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Warning To Government Over Hotel Star-Scrapping Proposal

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

A leading tourism expert is warning the government to think carefully before scrapping the UK's hotel star-rating system, following an announcement that a forthcoming policy paper will propose ending this form of quality classification.

Marcus Simmons, managing director of iknow-uk, the UK's leading independent online tourism and accommodation directory, is advising ministers to think carefully about the course of action they decide to take, and is warning that any replacement for the star-rating system should be properly monitored and measured.

He said:  "This is potentially huge news for the industry, and the way it is handled by the government could have a huge impact on the UK tourism sector, and the British business economy.

"There are definitely pros and cons to the hotel star-rating system, but the important thing for the government to consider is that any replacement form of classification must be transparent, fair and easily moderated.

"There are obviously some really big events coming up in the UK which are likely to attract hundreds of thousands of overseas visitors, such as the Olympics and the royal wedding, and the official star rating is the  internationally recognised way of assessing the quality of hotels or other forms of tourist accommodation.

"On the other side of the coin, however, is that the grading experience is often difficult for hoteliers with smaller properties.  It's a very expensive process for the small business owner to take part in, and their whole reputation hangs on one person's visit to their establishment.  We know of iknow-uk customers who have amazing five star hotel level properties, for example, but who have missed out on the top rating because of a technicality such as not having a manned reception for 24 hours a day which means they can't call it a hotel. The current system is all about bureaucratic box-ticking, and it would definitely be a positive for this to be reviewed.

"The internet itself also leads to problems when it comes to star-ratings.  It's often hard for hoteliers to keep track of where their property is listed online, and they can run into problems and potential fines if they are misrepresenting their business by not changing the star-rating on a website if their grading changes.  So for example, if they decide to opt-out of the star rating system but one of their listings on a website states they are three star when they've actually been downgraded to two stars, they could be in real trouble.

"There's also an issue for business owners who have more than one property.  One of our customers, for example, owns a B&B property, and also has two holiday cottages as part of his business.  Currently he has to pay for each property to be assessed separately under the star-rating scheme - something which should definitely be considered if the government wants small businesses in the sector to continue to grow and develop.

"If the system is overhauled, and consumer reviews are used as the primary way to grade properties, the government needs to be careful that there is proper moderation in place to ensure a fair and accurate system. 

"The review system, if handled properly, can be a really useful tool for holidaymakers, and sites like Tripadvisor have become essential reading for Brits planning a trip away and foreigners visiting the UK.  However, if not moderated, it's easy for these types of public forums to be misused.

"There's also an issue in that online reviews aren't accessible to everyone.  Older holidaymakers, or people without computers, rely on more traditional means to assess the quality of a hotel before heading off on holiday.  The government will need to think carefully about how they ensure that any new system is accessible to everyone.

"We will soon be launching a hotel review system which has taken two years to develop.  We've invested heavily to ensure it is properly moderated at all times, because we strongly believe that any shortcuts will leave the review area open to misuse - which will ultimately be detrimental to the UK tourism industry and misleading to consumers.

"A review of the current system will certainly be welcomed by the UK tourism industry, but there needs to be a full consultation to ensure the needs of all parties are met. 

"Before 2004 there were all sorts of systems in place to measure the quality of holiday accommodation, and it was decided that this should be simplified so that all UK properties would follow the same style star-rating. 

"A considerable amount of time, money and effort was spent putting together the current system, and agreeing targets that would ensure that all tourism properties were graded under this scheme.  It is, therefore, vital that any review is carefully thought out - after all, it's not the right economic climate for rolling out an expensive proposal which will take even more red tape to implement.

"iknow-uk will watch the progress on this proposal with interest.  A review is definitely in order, but what the government chooses to replace the current system with will be the real challenge."


For further information, please contact Claire Briscoe at Beattie Communications on 0161 216 4271 or email iknow-uk@beattiegroup.com