Size of sleeping room, configuration of a bathroom, 24-hour room service, lighted closet, view, fitness center, in-room safe, doorman—these are among the many items factored into hotel ratings. Some countries have rating by a single public standard and others have laws defining the hotel rating. Whether you are working in a regulated industry such as pharmaceuticals, planning an incentive trip, or looking for a specifically rated property comparable to U.S. standards (AAA or Mobil), the international variation in rating systems presents a challenge.
There are standardization initiatives under way. In Europe, HOTREC (Hotels, Restaurants, & Cafes in Europe) represents 43 associations from 26 countries, and is developing the Hotelstars Union classification system. The system is based on 21 qualifications encompassing 270 elements, where some are mandatory for a star and others optional. For hotels with three to five stars, the Hotelstars Union will use “mystery guests” to check the quality regularly. Find the rating criteria at the Hotelstars Union Web site.
Meanwhile, there are hotels claiming six- and seven-star ratings. Dubai’s Burj Al Arab is frequently referred to as “seven star.” No current organizations recognize ratings above five-star deluxe. Such claims are usually for advertising or marketing purposes.
How to Navigate International Hotel Ratings
1. Do your homework.
Understand the criteria of the rating system used in the region you are considering for your meeting. Each of Spain’s 17 regions has its own criteria, for example. The only common thread is that they all use a one- to five-star system. But a four-star property in one region is likely to be different from a four-star hotel in another region. One’s rating could be based on guest rooms having flat-screen TVs and floor tiles that match the room décor, while another’s is based on service, quality of menus, and infrastructure.
2. Know what the travel Web sites say.
Web sites such as TripAdvisor, Expedia, and Travelocity have created their own hotel rating systems. Such sites can help in the selection process, but also set up a potential perception problem for programs subject to regulatory guidelines if you are working with a property officially rated four-star but shown as a five-star hotel at a consumer Web site. It is a good idea to see how your property rates at these Web sites, and if there is a discrepancy, ask the hotel to issue a letter stating its “official” rating.
3. Ask the locals.
Ask your destination management company, professional congress organizer, or convention and visitors bureau partners for their thoughts on local ratings. CVBs will also be able to tell you the rating criteria.
4. Work with your global sales office.
GSOs know exactly the product your program requires. They are trusted resources, as they want to earn your repeat business. Larger chains also often have rating grids of their properties available.
5. Watch for the WHR.
World Hotel Rating, in beta testing, is an organization trying to standardize international classification ratings. WHR’s goal is to be a global standard-setter, international star-rating agency, and information provider publishing collected data.
Agnès Canonica, CMP, CMM, has planned international meetings, specializing in Latin America and in life sciences meetings, since 1999. She is executive director, strategic markets, for EWI Worldwide.