Hotel Online  Special Report
Are Small Resorts Unfairly Treated by
the AAA and Mobil Rating Criteria

July 12, 2004 - Will your lodging operation benefit from a AAA or Mobil rating?  Is it worth your time, money, and effort to meet AAA and Mobil’s exacting criteria for a specific rating?

With more than 40 million members using AAA TourBooks and many thousands of Mobil Travel Guides purchased every year, there can be no doubt that approval by these prestigious organizations brings guests to your door.  This is more true for some type properties than for others; many roadside motels depend heavily on AAA for a majority of their overnight guests.  This is also true for many independent resorts in destination areas.
Some larger chain-affiliated properties are more interested in using their AAA or Mobil rating as a competitive edge in their marketing plan to both business and leisure travelers;  this is particularly true for conference centers.

Why are these ratings so important to 

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all segments of the lodging industry? Simple answer: AAA and Mobil represent the standard by which others are judged; their ratings are generally consistent. Because of this, they have credibility.  The traveling public trusts AAA and Mobil ratings, and the industry takes full advantage of this.

In our professional opinion AAA’s best decision in recent years was to establish and implement The Diamond Rating Guidelines.  This action by AAA has assured and greatly improved ratings consistency and credibility.   This was done during my tenure, and I still take great pride in the role I played in the developing the ratings standards.  That said, we do see a potential downside to detailed rating standards if they are too rigidly applied with no room for deviation. 

Is there a place for smaller, independent lodging properties that do not fit the traditional mold?  Are some properties so different, even to the point of being unique, that they are automatically  precluded from gaining more than a minimum rating?  Is there a way to bring these into the fold without totally ignoring established AAA and Mobil standards? 

Our experience shows that this problem is most prevalent among smaller, family-owned resorts, and is not confined to US properties.  We have also seen it with clients in the Caribbean and Mexico. 

There are many excellent small resorts that have built up an enviable record of guest loyalty over 2-3 generations.  We have seen cases where the grandchildren of former employees are today hosting the grandchildren of former guests.  This has created a warm and genuine sense of shared experience, and these properties enjoy a high percentage of repeat business.  The guest experience is truly memorable and deserving of appropriate recognition by the rating organizations.  The facilities, accommodations, and amenities are exactly what the guests want.  The atmosphere and services bring the guests back year after year.

Unfortunately, many of these charming gems are unable to meet basic AAA and Mobil criteria.  Common recurring problems are limited guestroom and bathroom size, lack of certain pieces of required furniture, and decor more in keeping with a bygone era than with 21st century expectations.  Sometimes this results in disapproval.  Other times the property owner is told the maximum rating would be a 2 Diamonds, when a 4 Diamond rating is amply justified by the overall guest experience.  Many owners opt for no rating rather than one they consider unfair and inconsistent with their image and reputation.  This is unfortunate because it denies the property deserved recognition and limits potential guests’ choice.

Is there a solution to this inequity?  A few years ago, AAA overcame a similar problem with B&B’s and country inns by creating a special classification with its own rating standards.  Perhaps it is time to consider a separate category for small family owned and operated resorts.  The basic ratings requirements would still be applicable, with some concessions allowed to give these special and truly deserving places a more level playing field.

We hope AAA will address this matter with the same fairness and insight it displayed with B&B’s and country inns.


Harry Nobles Hospitality Consulting
POC:  Harry Nobles
Toll Free (877) 220-4260
Phone:  757-564-3761
Fax:        757-564-0076


  • Former head of AAA Lodging/Dining Ratings Program. 
  • An independent consultant serving the hospitality industry. 
  • A Special Training Consultant to the Educational Institute, American Hotel/Motel Association
Also See: Designing For Optimum Global Ratings / Cheryl Griggs / June 2004
QualAsia Formed to Provide Authoritative Organization to Inspect and Evaluate Hotels Across Asia; Harry Nobles Appointed Chairman of New Asian Hotel Rating Service / May 2004
Validity of Online Hotel Ratings / Cheryl Griggs / April 2004
Resorts Ratings Redux / Harry Nobles & Cheryl Griggs / February 2004
Are Your Trainers Trained? / Harry Nobles & Cheryl Thompson Grigg /  January 2004 
The Language of Service / Cheryl Griggs / October 2003
Hotel Renovation Ideas vs AAA Ratings Criteria / Harry Nobles / October 2003
New Employee Orientation: Necessity or Luxury?  /  July 2003
Save the Best - Replace the Rest / July 2003
AAA and Mobil Ratings As a Sales Tool / May 2003
How Well Do You Know Your Competitor? / May 2003
Our Favorite Hotel?  / March 2003
The Current Value of AAA Hotel Ratings / Feb 2003
Stars and Diamonds; Some Similarities and Some Differences / January 2003
AAA's Delay: Good or Bad? / July 2002
Timing Is Everything, Or Is It? / July 2002 
Boutique Hotels: Have They Gone Too Far / May 2002
People Really Do Make the Difference / Jan 2002
What Is a Boutique Hotel? / Dec 2001
The Non-negotiable Traits of Leaders / Oct 2001 
How Important is Service? / Sept 2001
Front Desk Service Mistakes / Aug 2001
Food & Beverage Mistakes & How to Correct Them / July 2001
Bell Staff Mistakes & How to Correct Them / July 2001 
Attitude vs Aptitude / June 2001
Female Business Travelers' Expectations / June 2001
Is Outsourcing Your Training a Viable Alternative? / June 2001
Unique Identity + Consistent Service = Success / May 2001
AAA Standards vs  Guests' Expectations / May 2001
Are Your Guests Better Informed Than Your Staff? / April 2001
Are U.S. Hotels Rated Differently From Other North American Hotels? / April 2001
The Design Theme - AAA / Mobil Ratings Connection / March 2001
Attitude Can Make the Difference / January 2001
How Should Casino-Hotels be Rated? / Dec 2000
Does AAA Rate Resorts Fairly? / Nov 2000
Is Your Property Suffering From Design Deficiency? / Nov 2000 
The Future of AAA Ratings / September 2000
What Is Your Optimum AAA Rating / August 2000
If You Disagree With Your AAA Rating…../ June 2000
Are AAA Ratings Always Accurate and Objective / May 2000
Creating Atmosphere / Jan 2000
What is "Atmosphere"? / December 1999
Maintaining Your AAA Rating / Nov 1999
Earning a AAA Rating vs Maintaining a AAA Rating: Which Is More Difficult?  / Oct 1999
Can Outstanding Service Offset Hotel Physical Deficiencies in the Rating Systems? / Harry Nobles / June 1999 
Consistency: The Hallmark of a Fine Hotel / September 1999
Who Should Train Your Employees  / Aug 2000 
Mobil Travel Guide Announces 1998 Mobil Four-and Five-Star Award Winners / Jan 1998 
Key to Success: Training + Follow-Up / June 2000
The Legend of the Pineapple / Harry Nobles / Feb 1999 
To Harry Nobles Hospitality Consulting Index Page

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