South African tourism grading started off, as most countries did, with a star system. One star ensured the basics, five stars secured you true luxury. Three stars indicated comfortable and affordable.
That system still stands, and is rigorously enforced by the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa.
But in the past few years, tourism grading has expanded. Now travellers wanting to ensure their journey is ethical, responsible, socially uplifting or just straight eco-friendly can choose between a small number of highly respected South African tourism accreditations.
The year 2003 saw the birth of the Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa trademark, a still-unique IUCN (World Conservation Union) initiative that recognises certain special tourism ventures for their efforts at sustainable tourism.
Most Fair Trade destinations employ people from local communities, and train and empower them. They have ethical business practices, respect the environment, and promote local tourism attractions.
In 2009, Heritage SA became the official auditors for Green Globe International in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The company works at helping tourism operators set up environmentally conscious ways of doing business, including their purchasing policies. Heritage also advises, for example, on the design of buildings to minimize energy use and on transportation.
Like Green Globe International, which was set up after the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, Heritage has a major focus on travel and tourism operators and have accredited many major hotels and casinos.
While not specifically a tourism grading device, the Imvelo Awards have consistently identified the most ethical, eco-friendly operators since their inception during the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002.
In fact, they have become a reliable internal device celebrating the best in South Africa's responsible tourism.