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The Rissington Rag - September 2021

Posted on Wed September 1, 2021.

Good news, interesting views and special offers from Rissington Inn, Hazyview, Mpumalanga, South Africa

          WELCOME TO THE SEPTEMBER 2021                                             RISSINGTON RAG 

Occasionally the Rag takes on a slightly more serious (although definitely never boring) tone and this is one of those times. Fear not though. There is some light-hearted content as well, so even if you find the first section a little earnest in places, keep going until the mood lifts. Please read it all, though. It offers some important and alarming perspectives which might interest you.

An industry on mute ...

It would be easy but foolish to look back over the past 18 months and gloss over how serious this all is. I once joked that it would be every hotelier’s dream to have his hotel to himself and to enjoy some peace and quiet in his own lovely surroundings without hordes of troublesome (remember I was joking …) clients. It is however quite simply no longer funny. Instead, I think many hoteliers and restaurateurs, if not all, are rather wishing that they were in another line of business.

Almost any other profession would do. Farmer? Lawyer? Surgeon? Jailer? Traffic cop? Anyone who can make money in a travel-preventing pandemic although, without the tourists, I think the (below-)average South African traffic cops’ income might have taken a bit of a knock. They and the regular police have definitely calmed down a lot. I was stopped at a roadblock this morning and the officer looked me straight in the eye and said "Hello Sir, do you have any illegal stuff?" I told him (truthfully) that I didn't but I am still not sure whether he was checking on my integrity or actively looking to buy something illegal from me. His female colleague then told me that I looked like a handsome actor on my driver's licence photo but that my face is much older in real life. Well, it hasn't been the easiest year, I guess, but what a delightful experience all round.

I keep saying that things are getting better although, in reality, they have simply stabilised and very little progress is being made in getting travellers moving again. The latest estimate is that South Africa is losing R180,000,000 for every week that the country remains on the UK's Red List. This demonstrates the impact of the loss of our UK visitors alone. Many other countries have opened up travel to South Africa, but bookings remain few and far between, even from those who are able to visit. The situation is really dire.

In my brighter moments, I imagine that – at any moment now – Leon Schuster or a director of the BBC's Living the Dream is going to jump out of the bush and tell us that they have been secretly filming us for fun on a hidden camera and we are about to go out worldwide on television for the amusement of the masses as we flounder our way from crisis to crisis.

That is the dream. The crisis, however, is very real and people really need to get moving if tourism is to survive this in any recognisable shape or form. For example, South Africa had about 7,000 formal restaurants at the beginning of last year and already 1,800 – more than a quarter of those - have closed permanently, including some high-profile names such as Cape Town’s world-renowned Test Kitchen. Many hotels and lodges have closed too – either temporarily or permanently and including many in Hazyview – and there is no furlough scheme in this country, so think how many households are now quite simply without any income whatsoever apart from the government Covid grant of R350 per month for the workless, with a current unemployment figure of 44.2% having just been released.

Just imagine having to live and feed your family on less than a dollar a day! So those of us who are keeping our businesses going and keeping on our staff need as much help as we can get, simply to stop them being swallowed up by such desperation and poverty.

Tourism directly employs 1.5 million South Africans. Or it did before this crisis hit us but it is far fewer now. This translated to one in every ten working people and accounted for 8.5% of GDP but, of course, the current negative spin-offs in reduced spending by tourists go far deeper than that.

It doesn’t help to feel sorry for ourselves though – and the reality is that our fellow South Africans have done a great job in supporting their own tourism industry. However, if you are able to travel and you have not regularly visited all of your favourite restaurants and hotels (including Rissington, of course!) in the past 18 months, well, there is a very real chance that they will not be there when you want them in the future. Travel itself needs travellers in order to survive, just as the industry’s employees do, so join in if you can.

Progress despite the inertia

Of course, Rissington has not sat on its laurels. We have grappled for any business we can get and we have spent what income we have been able to generate on making huge improvements to what we offer in preparation for a return to full occupancy. Obviously, our new pool (see top) and the large open terrace (on the site of the old pool, see left) are our greatest achievements and they are the most exciting changes we have made in the 27 years of our existence but there have been many other smaller improvements to the rooms, the doors and windows, the furnishings and the menus.

Oddly, the most exciting change for me is the removal of the telephone lines that used to run across the property. It used to really irk me that every view had a cable (and often a pole) in it, running right along in front of the lodge. Anyway, they were redundant and they have gone. We dug the poles out with spades and chopped the lines down ourselves with a pair of secateurs. If anyone from Telkom is reading this, you are welcome to drop by and collect your defunct equipment before the cable thieves get to it!

It is such a sadness to us though, that we have done so much work on Rissington and yet so few people have been here to see it all. If you can get here, I repeat, please come and see it for yourselves. Soon. We have some ideas further down the Rag to help make that possible for you.

Planet-saving is alive and well …

One of the tourism industry’s greatest fears is that long-haul travel will never return in the same form as before, due to an increasing awareness of climate change issues and to so-called ‘flight-shaming’. This is a many-faceted issue from a developing country perspective with an obvious reality being that increased wealth (from investment, tourism, aid or whatever source) is much more likely to lead to better education and to improved environmental policies than poverty and desperation. An impoverished Africa is not going to be able to afford to contribute to helping to save the earth. On top of this, without sensible, sustainable tourism, there will be no funds to protect the continent's wildlife or its scenic regions. The airlines are all doing their bit to reduce emissions and to encourage travel, which is critical if the African environment itself is to be protected. So, let’s save the third world first, then the planet will start to save itself far more effectively.

Rissington’s own recycling initiatives continue unabated with only negligible amounts of refuse being sent to landfill and the rest being rescued and recycled at our own sorting and recycling plant. Below is the (almost empty) skip currently located at Rissington. I trust that the contents are not going to be dumped on the fascinatingly-spelled country that has been spray-painted onto it.

In addition, South Africa now has more and cleaner power stations coming on line, which will reduce load-shedding and emissions and also hopefully allow us to make inroads in time for electric cars to be charged, when they become the new normal. At the moment, it would seem that we are in the twilight of the combustion engine era in the first world but with no real prospect of charging an electric vehicle anywhere on the African continent. Where will that leave us in 10 years’ time? Walking again? There are currently 54 charging stations in this entire country with the nearest one 100km from Hazyview, so with a range of 350km and an 8-hour charging time on even the average electric car, that’s not going to work very well for a shopping trip, is it? Let alone long-distance travel for tourists…

If we could charge electric cars in 1907, as shown below, surely we can do it now? Admittedly this picture was taken in Detroit, not in Hazyview, but Mpumalanga can’t be 114 years behind Michigan, can it? I really hope not!

We love our social media followers

I truly love the positivity of our social media followers. In a world that complains constantly about the dangers and negativity of social media, I beg to disagree. I can see the dangers of it, obviously, but we also have to love all our supporters. Our Carol Brattons and our Linda Williamses. Our Mike Williamses and our Nikki Balzans. And Therese, Judy, Dave, Trish, Fabienne, Ursula and all the other fine folk who read our feeds and then comment on them. And especially those who forward them, share them and tag their friends. All of these people have, quite simply, kept us going with their optimism, thoughtful input and determination that everything will be OK and that normality will return (and indeed may already have begun to do so). By joining them - and joining in - you could also stay in touch with us and help us to get the word out. And keep us cheerful. Follow us: @RissingtonInn on Facebook and Instagram and be sure to stay signed up the Rag and to share it with your friends and contacts.

In addition, we have just entered the weird and wonderful world of social media influencers, which meant inviting some of these powerful marketeers as our guests, in exchange for having them share photos and comments about their experiences at Rissington and in Hazyview in their posts and stories for their tens of thousands of followers. It works and it increases our follower numbers as well as spreading the news about what we are all about to people who are looking for what we are offering. It is a fine line, of course, willingly to be leaving it, uncontrolled, to a third party to describe us as they see us but we have noticed a huge broadening of our client base as a result of it and that makes us very happy.

Of course, the ultimate success (and maybe risk) would be to have Rissington featured in a television show such as Giles Coren’s and Monica Galetti’s excellent Amazing Hotels: Life Beyond the Lobby on the BBC and more recently The Savoy from ITV (but shown on the BBC channels around the world), narrated by the magnificent Celia Imrie. This last one is really worth looking out for and offers entertaining insights into the workings of the world’s first real luxury hotel. It’s an amusing and enlightening combination of fly-on-the-wall and documentary. The Travel Show meets Fawlty Towers and Hotel Babylon, if you like. There is also a Titanic feel to it, as we watch life go on (spattered with ordinary people plus, inevitably, a foul-mouthed Gordon Ramsay and a couple of extraordinary cameos from the real David Hasselhof and a quasi Marilyn Monroe) in the face of the impending pandemic, which eventually forces the iconic hotel to close its doors for a while. Seek it out. It will show you what we are up against on all fronts as an industry.

Idiot clients

Of course we love the vast majority of our clients, but it would never realistically be possible for us to love all of them. I think ‘idiot’ is a great word especially for the kind of twit that just doesn’t know how to use the internet to pick the right holiday. They are still out there and they know who they are. They are the type who would book a room for R620 in Hazyview (having wanted to pay even less) and then expect unadulterated luxury, with a jacuzzi, a sauna, electric curtains, rose petals in the bath, a full day-and-night butler service, cheeseboards, beribboned fruit-baskets and free champagne. I mean tell me, clot, is there a single rose petal in any picture on our website? What did you see on the Internet that you could not see when you got here? Far from being misleading, the photographs of our rooms were actually taken in the rooms. The photograph of the view is just that – Rissington's view. You can’t see a river in the view because Rissington is not on a river. We never said it was – and we can’t have a river put in for you. It doesn’t work like that.

We have been asked for ‘paid-for female company’. We have had a complaint that we don’t supply dumb-bells on our rooms (from a dumb-bell, obviously). We even had a guest offer a staff member a chance to visit his own house so that she could see what ‘real luxury’ looks like. Well – if your house is so lovely, why don’t you just stay in and stop bothering the rest of us?!

I largely blame the scavenging Internet online booking sites and their attempts to lure clients by whatever means – and to prevent them from booking direct by promising them the earth (and rose petals) – but I still like to think that we are nearing the end of these leaches and their shocking deceitful tactics. Why do we in tourism have to pay commissions to sites that deliberately and deceptively purport to be our own sites and why must we then be subjected to an endless process of reviews and ratings, when doctors, teachers and car salesmen are pretty much immune to them due to libel laws? It still doesn’t seem right to me. But the majority of our recent guests have been absolutely wonderful – and we would really like them to keep coming …

Where are our guests coming from?

Actually, we are again receiving guests from all over the world. And if they can get here, you can too - unless, possibly, you are stuck in Britain, Australia or New Zealand right now - but that too will soon change. Look! Ireland just changed its policy on South Africa overnight this week.

Our southern African guests come from right across the region. They come from Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town, the Eastern Cape and from KwaZulu-Natal. Some come from Maputo; others from right over in Namibia. Quite a number are diplomats and contract workers. A few of our clients also blatantly come from Mars (where there is clearly no shampoo or loo paper and no towels or torches - so they take ours home with them to show to their Martian friends, but that is another story).

We have had Americans, Brazilians, Germans and Dutch. Two of our favourite French guests arrived yesterday for a long stay. I know PCR tests are a bit of a pain but we are all used to them by now and anyone from anywhere is welcome in South Africa so with the end of the Northern Hemisphere summer, it's time to get over the fear and the hassles and head south for some sunshine. Right now, while the deals are really good. You will never again enjoy such traffic-free roads and peaceful landscapes and game reserves or such uncluttered hotels, empty restaurants, easy-to-book activities and tourist-free attractions. So visit Africa while no-one else is. It has to make sense. And it won't last for ever.

Deals and ideas

So what are we offering you, this time around, to attract the sane and the loyal?

We have two ideas, both of which are available to everyone (apart from over Christmas, New Year and Easter). These would especially appeal to regular local visitors and, from further afield, to the so-called ‘VFR market’ – short for Visiting Friends and Relations – which is this country’s largest single tourism source sector both for international and domestic tourism.

REUNION DEAL : We are now seeing newsreels, from all around the world, of the happy hugging reunions when friends and families, who have been unable to visit each other for 18 months or longer, finally get together. What better place could there be to catch up with your mates and your relatives after a long absence than at Rissington? Or just to get away together? For that reason, we are offering two- and three-night (or longer) specials for four people or more, starting from R2000 per night (for all four people) including all breakfasts and one special reunion dinner. You don’t need to pay now or to tell us when you are coming but you do need to tell us that you are interested, so that we are ready to honour the rate when you make your reservation. The more the merrier. Extra people and additional rooms pro rata. Let us quote and give you a great get-together - and bear in mind that we can also organise activities, hikes, game drives and much much more. The offer is open to everyone though, not just to reuniting friends and families. You can quite simply come down from anywhere for a few days and use the same deal. Minimum two nights, no maximum number of nights. Bring friends. Bring the children in the coming school holidays. Bring the grandparents and cousins, whom you haven’t seen for ages. And catch up, while we cook and keep you busy and away from the crowds. All you need to do is arrive and we do the rest.

A WEEK AT RISSINGTON : In a repeat of the exceptional deal we ran in the last Rag (because it has been so incredibly popular) we are again offering, to absolutely everyone in any country, the R5500 rate per person for a FULL WEEK at Rissington INCLUDING ALL MEALS. This time however we are only offering it to people who reply promptly to this Rag and book. So here is your chance if you missed out last time or if you have already been for a week and would like to book another one. We know some people can't yet travel to South Africa, so, as previously, you don’t need to set a date now. You may come for your seven consecutive nights at any time that you are able to get here in the future but, to be guaranteed the price, you must pay for this one by the end of September. This would be a great getaway now or whenever - and it would also make an ideal birthday or Christmas or 'anything' present for a friend or family member who needs a break at any time that suits them. Everyone is loving their week-long Rissington stays. It is the best way to travel these days: just find a comfortable safe spot with plenty of open space and fresh air, then take day trips and organise activities in our adrenaline hub or simply stay put and enjoy delicious food, great service, swimming, lolling and amazing views, all laid on for a week or more with no effort required from you except to turn up! 

Both deals apply to new direct bookings only. Not applicable to the period from 10 December to 3 January or over Easter. Extra nights are charged pro rata. Email us NOW on [email protected] to talk to us or to get more details. Secure payment systems guaranteed.

Public service announcement for our regulars regarding SA's National Parks

Just a tip-off that twelve out of South Africa’s 20 national parks will go cash-free from September 2021. These include the Garden Route (consisting of Knysna, Wilderness and Tsitsikamma), Agulhas, Richtersveld and Namaqua in the Northern Cape, Table Mountain, Tankwa Karoo, West Coast in the Western Cape, Mountain Zebra, Camdeboo, Addo Elephant in the Eastern Cape as well as Mapungubwe in Limpopo and Golden Gate Highlands National Park in the Free State. The remainder, including the Kruger National Park, will be going cash-free from next year on a date yet to be announced.

Residents and long-stay visitors should also remember the benefits of buying a Wild Card to avoid conservation fees. This can be organised online at the sanparks.org website. Click on 'Wild Card' in the menu bar. In addition, day visits, activities and (obviously) accommodation can also be pre-booked on the site in order to obviate the need for payments at the gates and camps as well as to reduce queueing times and crowds.

Interesting maps

I love an interesting map. Try this one for size. Isn’t multiculturalism wonderful? I hope all our American friends are brushing up on their Vietnamese and Tagalog. And maybe also their Pashto and Dari in preparation for an influx of Afghans.

Talking of maps … Where in the World?

The winner of the June competition was our old friend William Wright, who emerged from a hat containing the names of those entrants closest to a full house on the six items shown. There were a couple of trick questions but we were sympathetic as to how these were handled if a logical answer was given:

From left to right, the items were:

1)      A maté cup from San Martin de los Andes, Argentina

2)     A replica sphynx cap badge from the 24th Regiment of Foot, bought at Fugitives Drift Lodge, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa www.fugitivesdrift.com (they have some really great offers available right now if you have always wanted to go there – email them!)

3)     A model of the Atomium, from Brussels

4)     A miniature of the (already very small) mermaid statue in Copenhagen

5)     A wooden kuksa drinking cup from Helsinki, Finland

6)     An ankh – or key of life – on a string, sourced on the Nile in Egypt

Here’s this month’s competition. Where in the Kruger National Park was this photograph taken? It's not as difficult as it seems, with the content containing a huge clue (or a lot of huge clues ...). The most accurate answer will win the entrant a complimentary three-night stay for two at Rissington, including bed and breakfast and a room with an uninterrupted view of the Sabi River Valley (but no river visible – and no cables in sight). Email your answer to [email protected] before 30 September! 

Signing off

On a serious note, we are conscious of meeting all the requirements of the new POPIA (protection of information) act in South Africa. If you received an email from us with a link that led you here, you have the option to sign off from our mailing list by unsubscribing at the bottom of that email. We also guarantee that we will not use your email address for any purpose other than that of alerting you to a new edition of the quarterly Rag and we will not hand over any information about you to any third party for any purpose whatsoever. Not even to cops looking for 'illegal stuff'.

That’s it for now. The next Rag will be out for Christmas and will be full of the usual fun thoughts and stories but this time around I wanted you to know, for once, just how bad things are and to ask you to help world tourism by doing your bit. If you see a great offer, please take it up. If you can pre-book a holiday, please do so, in the knowledge that if you do, you will be feeding many families. And in the case of Rissington (and probably most similar establishments) if you can’t come for some reason, you will certainly be fully refunded. It is all about cash flow right now, until South Africa’s increasingly successful vaccination programme has run its course. It won't be long now. It is going very well.

It is Springtime in Africa. Rissington’s entire team has been vaccinated and, if you need further reassurance, the in-house expert from South Africa’s largest private medical insurance fund also believes that as many as 80% of South Africans have already had the virus. If that is not herd immunity, I don’t know what is!

All the best and keep in touch ...

Chris and the (honestly!) ever-cheerful Team Rissington.