Customers may be drifting away from traditional ratings towards web sites but there's still merit in looking to the stars, says Peter Hancock, chief executive of Pride of Britain Hotels.
When Gordon Cartwright left the AA recently he said he felt that guides no longer supported the industry, but that the industry now supported the guides. This may be a little harsh, but there's no denying a sense of unrest among many hoteliers who see their customers drifting away from traditional ratings and towards recognised brands and to review web sites such as TripAdvisor when seeking a suitable place to stay.
This is a complex issue because there are several factors at work here. Stars are still the only internationally used system for placing hotels in a pecking order of excellence, usually running from zero to five but now stretched to seven in places such as Dubai. Professionally compiled guides, such as the AA's, are arguably more reliable than the opinions of random individuals whose tastes may vary. And most establishments, whatever their size, regard a decent star rating as vital to their business.
Having said that, the ease with which other guests' comments can be found on the web, whether truly reliable or not, reduces the importance of any rating in the eyes of the customer. We have further muddied the water by allowing different categories of accommodation to present themselves as having earned stars without meeting the same criteria as fully fledged hotels.
My personal prediction is that alignment with an established brand, either through ownership or association, is the way forward. Do you ever speak with guests who say they have a penchant for all properties with three stars? I doubt it. More likely, they will admit to favouring Holiday Inn, Hotel du Vin, Relais & Châteaux or… dare I submit… Pride of Britain. These names give a far better clue as to what sort of experience to expect than any rating, and - again thanks to the internet - can be searched with incredible ease.
A few years ago I helped to run a guide publishing group. The rating system was very simple: you were either in or out and readers made their judgement based on the description and the room rates.