Tick-box standards are stifling creativity

17 August 2006
Tick-box standards are stifling creativity

Having recently spent a whole day as part of a group of 20 hoteliers interacting with two senior hotel inspectors, I'm worried about the future of our already challenged small hotel and B&B sector.

The new Common Standards seem to have looked backwards by reinforcing a tick-box mentality to standards. They seem mainly interested in assessing quality inputs (as dictated by too many outmoded principles) and not measuring the standard of the experience our guests actually enjoy.

Many of the perceptions of quality within Common Standards are derived from the Victorian era of quality. But life has moved on. Today we have a disposable society driven by value and the quest to seek out new, inspiring and relevant experiences.

The cornerstone of a quality hotel experience has changed. For example, I would suggest that having a DVD player in the room was significantly more valuable then heavy-grade wallpaper, having a free newspaper more valuable than having some wool in a carpet, a fridge more valuable than Wedgwood china on the hospitality tray.

If everyone in this sector continues on the path of driving up the wrong elements of quality (and costs) in this way, then room rates will also rise, meaning we'll be even more uncompetitive not only compared with foreign holidays but budget hotel chains which offer no frills but good consistent standards at a competitive price.

The Common Standards suggestion that we should be giving our guests everything from DVD players to heavy wallpaper and more is a doctrine divorced from both the financial reality of running a B&B or small hotel and our guests' willingness to pay. The current system also fails to take account of different hotel rates achievable in, say, Torquay and Swindon. but expects the same standards in both.

The hotel industry doesn't offer value for money compared with other areas. I can buy two DVD players for under £50, less than the average B&B or small hotel charges for a double room.

If we want to grow our market we need to make it more affordable. Rather than piling on the costs as a blunt instrument to raise standards we should be considering how we can strip out costs while raising our guests' experiences. This is about knowing our market, creating memorable moments for our guests and ensuring we exceed their expectations in the areas that are important to them today.

In addition, there's no attempt to gauge the level of efficiency and user-friendliness of guests booking online. In many hotel sectors this is fast becoming the majority, another good example of the new Common Standards failing to get in step with our fast-changing industry.

The new system of so-called Common Standards refuses to reassess what guests really want today, adds costs rather than drives value - which we know is the biggest consumer motivation - and seeks to standardise by prescription rather then encourage diversity and originality. And we've let it happen.

What alternatives do we have? Opting out of grading (although we're told that the Government is keen to legalise the framework on which hotels are assessed)? Certainly we need to create a strong lobby for an imaginative and inspiring assessment system.

Or maybe there's a third way, one that will use the guest as the final arbiter of standards?

I fear this new system will make our industry sterile, stifling creativity and forcing hoteliers to play the tick-box game while neglecting the real world.

What do others think?

Jeff Riley Westbourne hotel, Torquay, Devon

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