What the Stars are Saying

The new AAA Tourism star rating scheme introduced on July 1 this year seems to have generated some fears among the industry.

AAA Tourism says these fears are unwarranted because there will be no immediate downgrades because of a moratorium period. This means that if properties are to be graded differently it won’t be automatic as there is up to 24 months grace period, giving operators the opportunity to re-invest in their property, if they need to undergo any refurbishments, or changes, to maintain or upgrade their star rating.

Property assessment under the new scheme only started in mid October this year and at present it covers the four categories of hotel, motel, self-catering and serviced apartments. Hosted accommodation and caravan-holiday park assessments are anticipated to commence in the New Year.

“The extensive consumer research we’ve done over the last four years has really quantified and qualified how consumers use the star rating,” said Peter Blackwell, chief executive officer of AAA Tourism. “The stars are independent, trusted and easily understood, which takes the guess work out of choosing accommodation.”

“It’s interesting that some operators still use a star rating as a way of describing their property, even when they are not star rated. It goes to show how the stars remain an effective benchmarking tool and research (Sweeney 2011) has confirmed this with 75% of travellers labelling star ratings ‘very useful’ when evaluating properties.” explained Mr Blackwell.

Unlike the previous star rating scheme, which was more of a ‘facilities-based’ model and seen as somewhat subjective, AAA Tourism’s new star rating scheme has introduced specific quality guidelines developed with RMIT University’s School of Design.

Any property licensed to display the official star rating trademark must achieve and maintain very high standards of cleanliness and achieve specific (percentage) scores across three key areas of assessment:

1. Facilities & Services

2. Cleanliness

3. Quality & Condition.

Cleanliness is the most important area of assessment and an official star rating will only be awarded to properties that achieve and maintain an overall minimum standard of ‘good’ or 75%.

“The provision of different services is assessed but not the delivery of service because that is not something that can easily be assessed on the spot. The concept was explored but the subjectivity of judging service is perhaps best left for guest reviews.”

The Appraiser of Hotel Evaluations, Sydney, said, “We focus on service an area that AAA Tourism doesn’t — by stringently evaluating customer service along with other key areas. We believe service is the key to success. Self-rating and lack of customer service evaluation by AAA Tourism has led to a reliance on hotel review sites that are often influenced by emotion, not fact and can be confusing and contradictory.

“When you consider that most reviews, positive or negative, in some way relate to the way your associates interact with your guests, on a day-to-day basis, your hotel’s online reviews will reflect your associate’s customer service standards.

“Our evaluation covers everything experienced during the stay, from making the reservation through to check-out and everything in between. A hotel’s operational staff are at all times unaware of our presence during an evaluation,” explained The Appraiser.

Spencer Watson manager – regional services & quality assurance for Best Western Australia commented, “Star ratings are the second most important factor that guests consider when choosing a hotel, after location. We believe the new star ratings will provide greater clarity to guests about the things that matter to them – cleanliness and quality.

“Best Western runs a very similar program – our Quality Assurance program that focuses on cleanliness and maintenance. Our 200 Best Western properties will be well-prepared for this change, as they are already familiar with this sort of assessment. I believe it will be very well received by our properties.”

Mantra Group director of operations Mark Hodge welcomes the scheme’s focus on cleanliness and quality combined with past guest ratings and reviews. “It is the experience, rather than whether there is a pool or a car park, that justifies a hotel’s star rating,” he said.

Craig Davidson, general manager destination development of Tourism Australia commented, “In an environment as competitive as the accommodation sector, where people are bombarded daily with a myriad of choices, it’s important that we are able to provide a reliable and credible means of quality assurance. The industry needs this and so do consumers.

“The changes made to the AAA rating system were necessary, to bring it up to date and make it more relevant. There’s been good involvement from the industry, which should mean strong buy in, which is really important. Owners and operators have been listened to and the key thing now is that everyone knows where they stand.

“The government has taken a strong lead on tourism accreditation, through the new TQual tick and we are really pleased to see AAAT is such an early and enthusiastic adopter.”

Grant James, regional general manager, Australia—Outrigger Hotels & Resorts is a strong advocate for the new star ratings system and was part of AAA Tourism’s review panel in developing criteria for the serviced apartments division. “With the new star ratings system, operators have a more structured set of criteria to follow, ensuring consistency of products and offerings among member operators.

“Another good advantage of the formalised criteria is that operators can gain additional points from an independent body of assessors for excelling in operational areas such as cleanliness, fittings and furnishings and service. Through a concerted and on-going consumer education campaign, consumers will learn to understand the difference between self-rated and officially rated properties.

“Collectively, members of AAA Tourism’s new ratings system will also have a strong point of difference over self-rated properties and should take advantage of their official rating by promoting their ratings through their own traditional and online marketing channels. I would also hope that the online and last minute sellers would see the benefits in listing properties with an official star rating higher than self-rated properties that would also help in the public education process.

“The confusion among the travelling public is that they don’t understand the disparities between self-rated properties and those officially rated. By being independently assessed, we can demonstrate to our guests we are meeting the standards judged by an impartial panel, and not just our own perceptions of our property.”

Rodger Powell, managing director of Tourism Accommodation Australia commented “While long in gestation the new AAAT star rating system for Australia is a very important step in aligning the Australian accommodation industry with global expectations. Properties that are star rated attract significantly higher room rates than self-rated properties and while there is no doubt that consumers trust the wide range of excellent hotel brands, the research shows that for customers the star rating is one of the key drivers of price.

“AAAT has invested over three years and millions of dollars in researching, developing and testing the new star rating system, including wide industry consultation to ensure the needs of the consumer are matched with industry realities.

“TAA congratulates Peter Blackwell and his new team at AAAT on producing a world standard scheme and looks forward to working with them to see it implemented quickly,” concluded Mr Powell.

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