New regulations for holiday bookings got it wrong, causing resorts and guest houses unnecessary panic

18 December 2020 - 12:26 By wendy knowler
Last-minute cancellations during peak holiday periods usually result in a full forfeit of payments made in advance to secure the booking.
Last-minute cancellations during peak holiday periods usually result in a full forfeit of payments made in advance to secure the booking.
Image: Sandile Ndlovu

Hotels and guest houses across SA were thrown into panic mode on Tuesday, thanks to a “drafting anomaly” in the revised Disaster Management Act regulations which limited their peak holiday bookings to just 50% capacity.

However, that was corrected late on Thursday with the publishing in the government gazette of a correction in the form of revised level 1 regulations, fixing the offending paragraph.

Tuesday’s version read: “Hotels, lodges, bed and breakfasts, timeshare facilities, resorts and guest houses are subject to a restriction on the number of persons allowed to not more than 50% of the available accommodation capacity, with patrons observing a distance of at least 1.5m from each other.”

The amended paragraph reads: “Hotels, lodges, bed and breakfasts, timeshare facilities, resorts and guest houses are allowed full capacity of the available rooms for accommodation, with patrons observing a distance of at least 1.5m from each other when in common spaces”.

Tourism Business Council CEO Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa told TimesLIVE on Thursday the wording was “a drafting anomaly”.

“The intention of that regulation is that while a hotel or any other accommodation facility may have 100% occupancy at their establishments, guests may only occupy 50% of the capacity of the common spaces — reception area, poolside, restaurants, bars, spa, gym and so on — at one time,” he said.

“To restrict accommodation capacity as a whole would be going backwards to more severe restrictions. It makes no sense. It would be like expecting the occupants of half the flats in a block of residential flats to vacate.”

For consumers, it means if you change your mind about spending the festive season in a Garden Route destination because the beaches are closed, you can’t cancel your accommodation booking and expect a refund because there is no legal restriction preventing you from checking in on the agreed date.

Lynn Gillham of Ballito in KwaZulu-Natal had made a booking for her family at a guest house in Plettenberg Bay for Christmas, and paid in full, having been assured by the owner that they would get a full refund if a new form of lockdown forced them to cancel their holiday plans.

“This week our president closed the Garden Route beaches, declared Plett a coronavirus hotspot and strongly advised us not to travel far, so I tried to cancel for a refund, but was told I would no longer be getting a full refund,” she told TimesLIVE.

With Tuesday’s publication of the 50% limit on accommodation, she thought the guest house would be forced to cancel bookings, giving her hope for a full refund. However, the subsequent rewording of the regulations put paid to that.

Consumers who cancel holiday bookings because of beach closures or fear of contracting the virus in a hotspot do not have a legal right to a full refund.

Any cancellation would be a “normal” cancellation, made by choice, and therefore the establishment’s usual, pre-coronavirus cancellation penalties apply. Last-minute cancellations during peak holiday periods usually result in a full forfeit of payments made in advance to secure the booking.

GET IN TOUCH: Wendy Knowler specialises in consumer journalism. You can reach her via e-mail: consumer@knowler.co.za or on Twitter: @wendyknowler


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