Who is rating your hotel?

While it differs from country to country, there are many parameters by which we can judge the quality of a hotel – the most coveted of which is the 5-star rating.

The AA has used a star rating system to classify hotels since 1912 and has since been internationally recognized as the yardstick for a hotel’s overall functioning.

But in recent years there have been questions as to the relevance of these rating systems, particularly as we find ourselves in the age of TripAdvisor, social media culture and the fast-growing popularity of independent properties that defy the standards of traditional luxury brands. For many travelers, user-generated online reviews have become the go-to source for information when booking hotels, which often utilize their own points-based systems. Forbes rating has also become very active in the Europe and the UAE.

For the everyday consumer, it’s easy to get confused over the value of hotel star ratings. A hotel’s official rating may be 4 stars, but TripAdvisor testimonials could state otherwise. After all, quality for the most part is subjective and varies by individual travel tastes. What’s the point if they’re not consistent from website to website? From country to country?

To complicate things even further, the reputation of the star-rating system was diminished in China when some hotels voluntarily downgraded themselves from 5 to 4 stars after the government banned officials from staying at 4-star properties. Equally, Dubai’s Burj Al Arab hotel is commonly referred to as the ‘world’s only 7-star hotel,’ yet its general manager at the time rubbishes this claim and states that it is not the rating the hotel itself promotes. Now is there such a thing as 7 stars?

While official star ratings provide a benchmark of credibility and standards, we can do this by using an internal system with a third party such as LQA, which most luxury hotels will use to benchmark product and service for internal training and development.

Is the star-rating system really flexible enough to honor the sheer variety of hotels whose quirks and personalities simply cannot be recognized through an evaluator’s checklist? Modern travelers need more than stars. They crave detailed information about experiences. Some travelers now are looking for a more basic, hip style of hotel. To them, this is a 5-star experience. An exceptionally warm greeting, beautiful garden or well-placed bookshelf can mean much more than sports facilities or a fine dining menu to some travelers.

While customers do respond to star ratings, I see them as losing relevance – I believe the character of a hotel is better communicated in personal accounts. But it’s also worth noting that online forums should be taken with a pinch of salt. TripAdvisor, among other sites, has fallen victim to a series of hoax posts and paid reviews, although they have since launched anti-fraud tactics such as posting warnings on venues with suspect reviews and allowing customers to contribute only after they have completed their stay.

Our job as hoteliers is to recognize that the definition of luxury is changing, and it’s all about unique experiences. If you’re a 5-star property, the real value is in delivering a memorable, luxurious experience that couldn’t be met to the same degree at a 4-star property, and so on. What the consumer should receive is a level of service that consistently reflects the official rating. Focus on exceeding expectations and a successful online reputation is sure to follow.

Interested to hear your thoughts.