While many travel policies call for 3* accommodation as a minimum requirement, the star system may not be a useful benchmark for corporate decision-making warns Sian Sayward, Inntel’s Supplier Partnership Manager.

The hotel star system is a grey area as there is no international standard to refer to so stars are awarded by different bodies using different criteria.

In the UK, for example, stars are awarded by both the AA and the national tourist boards, and while the different schemes have been ‘harmonised’ to improve consistency they tend to focus on quantifiable factors such as the availability of lifts and leisure facilities and the restaurant opening times. This works in favour of larger and newer hotels, but to the disadvantage of smaller or rural hotels that may offer outstanding service and creature comforts but lack one or more of the items required for more than 3 stars – such as a designated eating area for lunch. Hotels pay for the right to market themselves on their star rating and if a hotel is ever downgraded the news can pass unnoticed. (Compare this to the Michelin scheme, which publishes an updated list of restaurants that have won or lost stars each year). Some large chains don’t even bother with external bodies and assign their own hotels stars based on internally agreed criteria, which just increases the inconsistency in the marketplace.

Looking further afield, the star system is similarly inconsistent. In Dubai the hotels are now ranked up to a maximum 7 stars in a quest to differentiate the even bigger and better offerings. In France, the hotels are awarded their stars by Government departments but reassessed every five years rather than annually. In the USA there are several competing ranking systems include the Forbes Travel stars scheme and the American Automobile Association diamonds.

All this shows that “3* accommodation” will mean different things in different places. The cost of the accommodation will not be a reliable guide, either, as room prices will have more to do with the hotel’s location and the local market competition than its star rating.

So what’s my advice?

Generally speaking the star system may be useful for leisure travellers wanting a fast way to search for holiday hotels, but for business travellers it is a rather outdated yardstick. In all cases, you would find more reliable and up-to-date information on a hotel’s facilities and service standards by reading the most recent posts on TripAdvisor and other online review sites.

For corporate customers, if your travel policy mentions the 3* standard you may want to consider whether this is still a relevant description of your requirements. Many of the items that are required for a 3* ranking are available at budget brand hotels, and potentially for less than you were prepared to pay. It would therefore be well worth spending some time itemising your actual minimum requirements (such as dinner available on site and a formal Lone Female Traveller policy, for example) to ensure you don’t end up booking a 3* hotel that offers less than you wanted.

Inntel’s Account Managers can help you to analyse your actual requirements and get better value from your accommodation budget.

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