Former AA inspectors have reacted angrily to accusations made by ex-colleague Gordon Cartwright, claiming he was a driving force behind the commercialisation he has now condemned.
Cartwright, who worked with the AA for 13 years, told Caterer he felt annual guides were "worryingly stale" owing to the long lead times between the inspections and publishing.
He warned that while grading systems should provide paying establishments with business, information and an adequate rating, he felt that guides no longer supported the industry but that the industry supports the guides.
"The way forward for industry ratings lies in a self-assessment process which is overseen by organisations that do nothing else beyond check ratings," he added. "There can be no spin-offs, commercial links or any other type of incentives or financial partnerships."
However, former AA inspectors slammed Cartwright's comments. In a letter to Caterer (12 March, page 16), David Young, owner the Cross at Kingussie, Scotland, said: "It's quite remarkable that in a career spanning almost 13 years Cartwright hasn't before grasped that it is in the nature of all guidebook publishing that there is a lead time of a number of months between information being gathered and finally appearing in print."
Young added that he was "surprised" at Cartwright's claims that guidebooks and rating schemes should be disassociated from commercial links.
"Cartwright himself has been an integral part of - some might say a driving force in - a movement within the AA that has sought to maximise the ever-growing commercialism of its hotel services division," he said.
This was echoed by Nina Basset, a former AA hotel inspector and owner of Hotel TerraVina in the New Forest. "While it's great that Cartwright has had a change in heart, it seems strange given he was very much in favour of pushing the consultancy element of the AA as the way forward," she said. "It seems a shame that someone has to have the turnaround only after they have left."
Cartwright defended his role at the AA. "Three or four years ago a lot of AA managers designed programmes such as mystery guest programmes. I was following the direction of the business manager and publishing director," he said.
"The issue isn't just about the AA, it's about the role guides play in general and their future lies in blending them with modern technology. I don't want to be part of the problem, I want to be part of the solution."
By Kerstin Kühn
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