When the idea of creating a unified classification scheme for hotels, guesthouses and bed and breakfasts (B&Bs) was proposed, few people thought it possible.
What was widely acknowledged, however, was that the previous set-up - with its mixture of AA and RAC stars and tourist board crowns - was a recipe for confusion and frustration.
Not only did each organisation use different criteria, but each scheme also had its own sub-divisions: merits and percentage ratings, commended, highly commended, de luxe. If the industry had deliberately wanted to confuse the customer, it couldn't have set about it in a more effective way, the judges of this award decided.
The emphasis had to shift from a scheme based largely on facilities to one that took greater account of service quality. Customers needed a readily understandable system of grading, allowing them to sift the good from the bad - one that would eventually force up the quality of accommodation in Great Britain.
The task of creating order from chaos fell largely on the shoulders of three people: Albert Hampson of the AA, Linda Astbury at the RAC and Sarah Whaley at the English Tourist Board (ETB).
It took them the best part of three years, sometimes to the frustration of government and of the industry itself. Much of the work went on behind closed doors, in back rooms, involving a lot of listening and the kind of diplomacy rarely found outside the United Nations.
In the end they were only partially successful. The Scottish and Welsh tourist boards opted for their own star schemes, with even more emphasis on quality, which they decided would better suit the needs of hotels in their respective countries.
Despite the qualified nature of the trio's success and the controversy that has surrounded the new schemes, the Catey judging panel was unanimous in its decision.
"These are unsung heroes. They have overcome the most tremendous obstacles," said Ken Robinson, operations director at the Millennium Dome and until recently chairman of the Tourism Society. "The end product is a more understandable system that's consumer-friendly and industry useful.
"There's not a provider of accommodation in the country that won't somehow be affected by the outcome of their work. The result will be less bureaucracy, more clarity and an improvement in consumer choice. Everybody has to admire what they have done. Nobody can say they haven't made a significant step forward."
Adele Biss, former chairman of the British Tourist Authority and ETB, commented: "Nothing promised on grading could possibly have happened without these three. They were working weekends and nights and grabbing people back from the brink. They had to be extremely diplomatic. They were thorough and meticulous and they took on board opinions that were very different from their own."
Last year's Tourism Award winner, Cairns Boston, chairman of the Land's End and John O'Groats company, said: "It has created very exciting times and a real awareness of standards right across the board. Hotels and B&Bs are really having to sharpen their pencils and get things right."
And Peter Lederer, managing director of Gleneagles Hotel, concluded: "This goes a long way to sorting out the mess. They have made a huge step forward and I think there's more to come with a bit of patience and a bit more talking."