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Global hotel ratings: Is a universal system needed?

Tourists are realising that the overall experience with an establishment counts.

Brand equity and integrity has long been an issue in the tourism industry, particularly with the misconceptions tourists worldwide have about hotels.

Often hotels across the world are thought to have the same standard of quality and integrity depending on the rating awarded them – i.e. a four-star hotel comes with the expectation of certain criteria being met and certain services being offered.

Very often expectations of international travellers with regards to the standard of hotels aren’t met due to their mistaken belief that rating systems are universal.

While many in the hotel industry keep to certain standards and norms in order to be at the fore and be considered a ‘luxurious’ establishment, the lack of a universal rating system means that some hotels which are considered five star in certain countries, will be nowhere close to that rating in another country. One has to question why this is.

According to Zoe Chan, of Hotels.com: “Each country has its own and in some cases, more than one [rating system], which leads to a possible disparity of standards and facilities in different countries.”

“You can’t really compare a three-star hotel in the US to a three-star hotel in Europe. In some countries, official star ratings can be a reliable guide to a hotel’s amenities, but most ratings systems are poorly or completely unregulated, rending them almost completely worthless,” adds Chris Elliot, author of ‘How to be the World’s Smartest Traveler’.

While that may have been true in the past, criteria have become more aligned in order to establish some general standards which hotels should follow – even though it’s country-specific.

In South Africa, the rating system was based on a judgement call by the assessor assigned to a particular establishment. However, this has changed to a new system which requires a set amount of questions to be met before a final rating is awarded (assessor personal judgement no longer counts). Now, the final grading of an establishment within SA is made by the awards committee TGCSA (Tourism Grading Council of South Africa) based on the questionnaire answered by each establishment.

According to the TGCSA, the reason for the change is so that local hotels can stick to a set criteria which will “help us South Africans maintain our international competitiveness as a tourist destination. Much time and energy has gone into setting grading standards that best suit the tourism industry. The tangible rewards of our efforts made, show that we too can be world leaders when it comes to quality assurance.”

So, tourists worldwide need to understand that even though a five-star rating in SA may be different to that of a similar rating to a hotel in the US, it doesn’t mean that the hotel is sub-standard – just that it follows a set of different criteria. Keep in mind that a hotel group also follows its own set of strategies, ensuring that it keeps to the rating system, while aiming to offer a unique and authentic experience for its guests.

“We are always looking forward and analyse the forward book literally on a weekly basis,” says Newmark Hotels founder and MD Neil Markovitz when asked what strategies his specific group of hotels has in place to ensure that it maintains its high rating and high-volume of guests. “From this, we are able to identify potential valleys. We then introduce a specific strategy to plug those holes.

“There is a definite upsurge from the North American and Asian markets. I do believe that we are starting to see a significant breakthrough in those markets due to continued sales and marketing initiatives specifically targeted to those areas. I also think the rand weakness has been positive in terms of tourism spend.”

What tourists are starting to realise is that while a rating in South Africa may differ to the rest of the world, it is the overall experience which the establishment offers which is a major draw card in factoring a high return rate per traveller.

“Being made to feel valued is a key aspect,” says Angelo Girodo, client services manager at IFA Hotel Investment Operations, Dubai. “The integrity of a hotel adds to the experience of the guest – so it’s pivotal that your staff maintain a professional front in all interactions while on the establishment. Active management and supervision among your staff – along with ensuring their personal development – will ensure that your integrity remains high.”

With that all said, a unified global rating system has been put forward by the World Hotel Rating Project, which aims to “create a universal language of the hospitality industry and direct interface between travellers, hotels and tourism professionals”. This project, however, still has to get off the ground.

Will a universal rating system be established? Only time will tell.

The 8th Annual Hotel Investment Conference Africa is taking place from the 14-16 September 2014 at the Maslow Hotel in Sandton, Johannesburg, South Africa. Click here for details.

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