Is the Value of International Hotel Star Ratings in Jeopardy?
Derek Picot looks at the history of hotel star ratings, and asks if the proliferation of various systems have left the value of international hotel star ratings in jeopardy.
A client recently asked me if hotel star ratings any longer have any value. Judging by the Hilton’s wholesale migration to using Trip Advisor’s rating system of ‘green blobs’ on its website, I’d say that the whole premise of international star ratings is in jeopardy.
It was all perfectly clear when there were just five stars, but then Jumeriah came along and added a couple more for good measure when they opened in Dubai. I contacted them to ask how they had achieved this seven star celestial promotion and was told that a journalist had been so impressed by his experience that he simply invented it. So that was that. What followed in terms of a global system was now open, where anyone could nominate anything.
In France, the ‘Palace system’ was then created, an additional accolade to the established ‘Hotel de Tourism etoiles’. Twenty four specially selected properties – only one of which is outside of continental France – were given the equivalent of Olympian laurels. Throw in the American Automobile Association’s triple diamond system and clarity begins to disappear.
I contacted them to ask how they had achieved this seven star celestial promotion and was told that a journalist had been so impressed by his experience that he simply invented it.
The star rating system was first used by John Murray in his 1836 ‘Handbook for Travellers’. A useful tome that suggested all sorts of excursions when occasionally the traveller might, by sheer adventure, wish to stay overnight in a hotel with a view to continuing their tour the next day. Recommended hotels were awarded just one star. This had simplicity and common sense. A hotel was either recommended or not.
In the UK, shortly before the First World War, both the AA and RAC took up the idea of rating hotels with stars, and garages with spanners. This competitive situation went along in quite a jolly way until 2004 when the RAC sadly closed its hotel inspection unit. The AA then agreed a set of standards with the National Tourist Boards that could be nationally applied and they together continued to offer inspections.
In 1926 Michelin entered the melee and applied up to three stars to restaurant and hotel food. Other global organisations then climbed aboard the ratings omnibus. Mobil in 1958, and more latterly Forbes with a guide that focuses on service quality as well as amenity.
The challenge for any star system is how to be objective rather than subjective. Ratings based on physical attributes rather than the quality of hospitality service can mean that a hotel with a lift can get a higher grade than one without. Pity those single storey developments with fabulous facilities but all on the ground floor.
Is it then right that hotels should throw in their towel with Trip Advisor and go simply with what the customer rates? Do I want to consider a Bed and Breakfast operation with five Trip Advisor blobs to be the equivalent of the Plaza Athenee? Monsieur De la Haye, the Paris hotel’s Managing Director hopes not.
Ratings based on physical attributes rather than the quality of hospitality service can mean that a hotel with a lift can get a higher grade than one without. Pity those single storey developments with fabulous facilities but all on the ground floor.
Gallic pride abounds in France where stars are importantly displayed. Even a one ‘etoile’ will hang smugly by the front entrance. I know of no equivalent establishment in the United Kingdom that proudly displays a one star sign swinging above its revolving door.
So with an aversion to seven stars, diamonds, spanners and green blobs I recommend looking again at Mr Murray’s concept. One star or no stars, a hotel is either recommended or not.
Picking up my dog eared volume of the ‘Handbook’, I spot an endorsement for what appears to be the perfect one star hotel in Ramsgate. The guide suggests a walk along the 1879 Victorian pier and a property that accepts both bachelors and families with their valets or chauffeurs. Excited, I look it up but disappointingly learn it has long been demolished and replaced by a shopping mall.
Founder, Derek Picot Consulting
An international consultant based in London with experience spanning five continents. Primarily focused on helping independent hotel and serviced apartment businesses maximise their asset values and operating returns. Clients include international hotel brands, European banks, investment and securities firms, property developers and hotel owners. Well versed in luxury operations with a focus on business improvement, customer service and satisfaction. Proven track record of improving revenue generation, profit and quality assurance. Extensive network of associates and contacts both in hotel operations and the international travel trade.
Derek consults on hotel redevelopments and conversions. Currently clients include a property owner who has a desire to build a four star hotel portfolio in the United Kingdom. He holds non Executive Directorships with MIC Ltd who own and operate the Wesley Brand of Hotels and the Hyde Park Residences. He is also Director of MRP Hotels Vienna.