Rating the stars

The Washington Post has a well researched article on a subject of enduring, if mild, controversy in the industry: the uniformity and consistency of rating systems embodied by stars, diamonds etc, by different reviewers. Entitled " Ranking the hotels: Five Top Reviewers" the report lays out in matrix format the top five – in the Post's estimation – reviewing systems with a brief background on each along with the number of hotels in each's "database" along with the inspection mechanism employed by each. Along with long-running systems like AAA, Forbes (erstwhile Mobil) and Northstar Travel Media are Expedia and recent entrant Oyster.

The grand-daddy of the lot is AAA (in existence since 1917 with a whopping 37,000 hotels) and widely recognized in the US, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean but with limited, if any, recognition in Europe, Asia and the Far East. AAA decides hotels "are eligible for a diamond rating only after passing a
preliminary screening with its own set of requirements. Inspectors
arrive unannounced, asking to see several rooms and to tour the property."  More comprehensive geographically and with a considerably larger repertoire of hotels is Northstar Travel Media begun in 1939 as the Hotel and Travel Index which in its non-virtual form was and arguably still is, a must have for any travel agency worth its salt. The index covers an astounding 52,000 hotels worldwide with stratification that uses both crowns and stars. The Washington Post article notes that the process is "overseen by HTI editors, takes into account the full hotel
experience. The process combines a thorough review of the hotel's
services, facilities, amenities, etc."

Expedia needs no introduction to anyone has thought of travel much less actually done so and features and though launched a mere 15 years ago has an unmatched 100,000 hotels in its database. The Post notes that Expedia uses "uses its own star system based on secondhand data. (Inspectors
visit properties that have changed drastically or raise concerns.) For
foreign lodgings, it uses a given country's standardized system." Expedia also controls Tripadvisor, the de-rigueur UGC site for hotel reviews. Tripadvisor, as most users know ranks across hotel classes and a high score on its popularity index does not necessarily indicate a high-end hotel.

Rookie reviewer Oyster is no neophyte and employs "professional journalists (who) anonymously critique the properties using 70 "dimensions," such as location and level of service" and already has over a 1000 hotels in its roster.

While some hotels anoint themselves with more stars than are on tap as in the over-the-top, literally and metaphorically,  "seven star" Burj-al-Arab of Jumeirah hotels, the decades long rating system is clearly here to stay with owners, public and private, paying close attention to the stars. Recently, an entire nation, France, embarked on "polishing up its hotel star ratings and introducing a new luxury five-star category to help travellers know what to expect."  Going beyond the principal reviewers noted here, the government of France stated that "under the new criteria, stars will be attributed for a period of five
years by accredited auditors instead of a government agency. The
prefect or state official for a department will however have the final
word on granting stars." Perhaps it is an opportunity for a wannabe Michelin guide for hotels in France.

Published by

Vijay Dandapani

Co-founder and president of a New York based hotel company for 24 years. Grew the firm to five hotels in Manhattan and also developed a greenfield project at MacArthur airport, New York. Speaker at numerous prestigious forums including Economy Hotels World Asia, Lodging Conference, NYU, Columbia University Real Estate Roundtable, Baruch College's Zicklin School and ALIS. President and ceo of New York City Hotel Association since January 2017.

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