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How Reliable are Hotel Ratings?


by Harry Nobles

January 4, 2011

These comments are intended as a response to an excellent article in the January 2011 Consumer Reports, entitled “How reliable are hotel ratings?” I do not consider this a rebuttal because I would not presume to critique or question the author’s observations; I would only suggest a view of this matter from another perspective.

By the way, the answer to this question can vary widely, and often depends on several elements, like whom you ask and when you ask.  If you ask an operator who just got the rating he or she wanted, or retained the rating they believe they deserve, there is a good chance you will get a very positive reply.  Pose the same question to the owner or GM whose rating has just been lowered, and you maybe should duck or at least step back a pace or two.

I wish I had been able to identify the writer; I would have liked to offer my congratulations on what I consider an excellent inquiry into the complex world of hotel ratings and thank them for their contribution.   One of the writers’ sources is indentified as (Dr?) Bjorn Hanson, a dean and professor of New York University’s Tisch Center for Hospitality. The writer quotes the professor  on several points.

I take issue with some of these points, for example the source mentions giving AAA four or four and a half “stars”. AAA does not award stars; they rate hotels with diamonds. To my knowledge they have never awarded half diamonds or stars. They rate hotels on a scale of one to five diamonds. I call attention to this point in the interest of complete accuracy. This may be a misquote, a typing error, or just a mistake. There are a few other such errors, but I mention these not as criticism because I think the professor makes some excellent points.

In my opinion one of the major difficulties with discussing and comparing hotel ratings is actually the vocabulary we use to describe and discuss ratings. I believe sometimes we confuse “ratings” with “reviews”. I consider a “rating” to be a written and published report by a professional evaluator, the assignment of a numerical value based on an objective evaluation of a specific list of pre-set criteria, often conducted for and disseminated to a specific target audience.

A “review” is often a guest’s personal report based on a single visit, focusing on the writer’s own preferences, following no pre-determined standards, and targeted at no specific audience.

These reviews have little credibility and even less influence on any”official” rating system.  They do not contribute significantly to the storehouse of knowledge; neither do they do any great damage.  Why do they do it?  For whose benefit are these “reviews” written?  To whom are they sent?  I have no idea.  It could be the price we pay for freedom of the press.  Give one of us self-appointed “industry experts” the ability to do desk-top publishing and access to the Internet, and immediately we think we are Shakespeare, Ralph Nader, and Will Rogers combined into one.

I devote a few lines to this point only to emphasize the need for a standardized, clearly defined, and bilaterally accepted vocabulary.

In addition to the vocabulary, we need to address a few other points before we can really fathom the whole complex world of hotel ratings and have an intelligent and meaningful discussion.  Some examples: purpose of the rating, target audience, are the physical and service standards widely accepted? are they consistent with prevailing industry standards?    Most important: Who is paying for the evaluation, the report, and all the other expense?

Once we answer these questions and agree on a few vocabulary terms, we can begin that discussion.   I hope to make it a true discussion by soliciting your input here and now.  Your comments and questions are the key to making this a multilateral discussion.  

Please submit to:


Harry Nobles Hospitality Consulting
(757) 564-3761

Also See: Can you risk a downgrade of your AAA rating? The dilemma of going from 3 Diamonds to 2 Diamonds / Harry Nobles / November 2010

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When is the Right Time to Worry About Your AAA or Forbes Rating? / Harry Nobles / July 2010

Is 'Mega Boutique Hotel' an Oxymoron? / Harry Nobles / April 2010

Boutique Hotels: Have They Gone Too Far? / Harry Nobles & Lisa Jackson / March 2010

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Is 'Mega Boutique Hotel' an Oxymoron / Harry Nobles/ December 2006

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Now I’ve Seen Everything -  “Food Servers Employing the Internet to Divulge Names of Customers Who Tip Less than 17%”/ Harry Nobles / September 2006

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If You Disagree With Your AAA Rating / Harry Nobles/ May 2006

AAA Evaluation Procedure: Is It Fair? / Harry Nobles/ May 2006

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AAA Five Diamond Lodgings; Chain vs Independent / November 2005

Katrina & Rita: Silver Lining or Opportunity? / Harry Nobles & Cheryl Griggs / October 2005

Our Dream Hotel / Harry Nobles & Cheryl Griggs / July 2005

Losing a Diamond or Star / Harry Nobles & Cheryl Griggs /  March 2005

Ratings vs Guest Satisfaction / Harry Nobles & Cheryl Griggs / February 2005

Our "Pick of the Month" / Harry Nobles & Cheryl Griggs / November 2004

5 Star vs 5 Diamond: What’s the Difference? / Harry Nobles & Cheryl Griggs / November 2004

Strategic Alliance Announced, Committed to Hospitality Excellence / August 2004

Family Resorts: Suggested Strategies / Cheryl Griggs / July 2004

Are Small Resorts Unfairly Treated by the AAA and Mobil Rating Criteria / July 2004

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 

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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

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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 

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