Hotel Online  Special Report


The New UK Hotel Grading
System Explained
Stars in Their Eyes
by Barry Napier, May 2006

Previously, each country within the UK had its own method for rating hotels, guesthouses, and B & B’s. From the New Year, 2006, this changed as standards were harmonised, to make choice of where to stay easier for customers.

It has always been hit-and-miss…go from England to Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, and descriptions (and reality) of facilities could change dramatically. What you thought from the description was a high-class hotel, turned out to be a tired and inefficient bed and breakfast! 

I came across sign-boards advertising ‘Family-run business with home-cooking’, to find the family were maniacs and the cooking worse than bad. Without something to compare to, customers were at the mercy of an owner’s imaginative (and sometimes devious) mind!

The new system of rating uses Stars for all accommodation types. Including hotels, motels, guesthouses, B&B’s, etc. The more Stars, the more luxurious it is. It doesn’t mean a one Star is worse than a Five Star. After all, you get what you pay for, and if you only want a basic bed for the night and limited facilities, then that’s fine. But if you want luxury and pampering, you’ll have to choose something with more Stars. 

There’s nothing wrong with a One-Star, if the place is clean and friendly…depends on what you want for your money. There are even Two-Star hotels with Four-Star quality! The rating system makes sure that every establishment offers quality, albeit at differing levels. Even a One-Star, then, will offer quality at a basic level.

There are now 5 ‘Hotel’ categories in England and Wales:

Hotel: Formal accommodation with full service.
Country House: Peace and quiet with large grounds or gardens.
Small Hotel: A personal touch but limited service.
Town House Hotel: High-quality in a city/town centre.
Metro Hotel: Full service, no dinner, but close to town centre restaurants.
(A ‘budget hotel’ is what used to be a ‘motel’)
And there are 5 ‘Guest’ Categories:

How can you tell the difference between an hotel and, say, a guesthouse? Underneath the star-symbols on the sign will be the words ‘guest accommodation’, if it is anything other than an hotel.

B&B: Rooms in a private house with up to six paying guests.
Guest House: Owner and staff give more services (e.g. dinner), with over six paying guests.
Farmhouse: As for the above, but on a working farm.
Inn: Rooms in a pub, where the bar is open to non-residents, and food can be obtained in the evening. Many pubs have full restaurants, but check.
Restaurant with Rooms: Restaurant with overnight rooms.
Guest Accommodation: Complies with minimum standards and is happy to be in this general category.
Establishments in all the above categories must meet minimum entry standards set by the governing body. Note that some tourism website links have not yet caught up with the new system and may show old systems.

What’s the problem? (also see British Hoteliers Voice Concerns Over the New Hotel Rating System; Diamonds Aren’t Forever! )

The Stars make it easier for customers, but they have given small-time operators a cosmic headache. For a start, they say that none of the 30 local hotel associations were consulted, and only 432 members of the public were questioned. This, say trade critics, will lead to loss of business for many smaller hoteliers. But why?

Well, the problems arise from the word ‘hotel’. Because of the way the new gradings are allocated, guesthouses and B & B’s will no longer be able to use the word ‘hotel’ in their advertising. They will be unable to call themselves ‘hotels’ and so will not be found in listings of hotels in official literature, or on the internet. 

As is usual in rule-making involving mutual amendments, these establishments have argued for, and won, the right to retain the title ‘hotel’ in their internet domain names – but cannot use it in the contents of their internet advertising!

Derek Ellershaw, company secretary of the Blackpool Hotel and Guesthouse Association (the largest of its kind in Europe), says that small operators will “lose out massively”, because internet search engines will be unable to find their businesses under the word ‘hotel’. Simon Lever repeats the warning on behalf of the Torbay Hospitality Association, and says the Star system was introduced by Visit Britain (the official British tourism body) with “minimal consultation”.

Other stumblingblocks have also emerged. For example, small hotels without the new approvals, or without a drinks licence, will no longer be allowed to call themselves ‘hotels’; and ‘motels’ must now be called ‘budget hotels’. Strangely, a ‘budget hotel’ without a drinks licence can still be called a ‘hotel’ (which puzzles hoteliers), and temperance hotels won a reprieve.
B&B’s that previously had four or five diamonds under the old system will now drop to two stars, if they insist on using the word ‘hotel’ in their literature and ads. However, they can retain the old five diamonds if they scrap the word ‘hotel’! The trade associations fear it will lead not only to confusion, if not closures, as many smaller places will not get internet business. 
Torbay hoteliers complained of the cost of redesigning and printing promotional material, which “could be enormous, on top of losing trade.” As with any basic reorganisation, the initial steps will be faltering, but after that the playing field should even out, according to major players.

That was in December. Have things changed since the Stars have started to shine brightly in the tourist heaven? Critics predict confusion amongst foreign visitors in particular, as they will be faced with Four-Star hotels and Four-Star B&B’s with ‘guest accommodation’, as though they were both the same. The British Hospitality Association is staying fairly quiet about it all, hoping the controversy will only last as long as a passing comet.
The Visit Britain think-tank responsible for setting up the new system says “Most establishments will have been re-evaluated within the next few years.” What happens in the meantime? How will visitors know what system is in operation when they book their holidays? The only option appears to be to ask careful questions beforehand. From conversations I have had with hoteliers, the transition does not appear to be as smooth as the government would like – except in Wales and Scotland, where stars have been used for some time.

In occasionally hot arguments with owners, Visit Britain and its examining body, Quality in Tourism, appear to have listened. But have they done anything to alleviate the fears of smaller operators? (They did not offer comments when questioned). As with so many governmental polices there is rarely room for manoeuvre, but all parties now think the initial upsets will settle.

What Do YOU Get Out of It?

Customers certainly win in this situation, even if some in the service industry experience difficulty. Hoteliers won’t show the paying public, because they know that customers want a professional approach, not a list of problems. 

Visitors, whether British or foreign, will now be able to compare like-with-like, knowing what to expect in any premises displaying the new Stars. 

In my earlier travel days I was never quite sure what any of the designations really meant, and felt it was all pot-luck. I well remember booking at a Derbyshire B&B set in a pub with a restaurant and famous chef. The food was superb, the staff were friendly – but the décor, furnishings and furniture were faded and in need of repair. So, its claimed status did not live down to its actual facilities!

At its most basic, the new system gives a clear indication of what to expect in comparable hotels, guesthouses and B&B’s. So, if you try a Four-Star hotel in Scotland, you can be assured a Four-Star in England will be of the same standard. For visitors from abroad, who travel sometimes thousands of miles to enjoy everything British, it will be a boon. 

Even so, anyone who travels a long way should look at official descriptions plus, if possible, the accommodation’s own website. Don’t be afraid to send a query by email. Most owners are very friendly and will be only too pleased to give you relevant information.
A Star has been born – let’s hope its twinkle will continue to shine! 


Barry Napier

Official Tourist Websites/Addresses (the overall site for all of Britain):

Also See: British Hoteliers Voice Concerns Over the New Hotel Rating System; Diamonds Aren’t Forever! / Barry Napier / May 2006

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