Weighing Your Options: Rating Systems Can Help Planners Find the Real Gems Among Hotel Properties

December 1, 2008

By Julia M. Johnson



In recent years, the Internet has spawned a limitless ability to communicate with people across the globe, turning every traveler and guest into a potential hotel rater.

There are countless online message boards and hotel review sites where you can post any comment you like about a particular lodging experience, good or bad, objective or otherwise. This kind of commentary can be valuable when it uncovers important trends or exposes problems within a property – but it should also be taken with the proverbial grain of salt.

With that in mind, formal hotel rating systems take on a bit more relevance today than they did before travelers could turn to the Web for information. They’re still a good barometer to help travelers – and meeting planners – glean an objective view of out-of-town properties’ offerings, luxury and style when they can’t visit the hotels firsthand.

CCRA International Inc., a Web portal provider serving travel agents, lists some of the main hotel rating systems in use today:

Mobil Travel Guide’s Mobil Star Rating

Mobil Travel Guide takes into account the individual nature of many different types of lodging such as bed and breakfast inns, limited-service hotels, guest ranches and other unique hotel properties.

• One-Star: Limited service hotel/motel that is considered a clean, comfortable and reliable establishment.

• Two-Star: Hotel/resort that is considered a clean, comfortable and reliable establishment but also has expanded amenities such as a full-service restaurant on the property.

• Three-Star: Hotel/resort that is well-appointed, with a full-service restaurant and expanded amenities such as, but not limited to, a fitness center, golf course, tennis courts, 24-hour room service and optional turndown service.

• Four-Star: Hotel/resort/inn that provides a luxury experience with expanded amenities in a distinctive environment. Services may include, but are not limited to, automatic turndown service, 24-hour room service and valet parking.

• Five-Star: Establishment provides consistently superlative service in an exceptionally distinctive luxury environment with expanded services. Attention to detail is evident throughout the hotel/resort/inn from the bed linens to staff uniforms.

AAA Diamond Rating for Hotels/Motels

AAA Diamond ratings represent the overall quality, range of facilities and level of services offered by hotel properties. These descriptive ratings are assigned exclusively to AAA Approved lodgings, or those that meet and uphold AAA’s rigorous quality standards.

• One Diamond: Properties appeal to the budget-minded traveler. They provide essential, no-frills accommodations. They meet the basic requirements pertaining to comfort, cleanliness and hospitality.

• Two Diamond: Properties appeal to the traveler seeking more than basic accommodations. They provide modest enhancements to the overall physical attributes, design elements and amenities of the facility, typically at a moderate price.

• Three Diamond: Properties appeal to the traveler with comprehensive needs. Properties are multifaceted with a distinguished style, including marked upgrades in the quality of physical attributes, amenities and level of comfort provided.

• Four Diamond: Properties are upscale in all areas. Accommodations are progressively more refined and stylish. The physical attributes reflect an obviously enhanced level of quality throughout. The fundamental hallmarks at this level include an extensive array of amenities combined with a high degree of hospitality, service and attention to detail.

• Five Diamond: Properties reflect the characteristics of the ultimate in luxury and sophistication. Accommodations are first class. The physical attributes are extraordinary in every manner. The fundamental hallmarks at this level are providing meticulous service, exceeding guest expectations and maintaining impeccable standards of excellence. Many personalized services and amenities provide an unmatched level of comfort.

Global Distribution Systems (GDS) Hotel Ratings

• Tourist Class: Basic and functional accommodation, suitable for clients or groups on a budget; limited public areas, food service and facilities.

• Standard Class: Dependable and comfortable hotel, suitable for the average business or pleasure traveler; limited public areas, food service and facilities; moderate room sizes; breakfast in small, informal restaurant.

• First Class: Exceptionally comfortable hotel, suitable for demanding business clients; superior standard of service, facilities and public areas; generous room sizes; modern hotel, or outstandingly well-maintained older hotel; may have a superior executive floor.

• Luxury Class: Prestigious hotel with a well-known name; highest standards of service, accommodation and facilities; among the world’s best hotels.

Other organizations offer online hotel rating guides as well, including Yahoo! Travel, TripAdvisor, Hotwire.com, Priceline.com, Hotels.com and the “big three” online travel booking sites – Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity. These Web sites usually combine information from various sources to come up with their ratings, including AAA reviews and customer feedback, according to Ed Perkins, a columnist for SmarterTravel.com.

There’s no single official U.S. rating system, so when you surf the Web for any type of hotel information, you should take what you see at face value. Still, travel experts say these major sites tend to be reliable and consistent sources of hotel rating information.

For a comprehensive ratings source that covers the globe, many planners and travelers also turn to Travel Weekly’s Hotel and Travel Index, http://hotelandtravelindex.travelweekly.com, which includes reviews of 80,000 hotels across the planet. Guidebook publishers such as Michelin, Frommer’s and Fodor’s tend to offer reliable hotel reviews as well. And for the planner or guest who prefers “first-person” ratings by the average traveler, sites like Hotel Shark (www.hotelshark.com) come in handy and allow you to serve as a reviewer yourself, according to Perkins.

The Short List

Anne Cooksey, proposal development manager for St. Louis-based Maritz Travel, says she uses both the Mobil Star and AAA Diamond ratings to formulate an advance comparison of hotel properties.

“In the beginning stages, I usually create a basic grid stating the property name, destination, airport transfer times, flight times from major U.S. cities like Los Angeles and New York, and hotel ratings,” she says. “This grid helps us narrow down properties that we will eventually research further. Once I start to produce a more detailed description of a property, I also include other accolades such as those from Conde Nast Traveler and Travel & Leisure, or local recognition that a property has received.”

Cooksey also uses sources such as the Andrew Harper guidebook, and reads features in Conde Nast Traveler and Travel & Leisure to gather data about hotels and destinations.

Hotel ratings are most helpful at the outset of the event planning process when she is developing lists of lodging options to present to her clients, Cooksey says. “The rating systems aren’t as significant once we are selecting a final venue. But depending on the program, it’s not uncommon that a property without at least a four-diamond or five-star rating won’t even be included on the list of considerations we share with our client,” she says.

The Bottom Line

Ratings are often most valuable to groups at the polar ends of the budget spectrum – those with tight pursestrings and those for whom money is no object, says Greg Hill, president and owner of Columbia, Mo.-based EntPro Entertainment, a meeting and event service provider. Hill spent a number of years in the hotel industry, working at properties of all kinds. He says star and diamond hotel ratings can help the budget-conscious planner find the lowest-cost hotels in the tightest of times; they also can help the luxury-minded event group weed out those same properties.

Hotel ratings can be valuable, but they shouldn’t take the place of thorough site inspections and familiarization (FAM) trips, Cooksey advises. She has experienced site trips where her company actually switched the destination or hotel after touring a property and deciding it wasn’t right for the client. “Site inspections also offer the opportunity to enhance or add components to a program that may not have been initially included,” Cooksey says. “For example, we may be holding a run of ocean-facing rooms at a property, but after inspecting all the rooms, we decide to upgrade the entire block to ocean-view suites. Or we may ask a hotel to guarantee all our rooms in a certain section of the hotel.”

FAM trips are useful as well because they allow planners to see a broad overview of a city and its hotel offerings in an objective light, without the client present, Cooksey says. “This is useful because the planner is able to see the wide range of lodging options for all kinds of groups, then present each client with only the pertinent points of interest.”

In the final analysis, a hotel’s service delivery shapes the guest experience just as much as a brand name or rating, according to Hill. “It all starts with the front desk clerk,” he says. “If the staff is eager to treat you right, it always makes the experience better, no matter the rating. Any good hotel will tell you that.”  MM&E

(Julia M. Johnson is the Assistant Editor from St. Louis, Mo.)


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