The Problem with Hotel Star Ratings

Ritz Carlton Scotch

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete”
R. Buckminster Fuller

Currently, there is no accepted international standard for rating hotels except that in most countries they are rated from 1 to 5 stars.  In most of Europe, the HOTREC/Hotelstars Union Hotel Stars are the prevailing standard.  In the US, there are two major rating systems (that I know of): AAA‘s Diamond Ratings and the Forbes Travel Guide.  It is worth noting that Forbes Travel Guide also rates an extensive list of hotels across the globe .  The online booking/review services also throw their hats in the ring here with Expedia, Orbitz,, Consumer Reports etc all having their own rating systems.

Ritz Kapalua
The Ritz Carlton Kapalua in Maui,HI – AAA 5 Diamond Hotel

The biggest problem I see with almost all of these ratings systems is that they are incredibly vague. For instance, AAA Diamond Ratings lists this as their criteria for a 5 star hotel:

“Ultimate luxury, sophistication and comfort with extraordinary physical attributes, meticulous personalized service, extensive amenities and impeccable standards of excellence.”

The Forbes 5 Star rating criteria is worse.

“Outstanding, often iconic properties with virtually flawless service and amazing facilities.”

Based on this particular description of its criteria for a 5 star hotel, you aren’t guaranteed even simple amenities like bath towels or hair dryers in your room.  In fact, it seems that except for flowery descriptions, you aren’t really guaranteed anything.  This is a big problem since travellers staying at new hotels will often expect similar services to ones they are accustomed to in their favourite, frequented 4/5 star hotels.

Of course, nowadays, most astute travellers will do their due diligence online and read reviews on websites like Tripadvisor before booking anything, so this won’t apply to them.  But there are many people out there who hold a certain level of expectation when they hear the term ‘4 star hotel’ or ‘5 star hotel’.  Often times, these expectations are vague and not easily definable even by the guests themselves.  It certainly doesn’t help when the ratings systems themselves exacerbate the problem.

Now, contrast the AAA/Forbes definition with the European Hotelstars Union criteria for a 5 star hotel:

  • 100 % of the rooms with shower/WC or bath tub/WC
  • Daily room cleaning
  • 100 % of the rooms with TV together with remote control
  • Table and chair
  • Soap or body wash at the wash basin
  • Bath towels
  • Reception service
  • Publicly available telephone for guests
  • Extended breakfast
  • Beverage offer in the hotel
  • Breakfast buffet
  • Reading light next to the bed
  • Internet access in the room or in the public area
  • Payment via card
  • Body wash or shower gel at the shower/bath tub
  • Linen shelves
  • Offer of sanitary products (e.g. toothbrush, toothpaste, shaving kit)
  • Lounge suite at the reception, luggage service on demand
  • Beverage offer in the room
  • Telephone in the room
  • hair-dryer, cleansing tissue
  • Dressing mirror, adequate place or rack to put the luggage/suitcase
  • Sewing kit, shoe polish utensils, laundry and ironing service
  • Additional pillow and additional blanket on demand
  • Systematic complaint management system
  • Lobby with seats and beverage service, hotelbar
  • Breakfast buffet or breakfast menu card via room service
  • Minibar or 16 hours beverages via room service
  • Upholstered chair/couch with side table
  • Bath robe and slippers on demand
  • Cosmetic products (e.g. shower cap, nail file, cotton swabs), vanity mirror, tray of a large scale in the bathroom, heating facility in the bathroom
  • Reception open 24 hours, multilingual staff
  • Valet parking service
  • Concierge, page boy
  • Spacious reception hall with several seats and beverage service
  • Personalized greeting for each guest with flowers or a present in the room
  • Minibar and food and beverage offer via room service during 24 hours
  • Personal care products in flacons
  • Internet-PC in the room on demand
  • Safe in the room
  • Ironing service (return within 1 h), shoe polish service
  • Turndown service in the evening
  • Mystery guesting

Now that is an exhaustive list!  One look at that list and I know exactly what to expect at each 5 star property rated by Hotelstars.  UK also uses a similar rating system.

I think it is quite obvious that a rating system that utilises an exhaustive list like Hotelstars is valuable and informative to the traveller.  And, while attempts at a global star rating system have failed before, I think a clear, concise, and detailed ‘Global Star Ratings System’ might prevent it from becoming irrelevant and obsolete.


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