Star Ratings

star ratings02We have received many enquiries about Star Ratings, how they work and if they are worth obtaining.  This page is not intended to offer a definitive guide but to provide perspective to something that often raises more questions than the benefits it might provide.  Assessment of the quality of accommodation that guests can rely on will always be very important but new developments are leaning more towards self assessment and provision of the feedback from those who have stayed before.  Other factors are included below.

The approach of our sister web site is to have our own system which is not so rule bound but is based on a more general feel of value for money and quality. There is an element of aesthetic involved that many formal star ratings systems cannot accommodate.  ‘Taste’ is a hugely difficult area and the saying ‘There is no arguing about taste’ is one that is constantly on my mind when working for our sister business, Country Holiday Lets.

The way star rating systems are run and how they are integrated into the national or local laws of different countries varies.  In some countries there is a level of legal obligation to participate where, in others, it is entirely voluntary.  Different inspection regimes apply and owners face varying charges.  Guests may find some star ratings more reliable than others.  In some countries 3 star can mean one or 2 stars in others.  Before relying on a star rating, it can be well worth checking with others who have had recent experience of the quality of accommodation reflected by local national ratings.

Likewise, for owners, the value of star ratings will vary depending on their trade (eg self catering, bed and breakfast, hotels etc:), national characteristics, quality of accommodation, niche market (eg: self catering sleep 2, 4, 8 and 10), reputation of the awarding organisation and so on.

Taste, Quality and Carestar ratings03

Star ratings should reflect taste, quality and care.  These aspects are worth exploring as some of them can be a little contentious.

Personal taste has to be set aside and what the market prefers, what gets results, should be the sole criterion for any owner (or agent, for that matter), aiming to reach the highest income for a holiday let.  This is easier said than done.  When I visit potential holiday lets, particularly those that are converting from standard residential tenancies or use to holiday letting, despite repeating the need to be removed from personal preferences, a good proportion of owners get quite upset when it is suggested that the market will not take kindly to some of the decor or furnishings.

This is not all bad because it shows owners care;  when someone comes along and suggests what they think is a better formula, if they did not take this a bit personally, then perhaps they would not care so much.  It is one of the most difficult things an agent has to do and, understandably, many owners are not happy when they are given the news that their lets may not be quite suited to the service run by a booking agent.  Frequently, (about 50% of the time), they suggest that it might be an idea to run the let and ‘when the money comes in’ so it can be changed to suit.  Sadly, this approach does not cure the problem of a poor image amongst many better sorted lets reducing the feeling of quality of selection and, more significantly, it indicates a telling style of management and approach towards the market and potential guests.

Most star ratings systems do not take aesthetics much into account but, at least, they will take account of obviously hand-me-down and cast off furnishings.  Some time ago, I was asked by an owner of three 5 star rated cottages to visit.  The general quality was good and all the tick box ‘must have’ items were present, even down to a small inexpensive pair of binoculars to look at the wildlife.  But the interior was museum quality 1980s Laura Ashley.  It was sufficiently incredible to be an excellent potential location for an ‘Ambassadors Party’ retro chic ironic gathering. (From the Ferrero Roche TV Advertisement, those of a certain age will know what I mean)  The owner was not happy when we said we could not help.

Is the Star Rating System History?star ratings04

Star Ratings have changed in their effect and worth to owners over the years and the advent of the modern internet coupled with modern computing power and programs has tilted the balance away from their usefulness for self catering but much less so for bed and breakfast.  There are some interesting bits of information that have appeared recently such as that several large agencies now award their own Visit Britain Star Ratings on a franchise basis from Visit Britain.

A couple of decades ago when booking cottages, most people relied either on word of mouth, small advertisements with few or no pictures or brochures.  This arrangement provided vastly less information than that provided by present day technology.  For self catering we have moved from one picture, if you were lucky to, sometimes, thirty or more pictures featuring every room, the locality and all around the holiday let.  We have moved from what was often pot luck to ‘what you see is what you get’.   For guests choosing over the internt, price and quality transparency have radically changed for the better.

Another vast change is the arrival of feedback services such as Trip Advisor Revoo or Feefo.  Although far from universally liked, this organisation has done more for quality than any Star Rating System has in recent years.  Reacting to it, those self catering establishments not drawn in by Trip Advisor now post feedback independently.  Such feedbac, particularly the Trip Advisor sort, is vastly more immediate than an annual visit from a paid inspector.  It often provides a dynamic view of how an establishment works so that, at times, one not so good report, adds contrast, even improving the standing of other positive reports.  The days when all you had, if you were lucky, was word of mouth and an inspector’s annual impressions, alone, have long gone.

On-line booking agents have mushroomed over the last decade or so providing ample information, pictures and making the market radically more transparent.  The point of a Star Rating system is to enable guests to be well informed about the level of quality on offer.  If an on-line agent complete with dozens of photographs and their own criteria of quality is available, much of the uncertainty evaporates.

Where, in the old days, a star rating was a very useful, if not always perfect, guide to quality, today it is of peripheral importance except, perhaps, to make the initial search selection a little more easy.

On the other hand, for bed and breakfast where one night stays are common and lead times are often virtually nil with guests seeing a sign on the side of a road, Star Ratings remain very important and are often absolutely essential.  The gap in value and utility for bed and breakfast and self catering operations has radically widened over recent years.  In our opinion, Star Ratings for self catering are worth it for larger lets but can be of less value for smaller lets, but his depends on how the let is marketed.  On the other hand, they are usually ‘a must’ for bed and breakfast operations.  It does cost to have an inspector call and you may be required to make changes that might not, on the face of it, do much to increase income and could, in some cases, be costly.

star ratings05Requirements

Before returning to write about star ratings I thought to reveal some of the requirements.  However, a look at them on the Visit Britain and other websites was sufficient to make me realize that, short of paraphrasing the entire booklet, it is better that you visit and take a look yourself.  All systems have their odd elements so it’s worth taking a good look at the requirements but it is, equally, worth finding someone who can tell you what, if any, local variations and preferences apply.

Very few star rating systems note the quality of management as a factor.  Our sister business, Country Holiday Lets tends to work with owners who have the right attitude and positive will to manage well.  On these grounds otherwise apparently good holiday lets have not featured where some that need attention have featured and have benefited from improving to well above the average at speed before being features.  If the management is good it nearly always follows that the quality of a holiday let will be good given the chance.  If the management is no good, the holiday standard will fail however high the standard of the let otherwise appears.  There’s no substitute for good management.  It is this sort of distinction and observation that many of the tick box star rating inspection regimes cannot accommodate.

star rating01Oddities

In China there is a requirement for an establishment to be operating for a year before it becomes qualified to be given a star rating.   To fill the void, a quasi Star rating is often used that does not provide the guarantee implicit behind the formal rating system..  Travel China Guide  This tends to apply to hotels, but it is useful to be aware of this kind of quirk.

In some ways, the below criteria of star ratings say very little.  Stars 5-1 could be boiled down to:  ‘top stuff’; ‘really good’; ‘not bad’; ‘acceptable’ and ‘tolerable’.  The detail is missing and you need to delve deep into individual web sites to get some idea of this.  Some of the requirements are strange such as the need for a pair of binoculars, or that one double bed in an otherwise outstanding sleep ten five bed house can consign it to two star status.

As a rule of thumb this, sort observation applied to one aspect can give you some idea of the distinctions:

  • 5 star means en suites are a must
  • 4 star, en suites are desirable but not necessarily 100% throughout
  • 3 star: good quality showers and bathrooms
  • 2 star, a shower or bathroom
  • 1 star, shared bathrooms

Lists of some criteria for Star Ratings from some different countries.  This is only to provide an indication of variations and, certainly, the lists are far from ratings06

AAA Tourism Australia

5 star:  Outstanding establishments noted for luxury appointments with an exceptional standards of facilities, furniture and services for guests.

4 star: Stylish Decor and very well appointed throughout.  High standard facilities, furniture and services for guests

3 star:  Comfortable accommodation and well appointed plus a good selection of facilities and good furniture

2 star:  Basic accommodation. Reasonably maintained facilities and clean.

South Africa

5 star: Top quality, luxury accommodation on a level with the best

4 star: Much above average.  High spec furniture, very good comfort and high quality service / guest care

3 star: Sound furnishings along with sound guest care and service

New Zealand- Quality Marks

5 star: Exceptional.  Some of the best in the country

4 star: Excellent.  Consistently reaching high quality plus a generous choice of facilities and services

3 star: A choice of services and facilities reaching good to very good quality standards

2 star: Goes beyond guests’ minimum needs plus some extra services and facilities

Canadastar ratings07

5 star: Luxury on a world standard with top facilities, service and extras

4 star: Marked quality everywhere including services, facilities  in all areas of the accommodation.  Extras such as laundry, valeting and others.

3 star: On offer will be larger units, extra room furnishings, coordinated furniture, sound quality bed clothing and mattresses.  Items such as a clock, bathroom extras are significant.  A good range of more than average service and facility.


5 star:   Top quality overall.  Decoration, fittings, etc to be of a high level.  Management standards and guest service must be excellent.  A outstanding selection of extras.

4 star:   Very good quality overall.  The same for detail and care taken throughout which should be self evident.  Use of or provision of washing machines and driers or laundry service.

3 star:  Good to very good general quality.  The same for maintenance and decor.  Generous space and sound furniture.  All beds accessible on each side. Microwaves

star ratings08France

5 star:  Superior accommodation.  Large rooms of over 18m² inc kitchen but not inc bathrooms.  Staff who speak three other languages plus French.  Beds made up on arrival, linen provided and rooms cleaned at day end.

4 star:    Large rooms totalling over 18m² including kitchen not inc bathrooms.  Staff who speak two other languages (inc English).  Beds made up on arrival, linen provided and rooms cleaned at day end

3 star:  Minimum area for sleep two is 12 m² excluding kitchen and bathroom.  Two star is 15m² inc kitchen but excluding bathroom.  Staff must speak at least one foreign language and, of course, French.

Note that providing linen and towels is more the rule in some countries such as the UK than it is in others such as France.  This varies from region to region.