I was really pleased when I received my invitation to attend the second Lilizela Tourism Awards Ceremony, not only as I always enjoy the opportunity to dress up for a gala evening, but also for the fact that they had an award for Universal Accessibility under the Sustainable Development section.

So, off I went to the Lyric Theatre at Gold Reef City to attend the event that recognises the various businesses within the tourism industry, which are striving to offer world-class service and facilities within South Africa’s Tourism Industry. There are seven different main categories and the public, members of the industry and owners are able to submit their nominations for each category. Various panels of judges, carefully selected to include experts within each category, then judge these submissions, and all nominees and finalists are invited to the awards event.

Ms Thembi Kunene - Chief Quality Assurance Officer of the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa (TGCSA), and Chairperson of the Lilizela Awards - chaired the evening. The word “Lilizela” describes the ululating sound that African women make when they are expressing strong emotion.

In the keynote address Minister of Tourism, Mr Derek Hanekom explained that the tourism industry contributes 9% of the GDP, which outweighs even the traditional sectors like mining. It also creates one out of every 11 jobs in the country. The awards were presented by our esteemed Minister of Tourism and Deputy Minister, Ms Tokozile Xasa, who was given quite a work out moving from their seats in the auditorium up the stairs onto the stage and back again between each of the categories, to make way for a most intriguing “Doorman”, who introduced each category with a unique descriptive dialog.

The winners were awarded with a trophy and a certificate of excellence.

It was wonderful to see nominations and winners from some of the accommodation establishments that I’ve featured in previous articles, but I was waiting for the category that is closest to my heart – Universal Access.

The TGCSA incorporated the Universal Accessibility (UA) grading criteria into their grading system in 2010, which deal with the suitability of an accommodation establishment to easily accommodate guests who are Communication, Visual and/or Mobility impaired. The UA grading is in addition to the standard star grading and does not affect this level of grading, but offers an extra level with the indicators - Ear, Eye & Wheelchair as well as stars (between 1 – 3).

TGCSA strongly encourages the industry to create a fully accessible environment, but does not penalise establishments who do not meet the UA criteria. The judges for this section included some icons within the disability sector – our own

Mr. Ari Seirlis, Amor Malan and Phillip Thompson.

The finalists in the Mobility category (only one put forward) were:

Cape Flame Guest House – a four star boutique hotel in Summerstrand, Port Elizabeth.

Garden Court Hotel, Ulundi – a three star hotel in the Tsogo Sun group situated in the heart of the Kwazulu-Natal province.

On The Wheel Guest House – a two star guest house owned and run by Jeff Thomas a quadriplegic and his wife, in Villeria Pretoria (see RI issue July 2012).

Soli Deo Gloria – a Self-Catering cottage on the beach in Paternoster, Western Cape.

And the winner...

Soli Deo Gloria – a self-catering cottage run by Naomi & Ben le Roux, who have had the property since 2005. At the Indaba 2011, they attended the breakfast where the Department of Tourism signed in the Universal Access mandate, and they decided then and there that they would make their establishment Universally Accessible. Naomi is a psychologist who works with learners with disabilities and is well aware of the difficulties encountered in society for people with disabilities. They consulted their friend Dries Millard, “Adrenalin Junkie” and owner of Extreme Abilities, who gave them invaluable tips about how to include UA into their re-design. He also mentioned that he always travels with two or three friends who also use wheelchairs, which means that not only one room should be UA compliant. So, that meant adjusting all the bedrooms (although not all are the same size as the main one overlooking the sea).

Having this information made the renovations much easier, as they were not trying to change rooms, but rather refitting and re-modelling with the correct specifications from scratch. The entire cottage has compliant door widths, light switches and controls, access routes throughout and of course the most important for wheelie users – the bathrooms! These renovations were completed towards the end of last year. The cottage was then re-graded by TGCSA to include the UA grading. The cottage has three bedrooms, and two bathrooms with an open plan living area that leads onto a patio and walkway to the beach. You can go right to the beach and sit and enjoy the sea without going onto the sand if you wish.

After the awards ceremony, I was able to spend some time with the excited winners and we have agreed that on my next visit to the Cape, Rolling Inspiration will visit Paternoster, the oldest fishing village on the West Coast. So watch this space for the Rolling Inspiration article on Soli Deo Gloria.