Our Quarterly Newsletters - A Day in the Life of an Hotelier
Welcome to the September 2016 Rissington Rag Off-Beat News and Views
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A Day in the Life of an Hotelier
It is not often that I am faced with a question that I simply don't know how to answer but it happened the other day. An American.
"If we are obliged to wear suntan lotion and insect repellent at the same time, which should we apply first?"
In my attempts to remain the Master of Civility and Compromise, I told him that it was a very good question, but that I did not think the order mattered as long as both were rigorously applied. Maybe, I suggested, the suntan lotion should be applied to the areas exposed to the sun, such as the face, arms and legs, while the insect repellent could be inserted into areas not normally affected by sun, such as behind the ears, up the sleeves and inside the socks (especially if worn with sandals).
Look what the Colonel is up to now! Finally: KFC flavoured suntan lotion
Of course, should the sun unexpectedly emerge whilst insect repellent was being applied, then all application should cease immediately to allow for suntan lotion to be smothered liberally on any uncovered skin. Likewise, in case of a sudden surprise attack by an unanticipated squadron of mosquitoes or (worse) hornets, all suntan-lotion-smearing should instantly be replaced by insect-onslaught-parrying with a liberal squirt of Doom Insect Killer - and should that fail, DEET should be launched immediately in the direction of the assailants.
He thanked me profusely for my conclusive and well thought-out advice.
We aim to please, but ... wait until you see, at the bottom of the letter, what the Indians are asking for now. (No. Don't jump straight there. Read the bits in-between.)
Has South Africa gone full circle? We watched in fascination as, following the ANC's recent defeat in Johannesburg, a certain Vasco da Gama was elected speaker of the Johannesburg Council. Truly. Has his ship finally come in?
Would the real Vasco da Gama please step forward?
And what next? Cecil Rhodes to take up the role of Public Protector? Shaka for Minister of Further Education? Winnie Mandela in charge of Child Welfare? Jacob Zuma for another term as President?! Heaven help us!
Like much of the world, South Africa has been going through some fairly torrid political times recently. I call it The Politics of Spongebob - a no-progress, all-bluffing, blame-culture perpetrated by idiots led by idiots. As with the children's cartoon show Spongebob Squarepants, we, the onlookers, can easily see just how daft these buffoons are, bumbling around and thinking they are getting away with their nonsense. Sadly, the politicians themselves, are however the only ones foolish enough to be taken in by their own blarney. The Rainbow Nation's own Spongebob is pictured (twice).
I speak apolitically, but I do believe that the outcome of the recent local elections could not have been better. Some harsh lessons have been learned and everybody is now on their best behaviour. No-one is really in power and everyone is being held accountable. Long may it last. Nkosi sikilel' iAfrica. And we should start with an urgent change of President. There. I said it.
Ancient Hazyview History
So let's get away from the present and indulge in some nostalgia, the refuge of the politically unsure.
A friend is currently researching the history of Hazyview. It is not a long history as the town was only officially promulgated in 1959 but the region has been home, over the years, to a range of colourful characters including the drunk who founded the settlement in 1900, a former member of Steinaecker's Horse named Perry, and his better-known friend, the renowned hunter and conservationist Harry Wolhuter who reputedly killed a lion with a pocket knife. (I think the lion may actually have been scared to death by his moustache).
Anyone with any interesting snippets of Hazyview history would be welcome to send them to me. I was delighted to stumble across the map below - the full-size framed version may be seen at the Sabi River Sun (formerly Bungalows) - which clearly shows Rissington to have been the main farmhouse on the farm De Rust in the early days of the pioneers in the valley.
The left-hand map shows a recognisable Rissington (top right) and, next to it, Wolhuter's house, which also still stands. If you blow up the map on the right, you can see Rissington right at the top and the banners below it to the right mark PALM BEACH, then CAVES, and finally PARADISE ISLAND along the banks of our Langspruit stream. It sounds more like Mauritius than Hazyview!
The bottom banner reads THERE'S GOLD IN THEM THAR HILLS. If only ...
We have been lucky enough to meet four of the previous owners of the farm on which we founded Rissington Inn and they were all able to tell us some good stories about the house. One even showed me where his concrete outside bath had stood, under the sycamore trees in the garden. You can still see the spot today, although our outside showers are (a little) more private ...
TripAdvisor Comes of Age - The Final Rant
After years of tormented comment on TripAdvisor, it finally seems to have settled in, with the discerning user able to tell when the hotel is at fault, or when the reviewer is quite simply a moron. It has long been said that intelligent people can read between the lines, and I suppose that is the case, although the debate will continue, especially amongst lower-rated establishments, and the permitted anonymity of reviewers remains a disgrace. We are pleased, at least, still to be Number One, in our category, in Hazyview.
Booking.com is another story. The average user of this booking engine is often too rushed, too daft and/or too lazy to send an email or, heaven forbid, pick up the phone. As a result, he or she ends up booking on-line the first cheap option and then complains when this is precisely what he or she gets.
It is a loathsome system, which appears to actively encourage negative criticisms of tourism establishments, but it currently brings us more than 20% of our business and accounts to a large extent for the growth we have experienced over the past 2 years (see the latest chart below). How I wish we could actually fill the empty rooms with regulars and with people who have sought us out because we offered what they wanted, not because we were the first to pop up on their screens!
Anyway, we shall continue to respond (as calmly as possible) to reviews on both sites - until all users learn to play fair and not to use the sites to acquire favours or to wreak revenge. Only from inside this industry can one tell (in my case, after 35 years of it) how much less civil and more unkind some guests can be, nowadays, to staff, and it often entails threatening them with bad reviews. We used to live for the joy of happy guests and the cheerful, grateful letters in the post. Now we often find ourselves on the back foot, in fear of instant public humiliation by bullying cyber-gangsters and these threats inevitably sometimes rub off on the atmosphere within tourism as a whole. Sadly, in the mind of some website users, it is not all about good hospitality any more. It is also about giving bang for your buck or there'll be hell to pay. And staff morale is the first aspect to suffer.
I don't often agree with The Guardian but this is a thought-provoker, even if it contains one too many conspiracy theories. Read it here
And in case you missed it when I put it in last time, far more interesting is Why Luxury is Dead
Anyway, let's leave it there. In the meantime, who could disagree with PT Barnum when he says: "Politeness and civility are the best capital ever invested in business"?
After all, as he didn't say (but almost everyone else evidently did) - Life is a Circus ...
Did you ever come across a more over-used expression? I am particularly excited about the "Exciting New Sermon Series". And what on earth is a "Blog Hop Challenge"?
The Best Weather in the World
More annoying than "Life is a Circus" is the expression "Can't Complain". It is like you want to complain, but no matter how hard you try, you can't find anything to complain about. And the one thing we definitely cannot complain about here is the weather. South Africa is in the Top 10 with the eighth best weather in the world and most of our biggest markets fall in the Bottom 10. Small wonder that they are our biggest markets.
However, the drought continues here and they say that a rainy cycle is due. Can't complain.
The "Where in the World" Competition
This was a tricky one and the winner was Ursula Saner-Davare who (among many others) correctly identified (because she was there a couple of weeks before I was) that the photo showed the Paraa Ferry across the Nile in Uganda's Murchison Falls National Park and that the prehistoric-looking bird is a Shoebill, formerly known as a Shoebill Stork. The additional birds, later on in the letter, were, in order: Abdim's Stork, Black-headed Gonolek, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Red-cheeked Cordon-Bleu.
To win two nights for two at Rissington this time around, where was this photograph taken?
There are two kinds of upgrade. Moving up a class ... and improving facilities. Rissington always upgrades guests where possible to the best room available on the day of arrival, and obviously we tend to favour returning guests.
The improvements to Rissington are also all but complete. Thank goodness. It has been a monumental task, but the results are very rewarding. Please come and have a look for yourself. Sooner or later, there will also be some new pictures on the website. We are waiting for the rain before we take them!
And I haven't had a go at Oddballs for a while. As the world gets madder, we are. as always, keeping up with the fads, the latest really big deal being Vegan food. While I can imagine life without meat, I am afraid life without eggs and cheese would be totally beyond me but we have nevertheless sent two of our top chefs on a vegan cooking course, so that we are able to accommodate canaries, squirrels and any other seed and nut-eaters who come to stay.
And this is what a vegan can look like (although in my experience, not all of them do):
On Yer Bike : Our Travels
It always amazes me that KZN (KwaZulu-Natal) is often said to be so much the poorer relation when it comes to both domestic and international tourism. There is just so much going on. Every year we head to Ballito for a beach holiday in January but, for something different, this year in the mid-year school holidays, we headed in the same direction but for cycling and game-viewing. Do it. The KZN Ezemvelo Parks are beautiful and offer wonderful game-viewing, if only because often they are mountainous or on lakes, so you can see for miles. We had wonderful elephant and lion sightings in Hluhluwe-Mfolozi, dozens of rhinos in Ithala and we located Samango monkeys at Cape Vidal in iSimangaliso (formerly Lake St Lucia), where we also cycled amongst the wildebeest and zebra.
Sadly, the parks are all shockingly badly-run from a hospitality perspective with some of the most ill-informed and unenergetic staff and the worst restaurants I have come across in a long time, made worse by some appalling management decisions. In iSimangaliso, for example, all the dirt roads were closed at the same time and apparently have been so since last November, leaving just the one (tar) road open! - but we didn't let that spoil our stay and it was a magnificent break. I strongly recommend a couple of weeks in KZN. We stayed at the inimitable Wendy's Guest House in Mtubatuba and used it as a base for all our travels - see the website HERE - which could not have been better. Friendly service, great food and lots of helpful advice (as a counterpoint to the Parks staff, who often couldn't give us any information at all).
Finally, we ended up at Fugitives' Drift, an alma mater of mine, and still one of the finest hospitality experiences in the world (and even more so, now that Nicky Rattray is 'doing up' the accommodation).
For those who have been following it (and who are impressed by the above photograph of me taking part, which I use in every Rag), the tenth and final RattRace Mountain Bike Challenge took place at Fugitives' Drift in July with a good get-together of friends of David Rattray's and a spectacular fund-raising effort for the David Rattray Foundation, which has now been renamed Khula. You can read about it HERE.
The work of the foundation will obviously continue. So far, over R13 million has been injected into a dozen schools in the Rorke's Drift area. An astonishing achievement - and simply life-changing for thousands of children.
Time for some Exercise
We have spent much of the last six months undertaking all the activities in the Hazyview area for ourselves and in addition to the adrenalin-inducing thrills and spills on which we regularly send our guests (the Skyways canopy trail, the rafting, canyoning and tubing, the horse- and elephant-interactions and the wildlife rehabilitation centres around Hoedspruit), we continue to unearth a great range of walks and trails around Hazyview, Graskop and Sabie, all offering different levels of challenge and each with its own unique character.
The Matumi Trail, for example, is said to offer the widest range of butterfly species anywhere on the continent (or is it in the country? Or the world?). It literally seems sometimes to snow butterflies. And the very rare (and utterly beautiful) Narina Trogon can be often seen along the clear-running streams of the Mac-Mac River, which the trail follows. Cycling and quad-biking options are also available here.
The Belvedere Day Hike takes one right down to the Dientjie Falls in the base of the Canyon - a tough but thrilling walk - while the Jock of the Bushveld Trail goes right past Sir Percy Fitzpatrick's aptly-named Panorama Camp and the Graskop Day Walk leads past Forest Falls, the only waterfall in the Province to be wider than it is tall. Don't you just love a statistic?
Finally, every Monday morning, there is a guided 3-hour birding walk along the Sabie River in Hazyview where 50 species are regularly clocked up, currently including (and believe me, this is exciting, even if it doesn't sound it to you) the Little Jacana.
A Post-Brexit Concession
If you Brexit, you pays for it, as the old adage has it. Not one person claimed the free prize for being British in July. Is anybody reading this? Or am I wasting my time?! So in another concession to the British with their weakened pound, we have decided not to raise the drinks prices at Rissington. All heart. I know. And everybody benefits (except me) so thank a Brit when you see how ludicrously low our wine prices are - and yes, we won another Gold in the Diners Club Wine Awards this year. Very satisfying.
And, even with the weaker pound, South Africa is still undoubtedly the best value destination in the world ... and you can be reassured that, until he is gone, every time our President opens his daft mouth, the pound will slowly, slowly strengthen against the rand, as will all the other currencies. So book now for next year, while you can still get in.
I have not mentioned the annoyingness of cellphones in this newsletter - but to show that I practise what I preach, during my three-week holiday with three 11-year olds, we did not go onto social media or play electronic games at all. Not even once. And nor did we watch television. And we didn't miss any of them for a moment. It did however draw my attention to the fact that we were still using my cellphone (the only one we had with us in case Rissington had an emergency) but only as a camera. Here's a picture to prove it:
Again, when you next dig out your tablet, I would urge you to join the Inn crowd and follow us on Facebook and/or Twitter ...
As always, you can download Do Not Take This Road to El-Karama (by me) onto your iPad or Kindle from Takealot (the former Kalahari) HERE or Amazon HERE.
If you haven't done so already, you can also look at Rissington's website on www.rissington.co.za. And - tour operators and website operators please note - if you need new pictures for any purpose, you can lift them from the gallery on www.rissington.co.za/Brochure.
We are stepping up our gap year programme for pre- or post-university students. From now on we shall be looking at taking on two or even three gappers at a time, to supplement our superb permanent front-of-house team and to spread the benefits amongst keen participants. And the benefits are legion with frequent visits to the game reserves and wildlife interaction centres, plus hikes and adrenalin thrown in.
Anyone may apply but we expect that all successful applicants will be 18-25, at least half-intelligent, interesting, energetic non-smokers, preferably with a driver's licence. Males and females welcome, but not couples. Aim to stay a minimum of three months. No hopeless cases please - if you don't know what do next, we don't know what you should do either - but keen, presentable, enthusiastic souls are most welcome. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Guest Quote of the Month
OK, so it is back to the Indians. A guest feedback form:
Honestly. He obviously found this one in Indonesia and expects one everywhere he goes now:
Come and see us, it would be madness not to - but please pick up some cash at an ATM on the way here, as this is one request we shall not be acceding to ...
Chris the Curry-maker, Hlengiwe (and, nope, still no driver's licence), Ever-cheerful Shirley, Nonhlanhla the Herpetologist, Sibusiso the Body-builder, Genius Euginia, Gappers Phoebe, Claire and Finlay, Melba (aka Anagrammatic Mabel, Toast, Peach and Nellie), Sipho the Driver, Thandi the Vegan-friendly Head Chef, Cindy, The Great Seed-Chef Gertie, Emelda, Zenzile, Betty, 10-Ton Thuli, Gladys, Sanny, Sisters Ntombifuthi (Foots) and Nokuthula (Noggs), Patience, Yvonne, Able Aubrey, Sbusiso the Womaniser, Guy the guy and Mbuso, the Weekend Man. And of course JJ, who bowled a triple-wicket maiden last week in a school cricket match - oh yes, and turned 12. Plus German(ish) Shepherd Bull, who is increasingly deaf and going slowly blind but plugging away, and Rusty with the cute smile.