March 2018

Welcome
to the
March 2018
Rissington Rag


Off-Beat News and Views
Rissington Inn, Hazyview, South Africa

A Day in the Life of an Hotelier

This month, in a bit of a departure from the routine, instead of simply ranting (!), we are going to employ a slightly different approach and take a more thoughtful and analytical look at why people behave the way they do in hotels. I would welcome your views on my theories. For example, I am convinced that both lucky and unlucky hotel guests exist - and I am equally sure that both categories are represented amongst the roughly twenty-thousand people who receive these emails. Hopefully the former way outnumber the latter! I shall try to prove this further down.
I think it makes sense that the way in which a guest first approaches a hotel dictates the way in which the hotel approaches the guest ... and it therefore follows that how much the guest enjoys the hotel is as much the responsibility of the guest as it is of the hotelier. Do you agree?
People arrive at hotels slightly flustered. They are either a little worried or downright stressed. They might be concerned that the hotel will not be what they want, or, if they are returning guests like so many of ours, fearful that it might not be as good as it was the last time they were there. (Don't worry. It is.)
Or quite simply they may be dreading the fact that it might be awful, as some mad old harridan has written on TripAdvisor, whom they have bravely ignored due to the deluge of otherwise happy reviewers. Either way, anyone arriving at a hotel is on-edge to some degree and the welcome is everything.
There are also people, though, who come in with a purely negative attitude. With that "Go-on-Impress-Me" face. Obviously, you can find something wrong with just about anything if you try, but you will also forgive anyone who makes an effort. Or if you are a normal person you will.
I had a comment the other day that typifies the negative approach. A woman, who just seemed to be generally unhappy with life, said that her (superior) room was OK but that "there was nowhere to put anything ...". Put anything like what? How much have you brought all the way from England? How did you fit it into your suitcase if it won't fit into one of our larger rooms?
Here's another example of one day's comments in the feedback forms that come straight to my desk every morning ...
Five comments. Here are the first four:
"Our stay was incredible. The staff was very very nice. Thank you for a great time."
"Very nice and very nice staff"
"There is only word for it. Amazing. We only wished we could have stayed longer."
"Very friendly staff and nice accommodation. Big service."
I like that. BIG service .... And here is the fifth:
"A lot of things are really great BRAVO! But WiFi is VERY POOR and we think good WiFi is very important. And the road is TOO BUMPY! But thanks anyway ..."
Now, given that we have just improved the FREE WiFi to a much faster speed and graded the road, I can only assume that this unhappy person was going to have a miserable holiday (despite the excitable BRAVO). Well, thanks anyway, for coming...
I was consoled by the fact that I had been asked only the day before, by a Scottish guest, how we obtained such wonderful WiFi signal, because it was so much better than the signal in Glasgow.
Now, here's an odd one:
"Too bad it was raining the evening we were here so we had to sit inside. Would rather have been sitting outside but you had tried and we appreciate that!"
Good. Well done. A very positive outlook on life. I wonder what we did that was so wonderful! Tried to change the weather, maybe, but without success?
And another gloomy one. Quite simply:
"The fridge should be in a cupboard."
Why? Is your fridge in a cupboard?!
Thank-you letters are our sanity, in this bonkers world of impersonal criticism. Thank you to Michael and Stephanie Doble, for example, who not only wrote a complimentary comment about the staff in the visitors book and filled in a feedback form, but also emailed me a couple of days after their stay with this:
Dear Chris
We met briefly on the terrace at breakfast, I think you were off to Nelspruit.
I have commented on your reply letter and in the visitors book but I just wanted to take a minute to email and thank you and your team for a wonderful stay at Rissington.
You have created a real gem in the Lowveld, we loved the setting, our room, and the food was consistently outstanding (we rarely "eat in" on our travels but Rissington was the exception)
You have an amazing team, nothing is too much trouble. From Hlengiwe to Sydney and Marvellous and Ezekiel (the jack in a box!) and the ladies with beautiful names that I cannot pronounce, they were all brilliant
We are now in Cape Town and our memories of Rissington still linger with affection. We travel the World and it's not about 'this one is better than that one'. Rissington is comparable and can hold its own with anywhere regardless of "stars"
Chris, thanks again for a memorable stay in "Ivory" and for your particularly good wine list. When we return to SA, Rissington is top of our list.
Kind regards, Michael & Stephanie Doble
That is what we like. And in return, I will buy them dinner during their next stay. I look forward to it.
My gratitude goes to all the people who unwittingly contribute to these newsletters. And if you are not sure whether it was you that I am referring to, if it applies, then yes ... it probably was!

Star Grading Nonsense

The letter above mentions star ratings and now, like everything else in the world it seems, there are apparently moves afoot for hotel star ratings to be standardised across all countries. I am not sure how this is going to be achieved, but anyway ...
As readers may know, Rissington used to be star-graded - we were four star - but we withdrew from the scheme due to its meaningless requirements regarding the size of the safes, which must be commodious enough to swallow a large laptop, and the fact that the rating demanded blackout curtains. What were they expecting? The Blitz?!
I stayed in a (to-remain-unnamed) lodge in a town not very far from Hazyview in January. It was a four-star. It had no hooks, no shelves (so nowhere to put anything!!), dirty bedding and floors, chipped furniture, warning signs everywhere that anything broken would be added to the bill, dirty walls, no blackout curtains, dinged Spoornet trays of tea and coffee sachets, bed bugs, smelly cushions and no smiles whatsoever. Who needs a four star rated hotel, when you could have a Rissington?

TripAdvisor

In January, in our local daily travel news alert, someone neatly described the dreaded TripAdvisor as a form of crowd-sourcing - and I genuinely believe that the forum is losing its way, now that the novelty of keyboard terrorism is wearing off and with many of its protagonists being more and more obviously nutters. (Not you, Mike and Rosie! We love your reviews!)
I very rarely contribute on TripAdvisor but, as OwnerRissington, so as NOT to be anonymous, I have been known to write an occasional review, usually to correct an injustice posted by some other moron. I was therefore amazed to receive the following notification, after posting a grand total of 13 reviews on the site.

Gosh. What an achievement! After only 14 reviews, I shall be a LUXURY HOTEL EXPERT. Somewhat ironic, given that I spend my life resisting the pressure to turn my wonderful relaxed lodge into a so-called 'luxury hotel'. Blimey. What a load of old nonsense.
Here's my favourite review this year so far

In case you didn’t fully understand that, here’s the translation provided, giving us four blobs:

So, once again, we failed to control the weather. At least the roof was waterproof, that being its usual purpose, and I am glad the pool was delicious.
And on the subject of Internet bullying, don't you loathe that Trivago woman? Poor girl. She is only doing her job, but don't they know that South Africans will never do what they are told by an Australian?! In London, I believe there are people who are getting psychiatric help because she pops up so frequently on posters on the Underground, that they think she is stalking them. Hotel? Trivago .... Aaaaargh!
And if you are in any doubt about the impartiality of the site, it is owned by Expedia. As they say nowadays ... #justsaying. Why not just book direct or through a reputable expert tour operator? You will pay the same, however you book...

The (short) Snowflake Section

Thank you Richard and Carol Veitch for the well-chosen Snowflake puzzle. It is sitting on the bar as a permanent reminder (now that we can't put it back together) of what an un-solvable mystery Snowflakes are.
The odd thing is that, now that we have progressed beyond our decision not to employ gap year students from the Snowflake generation any longer, it is evident that their flaky pathetic-ness is rubbing off on their nearest adults. For many many years, we have had a request on the menu that guests should not feed the dogs at the tables and asking Korean guests - in what is very obviously a joke - not to eat the dogs. A joke. Yes. A joke.
Bizarrely, we have had three complaints about the request in the past month, none of them from Koreans. All of them are from other nationalities, getting upset on behalf of the Koreans, who themselves are not upset at all. What a sad world it will be when all the humour is gone.

WiFi Unlimited

A recent survey found that 23% of respondents would choose Wi-Fi over essential functions like bathing or showering, and 19% would choose it over contact with other humans.
Altogether 61% said that it's "impossible" or "very difficult" to give up WiFi. Of these, 58% would choose WiFi over sex, 42% would choose it over fast-food, 41% over smoking, 33% over alcohol and 31% would choose WiFi over drugs. On sex, the report concluded: "Moreover, they expect to be connected to WiFi when they do it."
I agree with the man from Glasgow about Rissington's WiFi. I live with it all the time and it is far better than the WiFi in any other hotel I encountered on my 4000 kilometre January road trip and, unlike many lodges, it is available in all the rooms and it is free. When I travel outside South Africa, though, I turn it off. Otherwise it is simply not a holiday.
I mean, do we really HAVE to have WiFi to keep our kids amused? Can't we talk to them instead?

WhatsApp

Everyone needs to know everything about everyone nowadays and WhatsApp rules the world. Think about this. Before cellphones/mobiles, when we phoned someone and they answered, the one thing we never said was "Where are you?". We knew where they were because they answered the phone, at home, at work, wherever they were!
A month or so ago, WhatsApp wasn't 'app' at all. It went down for 20 mins from 21h00 to 21h20. Everyone took to Twitter - and what were they tweeting about? The fact that WhatsApp was down ...
Panic gripped the world. No-one knew where anybody else was!
But WhatsApp can be strangely cruel too.
Mum left.         Oh dear. Abandoned by Mum.
Karen removed Sharon.         Gosh, I wonder what Sharon did wrong.
• This message was deleted.         How intriguing.
I am surprised that the Snowflakes aren't permanently in tears from all this rejection - and from aching to know what it was that was deleted before they got a chance to read it!
This is what keeping in touch is all about, in the modern world:

Have your cake, take a photo of it and eat it.

Rissington's New Rooms

I think I have gone on and on enough about how wonderfully friendly the Rissington team is, so let us focus on the four new rooms, which opened on 1st March (yes, Saint David's Day, for our Lovely Welsh Punters). Here are some pics:

Welcome to the World: Frangipani, Kiaat, Marula and Matumi!
They are fresh, crisp and spacious with every facility you could want in a 3¾ star hotel. They have a wonderful view over the valley to God's Window in the north, and at the back they have their own little herb garden. We absolutely love them and so has everyone who has stayed in them so far. And, at only R880 per person per night including our much-praised breakfast, they are a snip.
What is more, in celebration of their opening, the recently-announced South African VAT increase from 14% to 15% will be absorbed by Rissington, so all our published rates will remain unchanged.
We have unearthed a fantastic builder (strongly recommended to any locals reading this) and in the greatest compliment, someone in their feedback even wrote: "Rissington is SO peaceful. Even the builders are silent!"
Such a good job has our building team done, in fact, that we are keeping them on the payroll for another two months to do some silent refurbishment of some of the other bedrooms and bathrooms, and of the public areas. There is nothing like having four new rooms, to inspire one to uplift all the others, so that is precisely what we are going to do.
Hazyview is also undergoing a good old clean-up, after our interactions with the municipality, and with the glorious Lowveld winter on the way - average daytime temperature 26 degrees, night-time minimum 12 degrees, sunshine every single day - there is no better time to visit. See below for our fantastic winter deal in May and June.
Hazyview continues to grow as an adrenaline capital - rafting, kayaking, tubing, hiking, the Skyways Trail, archery, elephant interactions, butterflies, birds, game drives and so on - and now the nearby Graskop Gorge Lift is a brand new and exciting tourism attraction just this side of the neighbouring town after which it is named.
See: http://graskopgorgeliftcompany.co.za/. Not forgetting, also, if you are approaching us over the Long Tom Pass, the Long Tom Toboggan at Misty Mountain. See: http://longtomtoboggan.co.za/

The Patriotic Bit

Africa has come in for a bit of flak recently, especially from the US president ...
... but I am a full-on Africanophile. If you want to feel good about Africa, watch BBC World's Focus on Africa and see what great things are happening on the continent with the best economic growth numbers in the world.
And just look at the wonderful people we have, everywhere you go. Smiling faces, proffered hands, arms open in welcome. I spent two weeks solo-travelling around the Eastern Cape in January. There was good news on the radio, there was happiness in everyone's eyes, there was the breath-taking beauty of our country stretching to the horizon in every direction.
I had just been listening the Mandela tribute Asimbonanga by our recently-retired national treasure, singer Johnny Clegg, when I walked into a roadside stall in Bedford, on the way to Grahamstown, and saw this picture, framed on the wall.
Tears welled in my eyes. This a great time to be an African, and to be a South African in particular.

The "Where in the World" Competition

Here are the photos from the December Rag: From left to right 1) Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe 2) The Great Mosque at The Citadel, Cairo, Egypt 3) Sunset over Lake Malawi from Mumbo Island 4) Luangwa Bridge, between Chipata and Lusaka, Zambia 5) The Rhodes Grave, Matopos, Zimbabwe and 6) the High Level Bridge between Skukuza and Lower Sabie, Kruger National Park, South Africa.
Congratulations to Steve Hall, who won, hands down, with all six correct, the Gigantic Christmas Prize Draw, which consists of three nights for two couples on a dinner, bed and breakfast, in two of Rissington's wonderful new rooms. Give us a call or drop us an email to book on info@rissington.co.za
This month's competition is very difficult, I know, but the person who gets nearest in kilometres will win, so it is worth having a random guess! Where in South Africa was this photograph taken?
Entries to info@rissington.co.za by 20th April to go into the hat for the prize draw to win two nights, bed and breakfast, for two at Rissington.

On Yer Bike : Our Travels

I have mentioned, a couple of times, that, in January, I undertook a road trip - and to understand the importance of road trips see my Portfolio blogs on my website. I stayed in two of my favourite hotels in the whole world, The Drostdy in Graaff-Reinet and Umngazi River Bungalows, on the Transkei Wild Coast just south of Port St Johns. Two very different establishments, both of which get it absolutely right. You check in - and you know you are in the right place, despite any nerves you might have felt on arrival. And yes, Collywobbles is a real place in The Transkei!
Equally, though, there is no place like home. After surviving, on the way back to Hazyview, the perilous 4-star lodge I described in the first section, it was great to get back to the Lowveld morning birdsong, the evening walks with the dogs, the pungent wild plums, the marulas, the monkey oranges, the dashing bee-eaters, the fluttering nightjars and the huge troops of mongoose. And yes, back to you, the happy guests!

Anti-Social Media and a New Rissington Gallery

If you want to torture yourself, you can see more of my writing on the website www.chrisharvie.com which now includes my most recent blogs for Portfolio. Look them up on the 'My Travels' tab. 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.
I would also love for you to join the Inn crowd and follow us on Facebook and/or Twitter. We have around 950 followers on Facebook, who benefit from our occasional Facebook specials. Let's see if we can get that number over 1000. Only on Facebook will you get to read the Rag before everyone else ...
Tour operators and website operators please note: you can also update your photos any time from the website by clicking on 'Introduction' and following the drop-down to 'Downloads'. We urge you to do that. There is nothing worse than having stale and out-of-date images lurking on the Internet. Photos of the new rooms are available on the site. Thanks to Chris and Derek at Artographers in Nelspruit, for taking those excellent photos and for great service in updating the website (which they designed) so quickly. See more of their work on artography.co.za.And remember that rates are remaining as published, despite the recent VAT increase announcement.

Guest Quote of the Month

Here is a final example of an odd comment. You know you are in the wrong job when you hear this one:
Me (charming): "Please could you add your number-plate into the guest register here, so that we can be sure to wash your car on the morning of your departure?"
Zimbabwean refugee, living in South Africa, (somewhat dismissive): "You are asking the man with 15 cars to know the number-plate of the car he is driving!"
Third World Problems!
The rest of you, lovely, easy guests, come back to Rissington soon ... but BOOK NOW, especially for winter! We are very busy from July onwards so in order to get you down here before that, for Rag readers staying between 02 May and 14 June (arguably the best time of the year), we are offering a complimentary upgrade from our R580 per person BB courtyard rooms, to the best room available at the time of booking. Direct bookings only. Drop us an email to info@rissington.co.za.
We very much hope to see you.
Chris, Superb GM Hlengiwe, Ever-cheerful Assistant Manager Shirley, FOH Manager Nonhlanhla, Genius Euginia, Sydney Australia, Wise #BeWise Shabangu, Danisile, Marvellous (hmmm!), Ezekiel (now full-time), Sipho the Driver, Head Chef Thandi, Cindy, The Great Gertie, Emelda, Zenzile, Betty, Lily, Sanny, Sisters Ntombifuthi (Foots) and Nokuthula (Noggs), Nicklet, Zodwa, Angel, Patience, Yvonne, Able Aubrey and Sbusiso. And of course JJ, whose new boarding school is a huge success, offering kayaking, tubing, cycling, bush-camps, bird-watching and no mention (from him) of anything academic! Plus deaf(ish), blind(ish) German(ish) Shepherd, Bull, and Rusty, the mongoose-chaser.