Holidays from hell: South Africans share hotel stays with kids on the floor and insect eggs in the bed

28 December 2018 - 14:30
THREE STAR GRADING?! The bath at Elephant Springs Hotel, Bela Bela
THREE STAR GRADING?! The bath at Elephant Springs Hotel, Bela Bela
Image: Supplied to Wendy Knowler

A filthy bath, a cockroach infestation, no air-conditioning, a broken fan and a blocked shower drain — that’s what greeted Vernon Naidoo of Pretoria’s group of 12 when they arrived at a hotel in Bela Bela, having paid for three nights’ accommodation in advance.

They arrived last Friday and spent two nights in the Elephant Springs Hotel, having no other choice at the height of the peak festive season. They were told by management that they would not be getting a refund, not even for the night they managed to find alternative accommodation in the town, also known as Warmbaths.

“The other family of six had travelled for almost nine hours from Durban, their first visit to Limpopo, to be greeted by that horror,” Naidoo said.

The group paid R13,000 for three nights’ accommodation at Elephant Springs self-catering apartments, and then another R12,500 for their alternative night’s accommodation in Warmbaths.

The family were moved from the cockroach infested “apartment” into the hotel on the first and third nights, but the rooms could not accommodate them all adequately, so the children had to sleep on the floor.

“We weren’t the only ones complaining — at reception we witnessed others saying they had been misled about the state of the accommodation and around the pool, the guests were all sharing their horror stories,” Naidoo said.

“I am shocked that the hotel still has a three-star grading and would allow guests to book, given its current condition,” he tweeted.

Hotel group South of Africa, which owns Elephant Springs, told TimesLIVE that both the hotel and the apartments had been graded as three-star by the Tourism Grading Council of SA, separately.

“We’re conducting an investigation into (Naidoo’s) feedback,” the company said. “We’ve been upgrading rooms, facilities and the main building this past year and will gladly co-operate in finding a solution.”

Darryl Erasmus, the Tourism Grading Council of SA’s chief quality assurance officer, confirmed that the Elephant Springs Hotel and its apartments were among its 5,200 graded properties and undertook to schedule an audit of the establishment in the new year.

“Some graded establishments lack a detailed maintenance plan, or don’t ensure that they are complying with heath and safety regulations,” he said.

“We point out the issues to them, and if they don’t comply, we downgrade them.”

Naidoo’s tweets prompted several others to share their “bad stay” experiences on Twitter.

They jammed us into little bunk beds
Noel Gie on his cycling group's accommodation in Swellendam

Cyclist Noel Gie of Cape Town told of the grimy accommodation he and fellow cyclists booked into in Swellendam recently.

Elaborating to TimesLIVE, Gie said: “There were bug eggs in the beds; they did not have enough rooms to accommodate the number of adults and jammed us into little bunk beds with dirty pillows and tatty threadbare bedding."

“When we told them that we were miserably under-resourced with bathroom facilities — one bathroom for six adults — they offered us the bathroom in the main building, but because their Great Dane sleeps there at night, they retracted the offer!”

Grading is not compulsory for hospitality establishments in order not to exclude the many emerging establishments which would not meet the minimum one-star requirements. Barring them from operating would stifle growth in the industry, Erasmus said.

On average the cost of grading is R3,500 a year for an establishment.

“Some apply for grading, don’t make it, and then rather than doing what it takes to get the grading they want, they say ‘just leave it’.

“Sadly, it’s often it’s those ones who go on to claim they have stars when they don’t."

Others let their grading lapse, but continue to display their star plaque and use the star grading in their marketing, Erasmus said.

“If you see a brass and wood plaque on the wall of a hotel or guest house, or in one of their marketing photos, ask them for proof of their grading, and check the expiry date,” Erasmus said, “because the current plaques are perspex."

“You want to be sure that an establishment has been graded in the past 12 months.”

Importantly, the star grading applies to an establishment’s least expensive accommodation, so a hotel with a mix of five-star and three-star rooms will have a three-star grading.

“We insist on seeing everything on the property,” Erasmus said. “Consumers who feel that a facility does not live up to its grading have recourse in that we investigate complaints.”

*If a graded establishment has not met your expectations, or you think they are falsely advertising a star grading, email

GET IN TOUCH: You can contact our consumer columnist Wendy Knowler with your queries via e-mail: or on Twitter: @wendyknowler