Hotel star ratings, reviews and beyond

Do you believe in stars? Hotel star ratings that is, of course. Or are you completely focused on online reviews by customers? Research indicates that combining the two might be the key.

Text: Laura Myers // FOTOS: iStock, shutterstock

Rating hotels with stars has been around since 14th century and started in Florence. Their purpose of informing guests about basic standards and amenities the hotels provide has not changed too much. In the early 1900s, automobile clubs in the United States and Great Britain began inspecting, and creating an appraisal system for hotels. Many other countries followed. Even though the Hotelstars Union came up with a classification system for European countries, the biggest weakness of the stars is that there is no universal rating system. Worldwide, different organizations determine measurement criteria and assignment of quality level. This weakens the stars’ credibility. It is difficult for customers to know whether these ratings are official and how they can be compared. A five-star property in Germany does not equal a five-star in Egypt. Because customers understand this discrepancy, it is a benefit to complement hotel ratings with guest user reviews.

Value of Hotel Star Ratings

Traditional hotel rating systems are often based on “Mystery Guest” inspections that weigh the physical attributes, amenities and cleanliness of hotels. Julie Hall, PR manager with the American Automobile Association (AAA), states, “The AAA Diamonds convey what properties offer, based on professional inspections. AAA recommends always starting with the Diamonds to ensure potential options have been verified as clean, comfortable establishments that offer the kind of experience needed.” This also applies to most other countries: Hotel star ratings provide customers with concise information about the property and allow them to quickly compare what is offered at the destination.

Value of Customer Reviews

The star rating has its shortcomings, though: it is limited and customers need more experiential information for their booking decisions. A five-star historic hotel in Europe might not necessarily be the most important feature for customers. “The lack of ratings on customer experience was remedied by the rise of customer reviews,” comments Meng Mei Maggie Chen, assistant professor at Ecole Hoteliere Lausanne (EHL), Switzerland. “Online platforms like Google Maps or TripAdvisor offer customers the opportunity to sort hotels by reviews. Good reviews reduce customers’ perception of risk, and can increase business volume.” AAA’s Julie Hall adds: “Consumer reviews convey how much travelers like a property, based on their personal experiences. To narrow down the choices, consumer reviews from trusted sources can provide added insight.” Customer feedback can separate your property from the competition. Therefore, online comments can play a major role in guests determining where to stay.

How hoteliers can benefit

There are no mincing words: Hoteliers must take advantage of the virtual communication with prior guests. They learn how customers experienced their offerings, what was perceived as positive and negative. This gives hoteliers a chance to address and change the experiences for future guests. Research in 2017 by Besim Agušaj with Croatia’s Rochester Institute of Technology indicates that electronic word-of-mouth strongly impacts a hotel’s average rating. When a property receives higher ratings, it results in more bookings than a property with low ratings. Obviously, this can lead to room rate increases.

A study by Chris Anderson, associate professor at Cornell School of Hotel Administration, on “Hotel Performance Impact of Socially Engaging with Consumers” finds hotels that are encouraging reviews benefit from an increase in their hotel rating. When management responds to the review it helps improve sales. It is also important to respond to negative feedback as this relates directly to the overall scores. In two words: Interaction pays!

EHL expert Chen agrees: “These platforms offer customers the opportunity to sort hotels by reviews. Hoteliers should encourage customers to leave reviews, and respond to reviews accordingly. Yes, there are fake reviews, but potential customers read reviews AND manager responses. Secondly, influencer endorsement will create brand awareness in potential customers’ minds.”

Combining the traditional hotel rating system for quick consumer hotel selection with the guest user reviews – and your hotel’s feedback to them – provides a full picture of your property to guests. In addition, this interaction assists hotels in improving their amenities and services to stand out from the competition. It is a win-win situation.

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