There is a virtual jungle of rating systems in the world and it is often difficult or impossible for a traveller to know what ratings mean. For example, the status of the rating organization may be unclear, the ratings vague or non-descriptive, etc.
The original star ratings were introduced by the Michelin Guides for restaurants in 1933. There were only three levels, defined in terms of how a driver might reach them since Michelin is a tire company:
- one star: worth a visit; good enough that you should eat there if you are in the area
- two star: worth a detour; you should consider going out of your way to eat there
- three star: worth making a special trip just to eat there. As of 2009 there were only 81 Michelin-rated three star restaurants in the world.
Later, the ratings were applied to hotels and attractions as well as restaurants, and other guides started using more than 3 star levels.
Marketers are prone to dilute these terms. The Mobil Travel Guide (now the Forbes Guide) awarded five stars in 2006 to 32 hotels in all of North America (US, Canada & Mexico); more recent editions award "five stars" to just a handful of US hotels (10 in CA, 7 in NY, 2 each in HI and IL, 1 each in TX and DC, many states zero). That does not prevent dozens of hotels from claiming to be "five star". Most meet Mobil's definition of three star "Well-appointed establishment, with full services and amenities" or four star "Outstanding-worth a special trip".
As the systems were designed for hotels and restaurants, very little is done to rate travel organizations such as agencies, tour operators and transportation services. Bed and breakfasts are rated, but hotel rating systems adapt poorly to this task as the quality of a B&B stay depends as much on the hosts and the cuisine as on a checklist of hotel-like amenities. The only system for rating travel organizations is currently based on tourist-supplied reviews, which can often be biased or subjected to manipulation.
TripCook’s Travel Specialist Ratings use three main categories to assess a travel company: online indicators, offline indicators and third party (customer) reviews. Offline indicators include corporate information, valid contact details, and membership in national or international travel associations, insurance coverage, years of experience and others. Third party opinions include any reviews and comments from independent sources that can be found online or in offline printed materials.
A travel rating system that is impartial, contains no marketing affiliations and uses well-constructed algorithms paired with customer reviews could certainly make the travel industry more efficient, caring and responsible.
Establishments in South Africa may choose to have themselves graded by the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa on a 5 star scale. Many establishments make use of this service and you will see the star grading displayed on most advertising material.
- 1 star - Clean, comfortable and functional.
- 2 star - Good: Quality furnishings, service and guest care.
- 3 star - Very good: Better furnishings, service and guest care.
- 4 star - Superior: Excellent comfort and very high standard furnishings, service and guest care.
- 5 star - Exceptional: Top of the line quality and luxurious accommodation to match the best international standards. Flawless service and guest care.
Canada Select, an industry-based organization, is the largest Canadian rating agency. During periodic inspections, properties are evaluated for physical quality, content of facilities, services and amenities provided, only taking service into account at the higher star levels. Each category and star level has distinct criteria which must be achieved; where the quality of facilities is superior a property may be awarded a half-star above its criteria rating. This system was originally devised to rate hotels.
- 1 star - A property is clean, well-maintained and comfortable, providing the necessary facilities for an enjoyable stay. It must meet or exceed nationally accepted criteria for facilities, services, amenities and quality of the accommodation including standards such as room size, window screens and coverings, clothes storage, linens, door lock, smoke detector, and parking facilities.
- 2 stars - Popularly considered "mid-range" accommodation, exceeds the one-star level in quality of mattress, bed linen, floors/window/wall coverings, and in provision of bedside and seating area lighting, additional room furniture, and parking space.
- 3 stars - These properties will offer larger units with additional room furniture, coordinated furnishings, better quality mattresses and linens, and will be equipped with clock/alarm, extra amenities in washrooms, etc. Private baths for all B&B rooms is a requirement for a 3 star and higher rating. Three star properties offer above average facilities and services.
- 4 stars - This rating indicates exceptional quality in all areas of facilities and services offering superior quality throughout the property in areas of guestrooms, bath and common areas. The property typically provides laundry/valet service as well as many additional amenities.
- 5 stars - A 5 star property is luxurious at a world standard, offering outstanding facilities, guest service and amenities.
Canada Select also rates cottage cabins, bed and breakfast and camping facilities, using different criteria for each.
A rival group, Canadian Star Quality Accommodation, operates its own star system and inspection process. The programme is voluntary, but these ratings appear to be in use in tourism guidebooks published by three of the Western provinces.
In Canada, as in the US, automobile associations (CAA/AAA) have long published their own guidebooks for members with a rating scheme based on diamonds instead of stars.
The best known standardized rating system is the AAA (American Auto Association) Diamond Rankings. It is quite reliable and meaningful in describing the level of service, i.e., what amenities to expect at a hotel. The vast majority of motels and hotels in the U.S. are rated two or three diamond, while four diamond properties are upscale/fancy—often the best hotel in a city. Five diamond properties are super-lux and usually found only in the most major cities.
AAA also provides ratings for restaurants, but these are less referred to.
Star ratings for hotels in the US are not in any way standardized or regulated, and are generally best ignored. In certain cities, some people may find local star ratings for restaurants, such as those by the New York Times for New York restaurants, to be of some use.
The three biggest organizations for rating are VisitBritain, Automobile Association (AA) and Royal Automobile Club (RAC). They cooperate when it comes to rating which makes it easier for the traveller.
Their hotel ratings are:
- One star: Practical and acceptable accommodation. A limited range of services and facilities. High standard of cleanliness. 75 % of all bedrooms have their bathrooms and toilets en-suite or private. The staff is friendly and helpful and help you with what you might need for your stay. Breakfast restaurant open to you and your guests. Alcohol may be served in a separate bar or lounge but the selection is limited.
- Two stars: Personal service and extra facilities. The bedrooms are generally more comfortable with colour television and en-suite bathrooms. The hotel has a restaurant open for breakfast seven days a week and for dinner at least five days a week. The food is of a slightly higher standard.
- Three stars: Very good accommodation with spacious public areas. The bedrooms are comfortable and offer a higher range of facilities and services. The hotel is more formal with a reception. Light lunch, snacks and a wide selection of drinks are served in a high-quality bar or lounge. The hotel offers room service (continental breakfast only). There is also a laundry service.
- Four stars: Excellent comfort and quality accommodation. All bedrooms have en-suite bathrooms, an overhead shower and WC. The public areas are very spacious and the establishment has a strong focus on food and drink. The staff is experienced and the service is very good. The room service serves all meals 24/7, including drinks and snacks.
- Five stars: Luxury accommodation, spacious and exceptional quality. The facilities and services are extensive and the cuisine is of the highest international quality. The staff is highly professional and attentive. The comfort is superb and the hotel has a sophisticated atmosphere.
The diamond symbol is used by the RAC.
- One diamond: An acceptable overall level of quality. As minimum, a cooked or continental breakfast is offered. If other meals are on offer, they will be freshly prepared.
- Two diamonds: The level of overall quality and comfort is higher and the establishment has a higher emphasis on guest care.
- Three diamonds: The overall quality is very good. The bedrooms are comfortable and well maintained. There is a good choice of quality items for breakfast, all-round comfort and guest care.
- Four diamonds: The overall quality is excellent, which also shows when it comes to customer care and attention to detail.
- Five diamonds: The overall level of quality is truly exceptional, for example high-quality interior design and furniture. The customer care meets your every need.
- One star: The overall level of quality is acceptable. There is an adequate provision of your needs regarding furniture, furnishings and fittings.
- Two stars: All units are self-contained and the quality level is good.
- Three stars: The standard of maintenance and decoration is very good, and so is the overall level of quality. There is ample space and quality furniture. All beds are double with access from both sides. Microwave oven.
- Four stars: The level of quality is excellent, and there is no access to washing machine and a dryer, the establishment provides a 24/7 laundry service.
- Five stars: The overall level of quality is exceptional and so is the interior, fittings and fixtures, often with a personal touch. The management is highly efficient and customer care is paramount. There is an excellent range of accessories.
Restaurant with rooms
This category includes restaurants, bistros and brasseries. Establishments included will:
- most often have no more than 12 bedrooms. The establishment is clean and well maintained and reflects the standard of a two star hotel (see above).
- have a restaurant which is a local or national destination for eating out, and which is the principal focus for the establishment. The restaurant is available for non residents for main meals an all days open.
- put their emphasis on food quality rather than a wide menu. The food is prepared with high skill and a significant use of fresh local and seasonal produce.
Many well known hotel companies have their own consistent style of service and quality to such an extent that the chain name is a guarantee for high quality.
VisitBritain Silver & Gold Award
The VisitBritain Silver & Gold Awards are awarded to establishments with the highest levels of quality within their rating. The overall rating is based on a combination of the range of facilities, the level of the offered services and the general quality, the gold and silver awards focuses solely on the quality aspect.
Qualmark is the official rating system and uses a 1-5 star system.
|* or *+||Acceptable. Meets customers' minimum requirements. Basic, clean, and comfortable accommodation.|
|** or **+||Good. Exceeds customers' minimum requirements with some additional facilities and services.|
|*** or ***+||Very good. Provides a range of facilities and services and achieves good to very good quality standards.|
|**** or ****+||Excellent. Consistently achieves high quality levels with a wide range of facilities and services.|
|***** or *****+||Exceptional. Among the best available in New Zealand.|