The End of Star Ratings for Hotels?

When I was new to the hotel business, people would start the booking process by cracking open a Michelin or AAA hotel guide. They would locate their desired star-rating, browse the hotels listed, and book a room according to annually published rates. No online ratings, no blogs and no dynamic pricing. It was all nice and neat—the guest trusted the rating agency to do its job, and that was that.

In today’s world of guest reviews and thumbs up, traditional star ratings are beginning to look like the dinosaurs of the hospitality industry—majestic once, but doomed to extinction. Whether your hotel is rated an economic two stars or a towering five, bookings are less likely to be driven by professional rating systems.

What happened? Were the rating systems inaccurate? Did big hotel groups grease the wheels for better ratings? Did rating agencies become too arrogant and inflexible?

All of these things may have played a part, but the most important factor involves the guests themselves. Instead of relying on ratings agencies to do the job for them, they started thinking and communicating about hotels in terms of experiences and overall value. Once online reviews and OTAs took off, traditional stars and diamonds quickly lost significance. The true rating of a hotel became an ongoing democratic process.

A recent article on TripAdvisor raises similar questions about the future of traditional star ratings. If they are no longer effective in shaping the expectations of many guests today, what purpose do they serve?

I think star ratings still serve a purpose. They act as a rough guide to what we can expect by way of services, amenities and infrastructure—and some guests still make decisions based on them.

However, the future of star ratings could have more to do with providing developers with a model for how to build a property. Rather than being a yardstick for the guest experience, our beloved professional ratings might become more like fire regulations, wherein developers must comply with certain accepted rules about how a property is constructed in order to achieve a certain rating.

Whatever the case, good developers need to think bigger. They need to comply with regulations, yes—but even more important is the need to comply with guest expectations, both now and into the future. Star ratings won’t help with this. Guest comments will.

What do guests really want?

In addition to great service, the three things guests want in a hotel room are a good bed, a good shower and fast Wi-Fi. We hear this time and again.

Many hotels score high on two out of three. Others score high on all three, but ultimately let us down with design flaws. For example, one major 5 star hotel I stayed in has a lovely marble bathroom, but when using the toilet you kept hitting your head on the shower stall when you stood up.

The lesson is this: Hotel excellence must start from inception. Are the right designers in place? Have they had experience with hotels, and if not, are you prepared to take a risk? Do you have the right advisors to ensure good flow throughout operations areas, and sufficient storage throughout the property?

Star ratings can assist in prescribing minimum standards and constructing properties, but at the end of the day, we need the right people involved in development. People who have been there and done that. People who understand the challenges of a busy hotel. People who, above all, understand the needs and requirements of the modern traveller. That’s something that simply doesn’t come from a star rating.

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