Change is afoot when it comes to the star ratings system for hotels, and they could disappear altogether. Should we be worried – or have they already lost their place to the world of online consumer reviews?
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has announced that it will shortly be publishing its tourism strategy, with the star ratings system for hotels one of issues being looked at.
Official changes won’t be announced until the next month or so, but it’s expected that the government will stop encouraging tourism firms to join an official rating scheme. Instead, decisions on how to change or close the existing scheme will be left to the industry itself, through VisitEngland.
Fallen star system?
Industry opinion points towards the likelihood of a closure to the scheme, with public and professional views seemingly split on the potential move.
I can personally see a place for both official ratings and review sites in the world of travel and regularly use the two in tandem. Neither system is perfect and modifications would have to be made to both to improve their usefulness.
Take the hotel rating scheme. Boutique hotel fans may well have been surprised at the apparently low star ratings attributed to their luxurious and well-appointed abode. Often, the reason for this is simply because it fails to meet the criteria of an arguably dated tick box system when it comes to hotel facilities. Choosing to be classed as a guesthouse is seemingly the only way around this if you want to retain stars.
Likewise, I’m sure many of us can recall staying in a highly-rated hotel and wondering if the owners added a star or two to the sign outside.
On paper, the system seems pretty rigid and could struggle to meet the varying demands of individual travellers. The sheer amount of accommodation under the current scheme (around 24,000) means hotel inspections take place on an annual basis – but is this enough?
The pros and cons of hotel review sites
I trust the VisitBritain assessor to give a rigorous, honest review of a property, (within the confines of the process). But I like to balance this with the views of fellow travellers – looking at real-life photos and filtering the results to read reports from similar travellers.
Online reviews often give additional information above and beyond the key stats of a hotel – a review with personality that you simply don’t get from a star rating.
But review sites have come in for a lot of criticism recently. Duncan Bannatyne, hotel proprietor and TV personality, is the latest hotelier to blast TripAdvisor for refuted, defamatory hotel reviews. So can these reviews be trusted on their own – would you be happy booking a hotel solely on the opinions of a stranger?
I do find these sites helpful – but as guidance. You have to take them for what they are and use commonsense to riddle out the reviews from weasels. But I do worry about the use of review sites as the only source of hotel information.
Changes would surely need to be made if all accommodation is to be assessed on a level playing field. What about small B&B’s and guesthouses with zero or very few reviews? How will they compete with accommodation that has 100-plus reviews? Travellers will be asked to take what may feel like a risk to try out these unreviewed properties – a risk too far for many perhaps.
Once details of the full strategy are published in the next month or so we should get a clearer idea of where things stand. If the scheme is kept and updated, strong marketing activity will be needed to ensure the general public is fully aware of what the star rating scheme means.
How do you feel about star ratings potentially disappearing? Do you still use them or could you easily live without them?