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News - 3 November 2006

New Tourist Industry Rating System - is it causing confusion?

VisitBritain budgeted £200,000 in 2005 and 2006 to promote the new Star Rating System to tourists with the dual aim of “engaging more closely with the customer” by developing a greater understanding of rating standards, and to exceed customer expectations in terms of quality. Has the new rating system achieved its aims?

VisitBrighton’s website clearly explains the need for the National Quality Assurance Standards and advises that from 2006 all accommodation is gradually being rated nationally by Stars. With the new system there are nine main accommodation types and a rating of 1 to 5 stars for each category, except for Budget hotels. Guest Accommodation was previously rated under the old Diamond system, but this has now been phased out. To complicate matters further Guest Accommodations include Guest Houses, Inns, Farmhouses and Bed & Breakfasts and the ratings appear to be based on qualitative findings rather than on set criteria.

Some local research was carried out in October by the Brighton & Hove Hotels Association (BHHA) to provide feedback to VisitBrighton for a Tourism Officers Forum later this month, which revealed inconsistencies in the rating assessments and a reluctance to pay the fees required by the assessing bodies. It was also felt that the new system was likely to cause more, not less confusion, particularly with overseas visitors.

Mark Jones, Chair of BHHA said: “Some years ago the rating system was one of the few ways a hotel or B&B could differentiate from competition and give customers confidence in its quality and service. With the arrival of the internet, and review sites such as Trip Advisor, accommodation providers can now market their quality right into a customer's home, and reviews from real guests can be examined to enable those customers to make their choice.

This means that the rating system needs to adapt to make itself relevant, competitive, and to provide value for money.

I have had some feedback from members that the system is still too rigid for some of Brighton's boutique style and more 'off-beat' establishments. Some also feel that the latest tweaks to the system have done little to improve its clarity to customers, and with other marketing avenues available, star rating is becoming more 'voluntary' and less 'compulsory'. “

During a presentation by VisitBritain and Quality in Tourism at the BHHA AGM in May of this year the new system was promoted on the basis that it provided its members with a real marketing opportunity, and that the standards set need to be met to meet a changing demand.

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