Unite the Ratings - Enlightenment or Bombast? The British thrive with continuity and consistency in a most civilized fashion.
Their gifts of tradition and protocol delight we off shore Visitors, although some of the more adventuresome may snicker. But, the trains run on time, the Guards change punctually, and tea is served at 4pm. The British relish order and precision. In their Hospitality world, expectations are delivered with few surprises, a claim few other countries can echo.
However, Great Britain has gone one step further. The British Travel Industry, representing Tourist Boards and Motoring Organizations, will unify the Ratings for Accommodations, effective in 2006, under a new scheme (love the word) to clarify lodging product standards.
Even Hotel Groups have acquiesced, foregoing the argument that their Brand power supersedes any rating. Accommodation standards will be measured against a set of detailed tables in a 40 page workbook, codifying and melding the assessment standards of existing Rating Companies and Services and integrating research on Visitor needs and expectations. Mystery, suspense and interpretation will disappear. A hotel will be a hotel, not a bed and breakfast. And, if you have a restaurant, you must be open "X" number of days and serve "Y" types of meals. Your new Star Rating requires this adherence.
As noted by Bob Bacon, of the British Hospitality Association, "Visitors including people from abroad are bewildered by a plethora of Stars, Diamonds and Crowns…The new unified system of standards will clarify all that". Professional assessment of food and beverage, the actual experience and service levels will not be affected. The source for this information was ehotelier.com.
What generated this clamor? Consumer outcry? Industry prescience? Lost souls? Imagine that – Standards which mean the same thing to everyone. – the provider, the Guest, the Destination Marketing Organization, and those who translate the Hospitality landscape. Holy smokes, what a break-through!
The rest of the world can still play with the Crown, the Thistle, the Diamond, the Feather, the Check Mark and the Thumbs Up, as we continue to "rate" accommodations based upon price, amenities, location, water fountains, clock radios and other criteria, differing between an en-suite bathroom and a commode at the end of the hall or luxury versus rustic or high end body talc in comparison to that simple bar of soap or commodious King bed versus a davenport.
And, our Assessment Teams, what will they still consider? Will it require an actual visit or merely a quick review of a Web Site.
Personally, I enjoyed a research article by Christina Binkley of the WSJ a few years ago, where she related a Hotelier who affixed a Four Star to his operation because the Hotel across the street carried the same status. All stripes of hubris.
Is global Hospitality moving forward, laterally or receding? We know that standards are uneven. Ratings do assist the Consumer, but each "scheme" with its variables still leaves the Visitor Experience to chance. Independent operations outnumber the flag properties, yet corporate hotel groups have standards, quality and measurement as part of their Brand commitment. Independent lodgings and restaurants do not have that reliability at no matter which end of the spectrum. Consistency helps match expectations.
Yet, we in Hospitality do not want total homogenization of the product. We want uniqueness, excitement, and the extraordinary. But, we also have an obligation to our Visitor, the experience we frame for them, and the experience we deliver. Britain obviously feels that the Visitor has been misled.
Perhaps their Visitors voiced this concern. Perhaps, tourism officials looked at the landscape and saw the inconsistencies. Perhaps, it is as simple as truth in advertising, which protects the consumer. Maybe, some global Standards are appropriate, certainly the basics. They have them for Manufacturing, Trade, and other practices.
Plateauing (one, two, three stars) runs into problems without strict interpretation and guidelines. Great Britain has dissected the Product, it appears. Thank goodness the rating companies can still tell you whether the bison steak was ill-prepared, that the uniforms were tidy, and the guest room reeked of garlic. "Professional" opinions and guidance are still up for grabs! Cheers!
The author believes that Remarkable Hospitality is the portal to the Visitor Experience. He can be reached at: email@example.com