The Consumer Protection Act
The Consumer Protection Act came into force in South Africa in 2011. Basically this is an act that protects consumers and brings legislation in South Africa in line with the legislation that exists in many first world countries.
It means that the consumer is entitled to get what he expects. So be aware of the expectations you raise if there is a possibility that you can’t fulfill them.
This includes overbooking since you are then contracting to sell a room which you actually don’t have available.
In an excerpt from her book ‘Hospitality Management & Marketing‘, Vanessa Sand (CEO of Essential Travel Info – Previously AA Travel Guides) shares some guidelines on the CPA and how it affects you as an establishment owner:
The CPA applies to how you market yourself
A typical example is describing your rooms as ‘luxury’ when you are charging say R400 a night B&B. That does not match. A luxury room in South Africa is likely to sell for double that at the very least. If you have a luxury room and the rack rate is R400 then you are under pricing it so seriously that you should not be in this business. Luxury means you have a top of the range establishment, that the room is pristine, that the quality of furnishings and fittings, beds and bedding is of the highest quality, that the maintenance is tip top. You would even put fresh flowers in the room.
So if you describe your room in your B&B in which the bed is aging, the bedding is poly cotton and not percale, the carpet is showing signs of wear – as luxury, you are going to have disappointed guests who will feel duped when they experience the reality.
The CPA applies to pricing
You need to state the price per room or per person clearly on your website or on your brochures.
You also need to state your cancellation policy, policy with regard to how you charge for children as well as any other terms and conditions.
When you place advertising in other media you need to state that ‘Ts & Cs apply’ i.e. terms and conditions.
If you decide to offer any specials you need to mention which conditions apply to these specials. For example you may offer a ‘stay 2 nights and get the third night free’ special. Perhaps you only want to do that if one of the nights booked is over a weekend. State that in the advertising for the special. If the potential guest phones in and is given terms and conditions that were not hinted at in the initial ad you could have a problem. The problem is compounded if the guest is unaware of the terms and conditions until he arrives. By the time the guest checks out you have no chance of introducing fresh terms and conditions.
The CPA applies to the check-in process
Make sure that the contract you enter into with your guest is in line with what you have lead him to expect and also that it fits within the norms of the expectations of a typical experienced traveller.
When the guest gets to his room you are delivering the product that you have offered. Once he is happy with his room this is most of your side satisfied. But problems can still occur. What if there is a power outage or water supplies to your property are unavailable?
Most guests understand that these events occur but that does not mean you can sit back and do nothing.
Guests still need to be able to get into and out of your property, be able to see to get around and be able to use water for washing, drinking and brushing their teeth. If power outages are a regular problem install a generator. You should also get a gas stove or a 2 plate gas hob so that you can serve a hot breakfast if this is what you normally provide to your guests. If water cuts are an issue, buy 5L bottles of water and refill them regularly so that you can provide it to guests to use for basic needs in case of a water cut.
A very unhappy guest can appeal to the CPA commissioner for recourse.
Note that the CPA also protects suppliers. If a consumer i.e. your guest is unreasonable then the CPA commissioner would find in your favour. But why not just run your business in accordance with CPA principles which means that you are operating with know how, integrity and honesty – i.e. professionally?
Vanessa Sand founded AA Travel Guides 21 years ago and apart from tourism marketing and publishing she has run her own guest house for the past 12 years. She has a unique understanding of how to operate and market a hospitality establishment. She shares much ‘uncommon’ common sense know how in her book.