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New hotel grading system will spread confusion

07 December 2005

Simon Lever, proprietor of the Daylesford hotel in Torquay and an executive member of the Torbay Hospitality Association, still has serious reservations about the new common grading system for serviced accommodation.

The general idea of having a simple grading system is sensible. However, the public is used to the logical diamond and star system. Diamonds easily differentiate small hotels, B&Bs and guest houses from the typically full-service star-rated hotels.

VisitBritain presented its new grading system after conducting a statistically minimal public survey. Repeated requests for a copy of the questionnaire were ignored. It is as though the answers were agreed and the questions formulated to secure the "right answers". Many committees were involved. Never a good idea. The Dome comes to mind.

There was insufficient thought regarding the small hotel/B&B sector. Why should a small hotel without a licence not be called a hotel? There are other anomalies. For example, rather than use the universally accepted term "motel", a new category of "budget hotel" has been introduced. Although under the proposed changes the word "hotel" is to be banned from businesses without a drinks licence, a "budget hotel" without a drinks license seems to have escaped such a ban. Temperance hotels were also under threat, but I believe this has been resolved, which means common sense has prevailed.

Potentially, the most serious impact will be felt by small hotels, B&Bs and guest houses, many of which have been trading as B&Bs, but have "hotel" in their trade name, brochures and websites. Under the new system, such small businesses will have to drop the word "hotel" from their texts. As millions of "hits" a year are based on the word "hotel", this will have a devastating effect. Further, a B&B calling itself a "hotel" will be graded as such and probably drop from four or five diamonds to two new stars. If graded as B&B with no licence, it could retain the five diamonds, but would need to drop the word "hotel".

With regard to foreign visitors, stars will cause confusion. There will be four-star hotels and four-star B&Bs/guest houses with "guest accommodation" (a meaningless phrase) written underneath the VisitBritain stars as the differentiator. The star system is global, and typically applied to full-service hotels. Having four-star B&Bs, guest houses and hotels will result in misunderstandings.

The British Hospitality Association seems aloof and unconcerned by the controversy, even though a good number of associations have voiced serious reservations.

VisitBritain redefined the meaning of the word hotel, demanding that a drinks licence be necessary. With many small business dropping drinks licences because of the ludicrous, complex, expensive legislation introduced by the misguided Tessa Jowell and her army of jobsworths, the issue is even more pertinent.

There have been a number of meetings (some quite heated) as VisitBritian and their examining body Quality in Tourism sought to justify the new grading system. The above concerns would seem to have been taken on board, especially regarding the use of "hotel" in websites and documentation.

Everyone wants to see standards raised, but the new system will drive many small businesses away from the scheme, and to the detriment of the public, such businesses will not be graded at all.

We remain cautiously hopeful that good sense will prevail.

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