This Tourism Week. 8 November 2012

This week:

Guest writer Carmel Rickard’s Open letter to the Public Protector: Re ‘false billing’ for accommodation 

Outeniqua Moon Percheron Stud: a review, and a video made with an iPhone 

Books: Margaret Roberts ‘My 100 Favourite Herbs‘ 

Jobs in Tourism: Tourism writer for hire 

You can read these articles on line by simply clicking on the user-friendly, alcohol-free, sugar-free, low-carb links above – or just Keep Calm and Keep Scrolling Down.

Open letter to the Public Protector: Re ‘false billing’ for accommodation

Carmel Rickard is well known as a columnist and writer – but she’s also one of us, and runs her guest house, Trading Places, in Smithfield, in the Free State. Please visit her at – and tell her you met her here, on This Tourism Week

The letter below first appeared on her blog

Open letter to the Public Protector : Re ‘false billing’ for accommodation 

DEAR Public Protector – You are quite right to be deeply concerned about ‘false billing’ – making the state pay for goods and services that were never supplied. And you’re right that the system of away-from-home accommodation for state employees needs a total overhaul.

In our littleFree Statedorp we’ve seen any number of illegal practices. And it’s not just here: people who do the books of accommodation establishments in other parts ofSouth Africatell me that some B&B owners, gradually drawn into corrupt deals, now find they can’t escape.

There are long-established practices for guest-management transactions, whether the person comes directly or through a travel agent, that ensure everything is above-board. But when guests don’t stay as private individuals – when someone else is paying the bill – it’s incredibly easy to ‘fix’ the system, and the problem is most acute when government employees are involved.

Smithfield, where I live, often hosts people on official short contracts. I first became aware of the problems that could arise from the story of my neighbour who had a few such guests staying with her.

Meals had become an issue: she’s a good cook but the guests constantly moaned. She realised it might be a scam when they demanded she hand over the ‘food money’ she would otherwise spend on their meals. By then she’d had such a rough time that she was happy to deliver the cash so the problem would go away.

Next on the slippery slope are guests whose employer specifies a meal allowance: they will pay accommodation plus a certain amount for meals. Now some guests are routinely demanding this cash be handed over in full. It’s common, virtually standard, practice for such guests to buy bread and chips for meals and pocket the balance.

Other times guests whose employers stipulate a restaurant meal allowance to a certain amount, insist on bringing a friend along to meals. They ensure their combined bill is no less than the daily allowance.

A colleague in theEastern Capetells of a common practice there: the relevant department covers her accommodation rate plus a R200 ‘meal allowance’ that’s way out of line. A couple of cold drinks plus a three course meal cannot possibly come to more than R130, even at the best eatery in town. The guest then buys cigarettes, cold drinks, take-aways, hamburgers – I kid you not, even though they have just eaten a full meal – to the value of whatever remains so that the money is all used.

My worst experience concerned a group of young professionals who came to ‘get a quote’ for an upcoming tour of duty in the town. Half way through the negotiations it became clear that there was a subtext.

They seemed to be suggesting that my rate was ‘too low’ – a novel problem.

Turned out they knew the highest amount payable for accommodation by their department. They had already obtained a quote from the most expensive places in town where the bill would be almost exactly the accommodation allowance. But they specifically wanted to stay at a place with a significant gap between the bill and the maximum allowed.

Don’t think they wanted to save tax payer’s money: their plan was to be billed for the utmost the department would pay and for the difference between my ‘genuine’ bill and the ‘false bill’ to be split between them and me.

One of the guys said he chose where his team stayed when they were away on a job. If we could do this deal and make it an on-going arrangement, he would make sure they always stayed with me in the future. At this crucial point he had to leave, but he said he’d be back for my answer.

So much money was involved that I expect he thought it a done deal. I would have loved to see his face when he read my SMS saying he should immediately stop his illegal deal-making or I would report him.

As he and his group were in town next week on their assignment I presume he found a place more amenable to his proposals. What irked me most was this, however: they were employees of the Department of Justice – accountants, no less, – in town to ensure that the books of the local department were in order.

Our message to you, Madam Public Protector is this: get cracking, find a way to stop these practices. We’ll all be in your debt.

Carmel Rickard blogs about law and tourism at   

And this, from her web site:  what’s to do inSmithfield

“We have well-kept birding and indigenous plant secrets; little-known Anglo-Boer War battle sites; the Caledon Museum; game viewing; San rock painting and a charming – yet deceptively demanding – country golf course.

“The mountain bike and road cycling here is superb; there’s canoeing on the village dam as well as hiking, tennis, bowls. Geo-cachers are well catered for with intriguing caches around the village.

“And if all you want to do is read or sleep, Trading Places is your ideal destination with good books, comfortable chairs and beds, uninterrupted views of the mountain, sunsets that leave you breathless and a spectacular starry night sky.”

If you’re thinking of sending your guests down the N1, rather send them down the N6 and let them enjoy a night or two at Trading Places.  

Unusual getaway: Outeniqua Moon Percheron Stud

Spent an awesome weekend with the family at Outeniqua Moon. The farm offers self-catering accommodation, and it’s perfect for kids: my 5-year-old grandson was in heaven. Feeding the horses, going on a cart ride, and even getting a chance to ride good, gentle, Bobby.
Percherons are the smallest of the work horses, and at one time they were plentiful in South Africa. Sadly, the motor car put them out of work, and it’s only due to the dedication of people like Pete and Christine Watt that they’re on the increase again. 

Christine is a huge advocate for horses in general, and Percherons in particular. She spent a lot of time with us explaining why the breed is so important. Indeed, I would say that it has a future, since it is a willing worker and it’s incredibly strong: in time, we’ll have to go back to animal-drawn farming techniques, especially on organic farms. 

It was an honour to spend time with the Watts and their animals (they’ve got dogs, cats, too – this is, after all, a working farm).

The farm’s situated at Ruiterbos on the R328 between Oudtshoorn and Mossel Bay on the Garden Route of South Africa’s Western Cape Province, and there’s a lot to do in the area – but we only moved out of the gate to go to the general dealer’s to buy sweets. For the rest, we lazed around the 25 metre lap pool, and talked to the horses. 

It was a fantastically relaxing getaway, and one that you can happily recommend to your FITs and small tour groups.

Visit Christine and Pete at

Watch my video (yes, it certainly was shot on my iPhone, and I edited it on iMovie) here; and

Have a look at an album of pics here

Books: Margaret Roberts ‘My 100 Favourite Herbs’

Herbs might be easy enough to grow, but I find them quite difficult to fathom: there are so many of them!

This is where this book makes sense. Margaret Roberts is well known as a health writer, broadcaster and gardener, and I’ve always wanted to visit her Herbal Centre at de Wildt in the North WestProvince- with its nursery, labyrinth, apothecary, and tea garden – but its web site says that it’s only open on Wednesdays. Sigh.

But that’s alright, because Ms. Roberts is free with her information.

This book is like having her in your garden with you. Her Herbal Centre isn’t just a business: it’s where she and her team grow and test the plants about which she writes, and record their findings – and where she established a seed bank in 2006 (it’ll be opened in 2025, and is “filled with seeds of both food plants and medicinal plants grown here… Many of the plants are recorded in this book.”

I studied horticulture, but I’ve never known, that, for example, the silver birch (page 194) is considered a herb – and that it’s currently being researched for use in the treatment of skin cancer and lupus, and that its ancient applications – for the treatment of arthritis, for instance – are presently being verified.

For the tourism industry, though, this book will probably be most useful in the kitchen, and in the guest libraries of facilities that have their own herb gardens. Many of the plants listed – parsley, nasturtium, garlic – will already be staples in your culinary arsenal, and I’m sure you’ll find others you’d like to try. Maidenhair fern, for example (mostly in decoration, but it’s edible, and you can add fresh fronds to apple cider vinegar for pickling and sauces). Or carnations (next time I come for tea, please make a batch of carnation syrups for the pancakes I know you’re just itching to make.)

‘My 100 Favourite Herbs’ is really worth having – and you can buy it on line at the BarefootBookshop.   

Tourism writer for hire

If you’re looking for a great writer with photographic and video skills whose passion for story telling is unbounded, who’s stuff is readable, and who’s style is loose and engaging – I’m your man. Contact me – – or 084 951 0574 and let’s see how we can make your business sing.

There’s more about what I do here And you can read my 60-second BarefootBiography here  

Now go away on holiday. It’s in the economy’s best interest

With best Barefoot Wishes – M

MARTIN HATCHUEL, Barefoot Writer

Specialist writer for the tourism industry
Social media & advertising
Media management
Responsible tourism
Cell +27(0)84 951 0574
Fax +27(0)86 614 8853
Skype: reefgod
PO Box 2690 Knysna 6570

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