Prior to booking a holiday, most people will carry out some online research according to TripAdvisor’s Path to Purchase report:
- 33% of people around the world visit travel sites
- 74% of hotel purchasers check TripAdvisor
But in modern day hospitality, are star ratings still as important as they used to be? This is a question that must be asked because so many of us read and check online reviews. Do people still value the star ratings or do real guest experiences matter more? In this article, we’ll look at the star standard for the hotel industry to find out if guests can still glean worthwhile information from it.
Do we still trust the stars?
The star rating was once an essential for holidaymakers looking to choose a destination. The star system used to be quite simple and, without the digital word of mouth, really the only information guests had to go on.
Nowadays, there are multiple alternatives traditional 5-star rating system, with some hotels even boasting 10-star ratings. Plus, many have noted that a four-star hotel in Madrid might not feel the same as four-star hotels in Jesmond, Newcastle. This is down to the fact that there is no global star rating system.
The star-rating system dates back to 1912, introduced for the first time by the AA. It was used as a means of classifying hotel standards. Back then, the maximum number of stars was three. It wasn’t until 2006 that the AA developed the Common Quality Standards with the help of a number of UK tourist boards, which increased the maximum rating to five stars. Plus, in 1956, the AA introduced an additional Rosette Award scheme to “assess the quality of food served in restaurants and hotels.”
The history of star-rating systems: The AA
To gain recognition from The AA’s Star System, there are a series of entry requirements for establishments. These include:
- Public liability insurance
- Fire risk assessment
- Food safety/hygiene compliance
- Health and safety compliance
- Planning compliance
- Licensing compliance
- Hotel Proprietors Act compliance
- Data Protection Act/GDPR compliance
- The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 compliance
- Equality Act 2010 compliance
- Safety and security minimum requirements
- This includes staff to be on site and on call 24-hours a day, printed instructions for emergencies in the night and for evacuation procedures in every bedroom.
- Symbols, diagrams, and multilingual emergency notices in every bedroom.
- Registered guests should have access to the hotel at all times, with the hotel entrance illuminated in the dark and identifiable. Lighting in all public areas, stairways, and landings.
- Telephone access 24-hours a day.
- A key or card for guests to lock bedroom doors inside and out, and security fittings on windows.
A minimum level of maintenance is also required if an establishment wishes to comply with the AA’s star system criteria. This includes fixtures, electrical and gas equipment in the building being clean and fit for purpose. There’s also a minimum requirement for cleanliness, with the AA stating that there must be “a high standard of cleanliness maintained throughout the property”. Regardless of star level cleanliness is not expected to vary between star levels.
The difference between star levels is distinguished by the AA’s Common Quality Standard. For example, where a one-star hotel is required to offer an iron and ironing board, a five-star hotel is expected to offer 24-hour return laundry service. A one-star hotel can verbally explain the breakfast menu, where a two-star hotel must have a clean, well-presented menu provided for breakfast items. But then for dinner provisions, both one and two-star hotels (as well as three and four) all need to serve dinner at a specific time advertised, communicate if no dinner is provided, and can provide a self-service buffet. The only difference in dinner requirements is for five-star hotels, which need to provide all courses, served to guests at their table.
Detailed overviews of each level can be found in the full document. But how much does it matter in this digital age?
Problems facing star-rating systems
An obvious issue with the star classification is that a global star standard has never been set. Other countries run their own systems, with some having multiple different boards with their own star systems. Some hotels might even give themselves their own ‘unofficial’ star rating. Then, there’s the matter of tour operators running their own star rating system, which can make four-star hotels look like five-star hotels to unsuspecting bookers.
For example, a hotel in Cardiff might be listed as having a four-star rating, yet a tour operator could advertise it with three-stars based on their own unique system.
Trusting the words of others
Unsurprisingly, more people are using review websites nowadays to seek guidance before booking a room. Plus, it seems there is an increasing level of trust in those online review and ratings. Back in 2009, C. Cox et al noted that while 95% of internet users at the time relied on online research as part of their travel information search process, few were actively trusting them as a primary means of gauging a hotel’s quality. This was deemed to be because “[it] is not always easy to identify and access the profile of people who post information on blogs and other social networking sites, [so] the reader cannot easily gauge the credibility of the information provided” (pg. 749).
Research found that a staggering 84% of people placing online reviews on the same level of trust as a recommendation from a friend, showing how dependent the public have become on online reviews over the past decade. As mentioned at the start of this article, one of the main ways potential guests scout out hotels is to look on TripAdvisor, meaning they are placing a lot of value in the ratings there compared to the star-rating of a hotel.
So, who to trust?
By sticking to a certain star system, you can remove some of the conflicting ratings, such as by following the AA star ratings exclusively. By checking the minimum requirements set out by the AA, you can see the standards the hotel had to achieve to be granted not only entry to the star system at all, but the star level they have achieved. For example, the AA has rated The Majestic Hotel as a four-star hotel. You can take this and check their Common Quality Standard to find out that this means the hotel must provide such things as televisions with a screen larger than 24 inches, and a high degree of spaciousness within the rooms.
Through this, you can set expectations of the hotel you’ll be staying in. From there, a look at guest reviews can help to cement an idea of the experience, but with caution for the above-mentioned flaws for the online review process.