Ah hotel star ratings, it can be a mysterious world. Do you go for three stars, four stars or splash out on five stars? Who decides these ratings, and what do they consider.
There’s a hotel in Russia; it had an impressive paint job consisting of a night-time skyline scene, featuring a number of stars painted on by hand. The owner said proudly of his fairly run-down establishment:
"We have the only 26 star hotel in world!"
Star ratings cause confusion all over the world, the Russian hotelier was obviously joking, but the differing number of star ratings and unofficial ratings that some places use can make it difficult to know exactly what you’re getting into before you arrive.
Are star ratings standardised around the world?
Does four stars mean the same in London as it does in Paris? The short answer is no, the long answer is: you’re likely to get a similar service. The key word is similar. It can be pretty subjective, and dependent on the culture of the country you’re visiting.
Dubai for example, that Mecca of opulent over-exaggerated luxury, now has six and seven-star hotels. But it’s a bit like the old Spinal Tap theory: “Ten stars? Ours goes up to 11… why? Well, it’s one better isn’t it.”
After decades of perplexing Brits and foreign tourists alike with a mishmash of unofficial ratings, the AA along with the UK tourist authorities (VisitBritain, VisitScotland and VisitWales) came up with a standardised five-star system that rates every hotel and purports to visit each of them annually to assess their facilities. France and Spain have a similar country-wide system, in France the rating is reassessed every five years.
Hotel ratings in the USA
In other countries however the waters are still a little cloudy. The United States has a number of competing systems – the American Automobile Association awards diamonds while the other main system, Forbes Travel, assigns stars. In other places ratings are dished out by local councils or national government bodies.
There are initiatives gradually being created across Europe, such as the Hotel Stars Union, who work for a ‘harmonised hotel classification with common criteria and procedures in the participating countries’.
Hotrec, a European not-for-profit association, is focused on the enhancement of the cooperation between the national hospitality associations. They provide a list of guidelines that each EU country uses to rate hotels, B&Bs and hostels. It’s worth checking out if you’re set on specific needs for your stay.
A basic guideline of what you should expect from the five ratings is as follows:
1 star Hotel
Basic room options, shared bathrooms in some cases and a vending machine
2 Star Hotel
Basic room options, colour TV and a bar/restaurant
3 Star Hotel
Multiple room options, restaurant, gym and business facilities
4 Star Hotel
Multiple room and suite options, restaurants and bars, business facilities, concierge, swimming pool, gym and crèche
5 Star Hotel
Luxury accommodation with all of the above facilities and more.
Marriott is one of the biggest chains of hotels in the world. They, like most of the larger chains (Accor, Hiltom, HG etc.) cover the bases when It comes to ratings, they have different brands to suit need and budget all belonging to the Marriott family. Their high-end brands, J W Marriott (JW are the initials of the founder of the company, J. Willard Marriott) and Ritz-Carlton are the top-end luxury with the majority of those particular hotels in the five-star range.
Slightly below, in the four-star range, are Marriott hotels (that’s just Marriott without the JW). Courtyard by Marriott is their middle-of-the-pack brand in the three-star range.
The system of assessment can rest heavily on the facilities provided, and overlook or not take into account the ambience or ‘feel’ of a place. Smaller independent hotels can be at a disadvantage in this style of review process due to their size. The quality of accommodation could garner a three-star rating, but the lack of an item such as a lift could prevent it from reaching the four-star mark.
Sometimes a good bet is to check online forums or guest star ratings on booking websites. While they aren’t all together reliable, they can be a decent yard-stick for public opinion. If enough people have given a place the nod of approval, then it could be worth investigating further. Use a skeptical eye on online ratings though, as they can be skewed by disgruntled guests or hotel owners. We’ve all stayed in places that weren’t up to our own personal standards and you can drive yourself mad looking for your perfect hotel. If you end up at a less-than-palatial hotel, just put it down to experience. Besides that’s part of your adventure, or so I was told… by a Russian hotelier.
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