With privately-operated hotel ratings systems, user-generated, government-run, and self-rating all in play no wonder there’s confusion over how many stars a hotel should have.

BY BRAD FOSTER AND EDWINA STORIE

Rating hotels is big business. And a confusing business at that. With the Raffles Hotel in Singapore rated six stars, and the Berj Khalifa in Dubai famous for its seven, the star grading system is reportedly becoming inconsistent to the point of confusion for consumers.
Part of the problem is that rating guidelines vary greatly throughout the world. Some countries have government-run systems which are said to be biased to upping the star ratings of the country’s venues, while countries such as Australia and America have independent associations rating hotels.
Most Australian hotels come under the Australian STAR Rating Scheme with AAA Tourism. The system continually assesses properties against more than 200 criteria from three key areas of facilities and services, quality and condition, and cleanliness.
Properties which have earned five stars in Australia should “typify excellence across all areas of operations” and should have “an extensive range of facilities, and comprehensive or highly personalised service.” They must also display exceptional design quality and attention to detail.
But even following these guidelines there remains vast differences between five-star hotels here and internationally.
In Sydney recently for a series of meetings, general managers and managing directors of The Peninsula Hotel group said the hotel rating system remains fraught with inconsistencies, none more so in the five-star category.
The Peninsula currently has nine hotels, with the 10th opening in Paris towards the end of 2013, all of which are rated five-star.
Managing director of The Peninsula Beverly Hills, Offer Nissenbaum, said in the U.S. there is the Forbes and AAA rating systems.
Twice a year representatives from these companies stay at your property without you knowing about it and experience the hotel as a guest.
“They then score you and you have to fall within a certain range to retain your five-star status,” Nissenbaum said.
But as general manager of The Peninsula Tokyo, Malcolm Thompson said, not every country has such a system.
“In Japan it’s the customer [who decides on what the star rating should be]. I could call a hotel seven star if I wanted to but it is the customer who ultimately decides,” he said.
Other Peninsula representatives from New York (GM Jonathan Crook) and The Peninsula Manila (GM Sonja Vodusek), agree there are certain basic criteria to call a five-star hotel five star. These include 24-hour room service, a concierge, and more recently additions like WiFi (which The Peninsula offers free to all guests).
They also believe that a true five-star hotel should have a shower separate to a bath. In Australia, however, this is not the case with some five-star properties having separate showers and baths and others not.
At the top end of luxury and the five-star tree, The Peninsula group also likes to point out that they do not have specific check in and check out times.
“That’s part of luxury and the luxury experience. Our guests don’t have to think that they are going to have to check out of their room at nine in the morning, and subsequently when they arrive they don’t have to sit in the lobby until their room is ready,” says Nissenbaum.
“Their arrival time is noted when they make the booking and their room is ready for them when they arrive.
“I arrived in Melbourne recently on a 16 hour flight and went to my hotel and the person at reception said to me `do you know check-in is at three o’clock?’. Now, they must think I’m an idiot or something. Of course I know what time check-in is but I’m here now. What can you do for me? Can you offer me an alternative? It was almost like they were chastising me for being early and that I had done something wrong.
“That’s the kind of thing that some hotels miss. [They should] Focus on trying to accommodate the guest rather than telling them what the rules and regulations are. It’s better to bend rules to make sure that your guest is happy than educating them on how the business works.”
five-stars down under
Accor’s regional marketing manager, Brigid Davey, said there are many elements that come into play with the ratings.
She explained that not all hotels go through the official rating system and many can ‘self-rate’ to avoid the costs of assessment. These hotels advise of the self-rating in the terms and conditions and use another symbol in place of a star.
“Essentially, top five-star hotels have extensive service facilities as well as interior décor being well presented,” Ms Davey said.
“This could include 24-hour room service, 24-hour concierge, an additional tour or service desk. They have to have a pool, gym, sauna, spa, a variety of room types, a fine dining restaurant and bar, and breakfast services.”
The Darling, the first five-star hotel to be completed in Sydney for 12 years, has all that and more. Its executive director of sales for hotel food and beverage, Jakki Temple, said that on top of service, elements such as the hotel’s architecture give it a top rating.
“The architectural design itself of The Darling indicates a premium building as touted with the two awards presented this year,” Ms Temple said.
“But what the guests remember as five-star or more is the service.”
She says that adding to the confusion are the consumer-generated rating of hotels on some travel websites and in social media when these properties are not necessarily five-star rated.
Director of Chilli Fox Events, Kate Ryall, agrees that service standards and offerings that would usually equate to a five-star rating vary dramatically.
“As a result, I rarely go off the ratings but off personal experience or recommendations from trusted peers and colleagues,” Ms Ryall said.
“Some hotels might have five-star conference facilities but not accommodation rooms or levels of service. When delegates are staying in-house, all aspects of their experience need to be five-star quality – not just one thing! Regardless of the demand, five-star industry benchmarks (if there are any?) should still be met. Hotels should not be able to get away with charging five-star prices for four-star service.”
She also pointed out the issue of internet charges with some properties offering complimentary wi-fi, while others charge $30 or more per day.
ICMS Australasia MD Bryan Holliday, said that ratings systems of any description are often very difficult to understand.
“There doesn’t seem to be any universally accepted criteria,” he said.
Mr Holliday said from ICMS Australasia’s experience as a PCO his company would expect the following at a five-star hotel:

  1. Have a separate shower and bath in all rooms
  2. Valet parking under a porte cochere Separate desks for reception and concierge
  3. Turn-down service
  4. Fine-dining restaurant
  5. King size bed

“There may be other facilities that are deemed to be necessary but the six above are a minimum.”

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