The largely US centric Forbes Travel Guide formerly known as the Mobil Travel Guide just announced its list of four and five starred hotels which includes 54 hotels and resorts. One not to have made the top list is the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia.
The famed and fabled resort last had the coveted fifth star in the year 2000, when Google was barely known and user-generated content was unknown. It's owner, from as of a couple of years ago, the infelicitously named Mr. Justice, ruminated aloud in the local press about the seeming injustice of it all saying that "It’s obvious as it can be that the five-star rating has moved away from larger resorts and is focused more on boutique kinds of places that have 12 rooms or 50 rooms, it’s the fad." A perusal of the list of "winners" however, reveals an overwhelming majority of the hostelries in the 150+ category including the equally fabled 744 room behemothian, the Broadmoor hotel in Colorado.
Nevertheless, the Greenbrier's ownership and many hotel cognoscenti are looking for stars in an arena that is destined for irrelevance over time as customers of all stripes move on to consumer based review rather than rely on the opinion of appointed experts applying rigid parameters across very diverse establishments. For instance, one criterion used in the evaluation by Forbes "based on more than 700 service standards" is whether or not "luggage is delivered to the guest's room in 10 minutes, or it is not—there's no middle ground." Anyone who has been to the Greenbrier knows that in the case of some rooms in the distant reaches of the hotel that it is not quite possible to meet that time deadline. Mr. Justice can be forgiven for believing the Forbes' rating system is somewhat capricious if not unfair.
Hotels and resorts ought to invest far more of their time and efforts in garnering higher ratings on UGC and other C-to-C (Consumer-to-Consumer) fora including the current leader Tripadvisor.com. Paying attention to reviews of real customers on those sites can pay handsome dividends to those inhabiting the upper echelons of the stellar scale. Unfortunately, of the 54 five star hotels for 2011 they were astonishingly few who had bothered to respond to comments, good or bad, on the UGC site. Of the 14 hotels based in New York and California only two had a management response to an adverse comment. 24 "terrible"and 28 "poor" reviews for a leading hotel in California also failed to elicit a rebuttal.
As far back as 2007 a Deloitte consumer survey for consumer-products noted that "more than eight in 10 (82%) of those who read user-generated reviews said that their purchasing decisions have been directly influenced by those reviews." The hotel industry is no different and while there are genuine gripes about the objectivity of some reviews, in the aggregate, the leading sites offer an excellent basis for evaluating individual hotels and resorts. Academia, as in this NYU-Stern faculty member, too is working on providing a ranking system for hotels by mining user-generated content. Almanacs and travel guides by "independent" experts are not likely to fade into obscurity in the near term but their dominance, if not relevance, surely will diminish before long.