaning staff are less than efficient, you are bound for your three-star stay to be worse than your one-star,” he explains.
So, how do you know if what you booking online is what you going to get when you arrive? Shaun says that before you pull out your credit card, you should do the following:
Check out online reviews: Doing your homework on various sites including Trip Advisor, Booking.com, Facebook and Google is definitely one of the ways you can ensure that what you book is what you get. At the same time, it is important to look at all reviews objectively. Go with the understanding that no one (and no hotel) is perfect. In addition, different people have different standards and expectations – one person’s ‘cute and cosy’ may be another person’s ‘small and shady’. So what do you do? Do you discard reviews altogether!? Absolutely not! Simply ensure that you read at least 6 online reviews so that you get a more accurate picture of what you are dealing with.
Contact the hotel/resort you’re thinking of staying at: Take note of how the receptionist answers your call and treats you, as this is an excellent indication of the level of service you can expect to receive when you’re there on holiday.
Phone a friend: Lockdown means that you can no longer ask a friend or family member who lives close to the hotel/resort, to check it out for you. So instead, ask your friends on Facebook (not strangers on groups!), the keyboard warriors who know you best are bound to be brutally honest.
Compare apples with apples: Once you have chosen a property, compare it to another one in the same area. Don’t use price as the only measurement; compare facilities, size of units/rooms, loyalty programmes, hidden costs (like WiFi and parking), in addition to the quality of service promised.
Read the fine print: Waiving your right to cancel is a fantastic way to secure cheaper rates BUT it also means that you will forfeit your hard-earned cash, if you discover on arrival that you are not happy with your accommodation. Make sure you always read the fine print!
Stick with reputable hotel groups: If you are genuinely worried that your quaint BnB is not going to live up to your expectations, rather stick to well-known reputable hotel groups, like First Group, who subscribe to industry best practice and who are accountable to an industry authority such as FEDHASA (The Federated Hospitality Association of SA). Furthermore, larger hotel groups are also far more likely to have relooked their health and safety measures. First Group, for example, have completely revolutionised new industry standards of cleanliness and are rolling out enhanced technologies, including electrostatic sprayers with hospital-grade disinfectant to sanitise surfaces throughout the resort. Access to their properties will also be strictly controlled with the use of various measures including no-contact thermometers, disinfection spray tunnels and hand sanitation stations in addition to using ultraviolet light technology for the further sanitisation of all rooms and public areas.
“Avoid being surprised on check-in, do your research and then, sit back, relax and dream of the magical memories that are to come.” Shaun concludes.