Hotel star ratings may be overhauled in tourism campaign

The byzantine system of rating hotel and guesthouse accommodation may soon be overhauled to help to encourage British people to take their holidays in the country.

The Culture minister Kim Howells said that he was considering establishing a Government-endorsed standard to replace the many rating systems, which he said were "shambolic" and confused the consumer.

Mr Howells told the launch of a campaign to boost tourism in England: "The current scheme is immensely complicated and we are looking at this at the moment. We need to make it simpler to understand. Until we do there is no way of guaranteeing that having four stars means you will get four-star service."

The different star systems resulted in a complete muddle, he said. Some hotels are judged by the AA, the RAC and national tourist board.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which is responsible for domestic tourism, called three years ago for the establishment of an industry standard to replace the crowns, thistles and rosettes awarded to hotels.

The AA, the RAC and English Tourist Board, as it was then, agreed, but the Welsh and Scottish tourist boards argued that the new unified system was not appropriate for their family-run hotels, many of which would struggle to achieve a one-star rating because they were too small.

So they continued with their own rating systems, which means that travellers going to Wales from Shrewsbury and Chester have to do more than just change trains – they have to get their heads around a different set of rules.

The rating system was listed yesterday, with lack of information, bad public transport and expensive hotels, as a shortcoming in the tourism industry that needed to be remedied as part of the "Enjoy England" campaign.

Tourism authorities have invested £4m in promoting England to domestic tourists in the first campaign of its kind for 10 years. Aimed at people aged 30 to 40 as well as pensioners, the campaign is hoping to generate an extra 250,000 trips within England between now and mid-July amid concerns that Scotland and Wales are leaving England behind as tourist destinations.

The campaign is organised by VisitBritain, an organisation formed by the merger of the English Tourism Council and the British Tourist Authority.

The campaign shifts the focus towards "hidden gems" in England, such as the Cumbrian coastline, the canal development and shopping in Birmingham, Northumbrian cuisine and smaller London markets such as Bermondsey Antiques Market, Brixton Market and Borough Market.

Tom Wright, chief executive of VisitBritain, said: "We want the British to be as excited by England as our 20 million overseas visitors. England has so much to offer and the tourism industry has benefited from huge levels of investment in recent years."