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What do hotel star rankings mean? Here’s a breakdown


Ever notice that a single hotel may be rated three, 4 and even five stars?

That is the case with Singapore’s iconic Marina Bay Sands, which is rated five stars on Booking.com, 4 stars on Forbes Travel Guide and three stars on Frommer’s.

It is because star rankings are “not regulated in a consistent way across the industry,” said Yngvar Stray, the final manager of Capella Singapore.

Booking.com said its stars are designated by the hotels themselves. Forbes Travel Guide, nevertheless, uses skilled, anonymous inspectors who access “900 objective stands,” in line with its website. And so as to add to the confusion, Frommer’s website states its star rankings only go from one (“beneficial”) to 3 stars (“exceptional”).

The sheer variety of corporations that award stars is not helping.

Many years ago, few corporations handed out stars — or diamonds, because the American Automobile Association calls its rankings. But now, countless magazines, guidebooks and web sites issue them.

And in places like Australia, India and Dubai, hotels are rated by governments and tourism boards. 

Can the celebrities be aligned?

Some organizations are actually trying.

The non-profit organization Hotelstars Union uses common criteria to unify star rankings across Europe. Up to now, 20 countries have signed on, and greater than 22,000 hotels have been classified.

But Europe’s hottest countries to go to — France, Spain and Italy — are usually not among the many member countries. Each has its own rating systems, that are run by national or regional governments.

Yngvar Stray, the final manager of Capella Singapore.

Source: Capella Singapore

In the UK, the AA motoring association and the tourism board Visit England award stars using the identical criteria. Additionally they display their rankings on one website (RatedTrips.com)

A project called “World Hotel Rating” was meant to standardize hotel rankings world wide. But that was greater than a decade ago, and nothing has materialized yet. 

World Hotel Rating didn’t reply to CNBC requests for comment.

Do hotel stars still matter?

They do, in line with Tim Hentschel, CEO of the travel technology company HotelPlanner.

“We actually find star rankings are quite useful to our customers,” he said. “Once you go in to select your [hotel] dates … typically the primary filter set is the star rating.”

Suites at The Langham London include access to The Langham Club, which grants perks like private check-ins, pressing services and all-day food and drinks.

Source: The Langham London

Star rankings are also helpful to set traveler expectations regarding a hotel’s quality and price, said Hentschel.  

“Someone has to define what these expectations are,” he said. “Then the shoppers’ role on this all is then to make use of their voice and reviews to say [whether hotels] are meeting these expectations.”

In a global survey of greater than 23,000 Tripadvisor users, 86% said online reviews made them feel more confident to book. Users read a mean of nine reviews before making a call, saying recent reviews matter to them essentially the most.

Though it has been argued that online reviews have replaced star rankings within the age of the web, Hentschel said they complement one another.

“Reviews are the pot of gold behind the star rating, and each online travel agency publishes each,” he said.

Stray added that savvy travelers also turn to readers’ alternative awards, like those published by Conde Nast Traveler or Travel + Leisure.

“There are other ways today people determine what makes an excellent hotel,” he said. 

What do star rankings mean?

CNBC Travel reviewed quite a few star rankings and located many have criteria just like this:

And what about Dubai’s Burj Al Arab — and other hotels which were dubbed “six-star” and even “seven-star” hotels?

It’s absurd, said Hentschel.

“To maneuver up a complete star,” he said, “you’d need to put a property on the moon, you’d need to put a property underwater, something that has never really been done before.”

The right way to discover a “true” five-star hotel

Hentschel said five-star hotels are “rare” and “unique in every way,” with amenities comparable to luxury bedding, over-sized marble bathrooms constructed with granite and marble, and original artwork.  

Most have “butler service, valet parking, gourmet restaurants, lavish spas, full service health clubs and private trainers,” he said. “Heated pools, plus golf courses or tennis centers could also be on [the] property.”

Media, not the hotels themselves, often label hotels like Burj Al Arab as “six-star” or “seven-star” hotels.

Waitforlight | Moment | Getty Images

Capella Singapore’s Stray said a five-star hotel is defined by three distinct characteristics.

“If you would like to be a real, high-end luxury five-star hotel, your physical product must be immaculate,” he said. “It can’t be a cookie cutter hotel.”

But that is not all. “You do not win by that,” said Stray. “But if you happen to haven’t got it, you are not in play.”

Secondly, a real five-star hotel must employ individuals who understand that “all the pieces revolves across the guest,” he said.  

“It’s challenging to work in a luxury hotel. It’s much easier to work in a more streamlined hotel because we demand so way more,” said Stray. “It’s concerning the old concierge’s sort of code, which is ‘The reply is yes’ … so long as it’s legal and morally correct.”

Capella Singapore is one in all only three hotels in Singapore to be awarded five stars by the Forbes Travel Guide.

Source: Capella Singapore

Lastly, a five-star hotel must reach guests on an emotional level, he said.

“There’s multiple points that we drive in an effort to allow for guests to have that extra feeling that claims ‘Wow, that was special,'” said Stray. “The emotional connection is what people will remember.” 

Soon, there could also be a fourth requirement.

Five-star hotels in Dubai will need to have a written sustainability policy that addresses energy efficiency, water conservation and a preference for local, fair-trade and environmentally friendly goods.

“That is definitely not something of the long run … it’s already in motion,” said Stray. “And it isn’t necessarily because a third-party provider or rater says it, it’s because our guests require it, our society requires it.”

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