For many of us, we tend to research online before booking our trips to our fantasy holiday destinations according to TripAdvisor’s Path to Purchase report:
- 33% of people around the world visit travel sites
- 74% of hotel purchasers check TripAdvisor
But within the hospitality world, how important are these star ratings? This question must be considered as so many of us read and check online reviews. But, what do people value more, the star ratings or real guest experiences? We explore in this article, what the star standard is for the hotel industry to find out if guests can still assemble important information from it.
What are star ratings?
Historically, a hotel star rating was the go-to check for any traveller seeking to book a room. The star system used to be quite simple and, without the digital word of mouth, really the only information guests had to go on.
However, these days the traditional 5-star rating system has been replaced with other system that offer hotels from 5 star to 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.
It was in 1912, when the star-rating system was introduced to the UK 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.’
What is the AA’s Star rating system for hotels?
There are basic entry requirements that hotels most fulfil, if they want to get recognized on The AA’s Star System. 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.
It’s not just the above requirements either, hotels need to also keep a minimum level of maintenance needs to abide in order to enter the AA star system. 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 level
The difference in AA levels
Each level of the AA’s Common Quality Standard requires different requirements, to another. 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.
If you want to find the full details of each level outlined, here is the full document here. But how much does it matter in this digital age?
The issues with Star Ratings
One major problem with stars is that there isn’t a global star standard. 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.
Here in the UK, you may discover that a hotel has a two-star AA rating, but a tour operator advertises it as being a three-star rating based on their own rating system.
The rise of trust in reviews.
As the digital world develops, it’s no surprising that more people are turning to review websites 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).
Nine years later, the public have become extremely dependable of what we see online, with a reported 84% of people placing online reviews on the same level of trust as a recommendation from a friend. 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.
But what are more valuable?
If you study the AA star ratings systems and keep in mind for it as you browse online, then you’ll find it useful to know what minimum standard that you should expect to receive from a hotel. 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.
This can be helpful with your expectations of a hotel. 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.
Carmen Cox, Stephen Burgess, Carmine Sellitto & Jeremy Buultjens (2009) The Role of User-Generated Content in Tourists’ Travel Planning Behavior, Journey of Hospitality Marketing & Management, 18:8, 743-764