Industry figures have insisted there is still a place for an official star rating system for hotels after it emerged that the Government is planning to stop endorsing the scheme due to the prevalence of online customer review websites such as TripAdvisor.
The Government's tourism strategy, due to be published next month, is expected to encourage individual businesses to make up their own minds what rating systems they sign up with, rather than forcing them to join VisitEngland's Quality Assessment scheme.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is understood to believe online reviews are now more reliable than the "outdated" star rating scheme.
But Hotel Inspector star Alex Polizzi said she would be "very nervous" about the rating system disappearing, warning that using only online opinions was not the way to go.
"I understand why the Government doesn't want to keep supporting a duplicate rating system [as the AA already offers one] but I think, with all its faults, it's something that should stay," she said. "What happens to all the establishments that have spent the £600 - will they be offered a transfer?"
Ufi Ibrahim, chief executive of the British Hospitality Association, stressed that it was "valuable" to have a single scheme at a national level, but welcomed a wider debate on the issue.
"As more and more people are now turning to third-party sites and consumer sites for feedback and ‘objective' views on hotel products and services there are continued cases of non-bona fide reviews appearing, which can inflict significant damage on hoteliers," she said. "Together with any discussion on star ratings we should be ensuring that there are ways to ensure the validity of alternative consumer information."
James Berresford, chief executive at VisitEngland, said the Quality Assessment scheme, which has 24,000 members, is "one of the most reputable and robust accommodation schemes in the world".
"I believe there is a place for the star-rated scheme as it offers consumers the endorsement of the national tourist board," he said. "This is as valuable a benchmark as reviews from consumers online and can be used in tandem to make a decision that is right for the consumer."
Berresford revealed that VisitEngland is investigating how the star rating scheme can be modernised.
TRIPADVISOR HITS BACK IN BANNATYNE ROW
The row between celebrity hotelier Duncan Bannatyne (pictured) and TripAdvisor escalated this week when the reviews website accused the Dragons' Den star of attempting to intimidate customers.
Bannatyne's dispute with the website began last December when a guest submitted a disparaging review comparing his Charlton House spa resort in Somerset to Fawlty Towers.
The entrepreneur, who claims TripAdvisor did not allow him to respond to the review "with the truth", this week described the website as "a despicable and cowardly organisation, which is bullying small hotel owners".
But TripAdvisor hit back, claiming it has seen "several worrying examples of individuals being intimidated by Bannatyne and his hotel representatives".
"TripAdvisor has a zero-tolerance approach on bullying as we defend the freedom of speech, hence why we duly sent a letter to the Bannatyne's Charlton House Spa Hotel manager stating that we do not condone this behaviour."
A spokesman for Bannatyne refuted the claims of bullying, saying it was TripAdvisor that was bullying small UK hotel owners.