By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK The Namibia Tourism Board (NTB) has embarked on a New Tourist Accommodation Star-Grading System. This new grading will enable Namibia to be on par with other countries worldwide. At the moment, the industry is using a system that was implemented in 1974, which covers rest camps, hotels and guest farms only. The new system will not only shake up the industry in a way that it will differentiate the service delivery between different establishments, but will also help inform tourists on where they might want to go. The current situation has led some establishments to market themselves in a way that misleads tourists. Beginning June 2008, the board expects the new system – which will be a legislative instrument – to be in place in time for the World Cup, when more international tourists are expected to flock to Namibia. Digu //Naobeb, NTB’s Acting Chief Executive Officer and Strategic Executive: Industry Services, said last week that tourism was a highly competitive industry and the Namibian sector could not afford to compete only on the basis of uniqueness or being a niche destination alone. A quality assurance rating provides an independent assessment of what a guest can expect to find and gives a guarantee that a guest’s stay will meet their expectations. The new system will cover a variety of establishments except campsites, camping and caravan parks, and backpacker hostels because they cater for a different market segment and will be taken care of under a different scheme. The new scheme is meant to improve the quality of tourism accommodation in Namibia, assist consumers and operators in making informed selection decisions and also make life easier for tourism accommodation facilities to sell their products. The grading will look at the quality and condition of available facilities and not necessarily take into consideration the size of the establishment. “Thus an establishment will not be penalized for not having a specific facility but will be graded on its offered facilities. As establishments will not be penalized on the size of the room, it will rather be graded on the room’s functionality no matter the size,” said //Naobeb. Benefits of the scheme, which is voluntary, include appearance in NTB’s publications and website, provision of business advice and benchmark information while being allowed to use any reference to standard and grading in their own marketing material. Although the benefits are essential to ensure accommodation establishments buy in, //Naobeb cited usage of the scheme by customers as the most important benefit. NTB has partnered with ‘Visit Scotland’ to finalize the scheme. ‘Visit Scotland’s’ assistance focused on the validation of draft-grading criteria and training of tourism inspectors. Over 30 establishments in Karas, Khomas, Otjozondjupa, Oshana, Kunene and Erongo regions were covered. Findings from some establishments in these regions indicate that they could make it to 5-star grades, but their customer service was poor. //Naobeb said this was a clear indication that establishment owners are investing heavily in improving physical aspects of the facilities, and not in human capital. Robert Flavell, one of the senior quality advisers of ‘Visit Scotland’, said there was a desire among establishments to have the quality system implemented as soon as possible. Six countries – Australia, Germany, New Zealand, Scotland, South Africa and Wales – were used in the benchmarking exercise.