Consumer Hotel Reviews the New Star Rating System

Let’s book a hotel. Easy, right? I would disagree, I hate booking hotels. What’s your tactic to whittle down choices? Five to ten years ago it probably would have been the star rating system. We have all sought out four star plus hotels and thought that the star rating meant superior quality and service. I have to say, I still do this frequently although from past experience I know otherwise. Today’s solution, my favourite topic, consumer reviews. Before I start down this road I will hold my hand up and say that I very rarely check consumer reviews. Shocker, I know.

Excluding me, many people use both the official star rating system and consumer reviews to make a purchase decision. The tactic, get the official stance on the accommodation to narrow down choice and then the ‘real’ view from past guests to make the final purchase decision. In many instances there is a large gap between the stated official stance and the ‘real’ experience. So who do we believe?

The consumer vote nearly always swings it. People buy from people and the official star rating system is seen to not always measure the things, we as consumers, are concerned about. The government has recognised this and has set plans to use consumer produced reviews as the new guide to hotel ratings. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) believe that collective rankings from consumer reviews more adequately and accurately reflect our concerns as consumers.

Bye, bye official star rating system and hello to consumer opinion. So, what are your thoughts? There have been many blogs about this in the past few weeks, some for, some against. I love consumer reviews, consumer empowerment, collective thought and the increasing need for service providers (consumer goods and brands) to work transparently. No one is beyond reproach in the world of consumer empowerment. The problem, the anonymity of reviews, the tactical attacks between providers, and the lack of evidence to support claims. There are no rigorous checks on what is written in consumer reviews. I have even heard of consumers threating hotel providers with a bad review if they are not given a discount.

On the other hand, most consumer reviews give the ‘real’ experience and report the level of service received and the cleanliness of the hotel. Two things that are very important to consumers and which the official star rating system is not brilliant at indicating. Service and cleanliness are dependent on human input which we all know varies. One person’s stay can be different to another’s depending on the human input.

Consumer reviews provide opinion on these important elements and if the hotel met their expectations.
While the official star rating system may at times seem arbitrary there is a science to the rating. The problem is that many times the attributes used to measure hotel star rating are insignificant to some consumers. The other is that there is no universal measurement system, a three star in one country can be completely different to a three star in another country. However when we see the one star to five star rating we know the higher the rating the higher the level of luxury and amenities. So what do you look for luxury and amenities or service and cleanliness?

I’d quite like to have a combination of the two available on the one platform, or even better a link to a reputable third party review site like Trip Advisor. Remember the age of transparency. If hoteliers and destination marketing organisations were to link Trip Advisor to their site then consumers would see they have nothing to hide and welcome consumer opinion. This in turn will build trust and trust builds sales. So the move to withdraw the official star rating could in fact help accommodation providers by forcing them to acknowledge consumer reviews.

Consumers are already using reviews in their trip planning activities but many providers do not effectively acknowledge content on such sites. By removing the official star rating system accommodation providers will have to acknowledge consumer reviews which may benefit their business in the long run. The down side to this is that many smaller providers may suffer as they do not have the same resources or possibly skills base as larger providers to manage consumer generated content.

While I completely agree that consumer reviews are the way forward, and this government move is a massive string in the bow of consumer empowerment and brand transparency, there are still teething problems. The lack of rigorous credibility checks of consumer reviews are a major downfall but the opinion of service and cleanliness standards are all something we want to know before we purchase. I would suggest that a happy medium is to maintain the official star rating and at the same time give the relative consumer star rating and reviews.

As experience with evaluating and understanding consumer reviews increases there may be the opportunity to phase out the official star rating system. It would seem that Visit England has the same opinion, where they are considering using both user generated content (reviews) and the official star rating. The full government policy paper is due to be realised this month. It will be interesting to see what the changes to the hospitality industry and if this change has any ramifications on other product categories. I would also love to hear your opinions on this, are you going to be affected, do you already embrace user generated content?

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