I am trying to decide between booking into a 3- or 4-star hotel that both seem identical in every way. From what I can tell, the only difference between them is the price. What do hotel star ratings really mean?"
- Rodney Rees, East Midlands
The star ratings system can be a tricky one. How often have you gone to a 4-star hotel expecting great things, but when you get there it's no different to any 2- or 3-star hotel? What about hotels that claim to have 7 stars? Perhaps you've stayed at a magnificent 2-star hotel or had a terrible experience at a particularly shoddy 4-star venue.
The star ratings system is internationally recognised as the yard stick for a hotel's overall quality. However, what one country may regard as a 3-star venue will be a 2-star in another, and vice versa. While there is no international standard that hotels across the world subscribe to, the stars all pertain to a hotel's level of service, facilities, rooms, location and price.
The following is a general guideline of what you can expect from hotels that are star rated:
1 Star: Basic room options, shared bathroom facilities in some cases and a vending machine near the lobby where meals are self-served.
2 Star: Basic room options, colour tv and an in-house bar/restaurant.
3 Star: Multiple room options, restaurant, gym facilities and conference room/ business facilities available.
4 Star: Multiple rooms/ suite options, restaurants and bars on site, business facilities, concierge services, swimming pool, gym and creche.
5 Star: Luxury accommodation with all of the above facilities and more.
It is common knowledge that more star means a better hotel, but there is no international standard for allocating them. Hotels are either self-assessed, in which case the owners can give themselves 7 stars if they feel they deserve them, or they are assessed by private companies, as is the case in the UK, or the government.
In parts of Europe where hotels are assessed by the government there are a number of requirements that each venue has to meet in order to obtain a particular rating. This includes structural requirements (e.g. elevators and wheelchair access) and a set of additional amenities (e.g. conference and wedding facilities) which put the hotel in a particular star bracket.
The problem with a rigid assessment schedule is that certain hotels cannot get the ratings they deserve/need because of structural problems. Hotels in the mountains, for example, may not be able to install elevators practically. While this is bad for business owners, it is sometimes very good for travellers - you can stay at a cheap 3-star hotel that offers 5-star services at a cheaper rate.
Location plays a larger role in the price and rating of a hotel - not just from country to country, but from city to city. A 4-star hotel in the centre of London might carry a higher star rating than a 2- or 3-star hotel in nearby Reading, but there is a good chance the rooms will be roughly the same size.
Side Note: The Hotelstars Union in Europe is currently an effort to harmonise the hotel star ratings.
In the UK the following organisations are responsible for assessing and rating hotels:
In 2007, these groups were formed to create a unified ratings system in the UK. Every hotel associated with any of the 4 organisations has been assessed and checked by professional inspectors.
With hotels, lodges and B & B's that have been assessed by reliable exterior bodies (like AA or Visit Britain), you can generally rely on what the stars tell you. Today, with information being so freely available, you will do well to check out some forums and review sites to find out a bit more information about the hotel.
While customer reviews may not always be up to date and accurate, they are a good source of general information (3 great reviews in a row tell you something). You can also use them to find out about some incredible offers - like those great 2-star venues that offer 4-star services. So be aware, use the stars for guidance, but keep an open mind to finding some hidden gems along the way for your next hotel.