Consuming Issues: Ratings should show the good places to stay
Saturday 05 February 2011
Should we be lamenting the potential disappearance of hotel star ratings? The UK's star grading been put under notice by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which funds the system. John Penrose, the Tourism minister, said: "The official ratings systems are too often unreliable and unfair not only for the industry but for the consumer."
The problem with the existing ratings is that we don't really understand them. Research from Travelsupermarket.com shows that half of us have been disappointed by a hotel we have stayed at, expecting more given its star rating. However three-fifths of travellers have been pleasantly surprised at how good a hotel was compared to its rating.
The problem stems from the fact that we want to know whether our stay at a hotel will be enjoyable. But star ratings are mainly aimed at reporting facilities. So that lovely little homely place in the country may only qualify for two stars because of its small size and lack of conference or banqueting rooms. Meanwhile that soul-destroying international city centre chain may get five stars even though it offers something far from from what most of us consider to be a five-star experience.
What can elevate a stay at a hotel is decent service, but that's not really represented in the government-backed UK grading system. Hotels are given their one to five stars by the official tourist boards of England, Wales and Scotland, and have to pay for a grading. Hotels are obviously not going to pay for a rating they don't agree with, so the tourist board rankings have to be able to stand up to industry scrutiny by having an agreed set of criteria.
Having looked at the Quality Assessment Scheme at the VisitBritain website I see that the star ratings reward "the general quality of the furnishings, decor and ambience" of accommodation. But that can often make them useless to travellers and holidaymakers who just want to know if they are going to be comfortable and well looked after rather than whether the furniture is stylish or modern.
On top of that the ratings are set by a mystery guest after spending a night in a hotel. That can only be a subjective review and, frankly, what impresses an inspector, may not impress you. The timing of the visit can also affect the rating and with a relatively high turnover of staff, service can obviously change for the better or worse almost on a week by week basis at larger hotels.
The fact that there are other ratings out there – from the likes of the AA among others – just makes things even more confusing for the traveller looking for a decent place to stay. For all these sorts of reasons the Government is considering a move to online customer reviews. But that may not be much of an improvement.
Online reviews are often hugely entertaining but can be totally misleading. The "squashy fruit" principle comes into play where hard-to-please guests mark accommodation down just because an orange may be less than fresh. On the other hand some reviews are just so gushing that they surely must have been written by the hotel owner, or a member of the family.
Ignoring most of the one-star and five-star reviews can help avoid the excessive. But even the others can yield a bewildering array of contrary opinions. And can you trust any? One of the flaws with TripAdvisor is that anyone can post a review, which can open it to abuse. Other sites, such as LateRooms.com or Hotels.com, only allow reviews from people who have booked through them, which should at least mean they have some experience of the place they've stayed at.
"I welcome the proposal to review star ratings in the UK as a shake-up to the industry," says Bob Atkinson of Travelsupermarket.com. "But whatever replaces it has to be able to be trusted by customers and hoteliers alike." That's the key: who can we trust? When it comes to star ratings or reviews, neither does the job adequately. Word of mouth from friends or family is the only credible solution I can think of.
Harnessing that is impossible but with the current system failing consumers, what can replace it? The Tourism minister has the problem of finding something that is useful to consumers and acceptable to the hotel industry. The financial support for the UK's tourist industry comes out of the taxpayer's pocket, so we have a stake in how the cash is used.
There are lessons to be learnt from overseas. France, for instance, updated its official gradings last year, introducing ratings from accredited auditors instead of a government agency. Some new hotels in China have even taken to awarding themselves unprecedented six or seven star status to denote their luxury status. We don't want that further confusion. But we do deserve a hotel star ratings system we can rely on.
Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown
How couples can protect their financial interests when cohabiting
Money alert: Overdrafts at HSBC and First Direct
'Dismal' eurozone data sparks concerns
How to protect your assets if the stock markets begin to head south again
Child Maintenance Service to replace Child Support Agency - but is it better?
- 1 Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC
- 2 Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world'
- 3 ALS ice bucket challenge co-founder Corey Griffin drowns, aged 27
- 4 A third of employers never check job applicants' qualifications, survey finds
- 5 James Foley beheading: Fox news presenter Megyn Kelly annoyed by Ferguson update during broadcast about murdered journalist
Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world'
Scottish independence: English people overwhelmingly want Scotland to stay in the UK
Isis threat: Cameron wants an alliance with Iran
Michael Brown shooting: Chaos erupts on the streets of Ferguson after autopsy shows teenager was shot six times – twice in the head
Bin bag full of cats' heads discovered near Manchester's Curry Mile
Disgusting, frustrating, but intriguing: how the country really feels about its politicians
iJobs Money & Business
£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...
£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...
£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...
£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...
Day In a Page
A first-floor flat with two bedrooms, a spacious reception room and communal grounds in a leafy part of London
A three-bedroom flat with a spacious rootop terrace and balcony, accessed from a private gated courtyard
A Grade II-listed pile with six bedrooms, stables and 39 acres of grounds in Standlake
A two-bedroom flat with boutique hotel-style interiors, close to the foodie haunt of West End Lane
A two-bedroom flat in a beautiful old vicarage, with many original features, close to the city centre
A three-bedroom 16th-century home with an aga kitchen, private gardens and heated outdoor pool, in Hadleigh
A three-bedrom home in sought-after Queen's Gate Mews, with Italian marble-finished bathrooms
Surrounded by glorious countryside in the village of Udimore, sits this impressive four-kiln oast and barn conversion
A five-bedroom house in the picturesque village of Kettlewell, north Yorkshire
An 18th-century former coaching inn with original staircase, open fireplaces and beams throughout
A Grade II-listed Georgian town house with three bedrooms and a south-facing courtyard, near Arundel Castle
Feel on top of the world at this über chic penthouse on the 37th floor of one of Europe’s tallest blocks.
A Grade II-listed Victorian villa with six bedrooms and two further cottages, all with spectacular sea views
A grade II-listed, Georgian cottage with mature 50ft garden, perfect for summer entertaining
A magnificent Georgian pile with turrets, seven bedrooms, a heated pool and four acres of gardens
Fairoak Farm has five bedroom suites, gym, outdoor swimming pool and golf course
Chic two-bedroom river-fronted flat with a private lift that delivers you directly to your home
A spectacular seven-bedroom Tudor pile, once owned by Henry VIII, with 18 acres of land
A seven-bedroom Georgian property previously used as a picturesque wedding venue
A split-level flat in a church conversion with two en suite bedrooms and 1,200sq ft of living space
A three-bedroom bungalow situated behind an impressive stone wall, £645,000
Windsor Castle overlooks this three-bedroom Victorian cottage located on one of Windsor's smartest roads
Chapel House is a former vicarage with nine bedrooms in the beautiful Upper Wye Valley
A five-bedroom B&B and separate owner's accomodation with potential for conversion
Enjoy summer by the Thames in this two double-bedroom converted warehouse in Rotherhithe village
A one-bedroom, luxury apartment with private gym and concierge service in Moorgate
A four-bedroom house in Hermitage Gardens with three reception rooms and landscaped gardens
A seven-bedroom Grade II-listed property with a separate self-contained apartment
A five-bedroom Victorian house with three reception rooms and galleried landing, £695,000
A six-bedroom farmhouse with five acres of land in a former cloth-making village
A secluded seven-bedroom detached house with large private garden, £490,000
A three-bedroom cottage overlooking Sarratt village green with open fires and solid oak floors
A three-bedroom maisonette flat in a Grade I-listed, Georgian townhouse in a sought-after location
A one-bedroom apartment located within a private gated development, north of Turnham Green
Look forward to a brighter future at two-bedroom Sunny Cottages, ideal for Londoners looking to downsize
A three-bedroom red-brick cottage with outbuildings and pretty gardens, £200,000
This three-bedroom flat within a former textile factory spans the corner of the fourth floor and has a balcony