AAA Tourism – Where to from here?

AAA Tourism introduced new assessment criteria for determining the Star ratings in October 2011. Since the new criteria were applied many accommodation properties came under threat of a downgrade in their Star rating but were given a moratorium until 18 October 2013.

The new program has come under fire from accommodation managers who believe elements of the new assessment criteria make it too hard to retain the current Star Rating.

The biggest gripe is over the Star ratings now being determined by the lowest scoring of three assessment criteria – cleaning, facilities, and quality and condition. Properties may receive an excellent score for their cleaning and facilities but if the assessor believes the tiles in the bathroom are small, or the vanity doesn’t look new, the property is likely to be downgraded.

Accommodation operators sought meetings with AAAT to express their concerns and both the former CEO Peter Blackwell and David Kemp (manager assessing services) attended meetings in Noosa and Ballina. AAAT agreed to invite feedback from operators and over 110 submissions have been lodged through this initiative alone, expressing concerns and requesting a review of the program before it is embedded in concrete.

The Star Rated Properties Group, a collective of motel and resort managers, has continued to actively campaign for a more fair assessment program. Through its contacts in Queensland, Tasmania, South Australia and New South Wales the group has noticed a consistent reaction to the new AAAT Star rating criteria. “There is a lot of anger and many operators threatening to leave AAAT if the criteria are not modified for the next assessment,” says SRPG spokesman Woody Dass.

With the recent publication of AAAT’s accommodation guides, it is public knowledge that the number of licensees has declined dramatically said another SRPG spokesman Paul Ferguson. From 8100 in 2010, the latest figures reveal a 17% fall to 6700 and that is before many operators have been assessed under the new scheme or the end of the moratorium period. This reduction has been pretty consistent over the major states, capital cities and holiday destinations like the Gold and Sunshine coasts. However, Tasmania has shown up as loosing 27% of licensees and by category, Hosted Accommodation a 30% decline. This would be a huge dent in AAAT’s budget.

AAAT remains under threat of a class action as reported in accomnews back in August. AAAT denies that it moved the goal posts but such material changes made to the assessment scheme will bring many leaseholders in breach if they are unable to maintain their Star ratings without spending $100,000s on refurbishment.

In recent AAAT correspondence with a Mission Beach operator, AAAT admitted for the first time, that there were areas of the assessment guidelines that would require a review. This is very welcome news and an excellent opportunity for key stakeholder’s major concerns to be looked at and worked toward a mutually agreeable resolution.

Any accommodation is only as good as the reputation it has earned, whether Star rated or self-rated. Exaggerated claims or false promises will eventually be exposed in the public arena of social media. With so many properties enjoying positive customer ratings on third party websites such as TripAdvisor, Wotif and, the question raises what influences potential guests the most – Star rating or customer feedback?

The impact of social media cannot be denied, customer reviews do matter. Many operators believe in this day and age, a fair assessment program needs to include a customer satisfaction weighting. Guests using a particular accommodation, in contrast to the AAAT inspector’s one hour assessment, may not feel the ‘age of the vanities’ or ‘lack of a granite kitchen bench top’ are a significant detraction from their overall experience yet such features would lead to downgrade in the property’s Star rating. Unfortunately, according to David Kemp, AAAT has no plans of introducing customer feedback into the assessment process in the near future.

Star Rated Properties Group spokesman Paul Ferguson is hoping the new acting CEO Moira Penman (based in New Zealand) and temporary general manager George Campbell will be more open to working with the smaller accommodation property owners and managers.

“We need to develop a fair and balanced, uniquely Australian set of assessment criteria that recognise the difference in accommodations outside the capital cities,” said Mr Ferguson.

Editor’s Note: Check out a reader opinion – AAA Tourism – A long way to go, but on the right track…

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