How does this rate?

The managing director and I are planning a trip to the states next year. Part of me wants to see another bit of this amazing planet and part of me suspects that I’d be better off spending the time and money exploring the country I live in.

We’ve recently spent the best part of a week travelling from Noosa to Port Macquarie with the journey included a couple of days in a cabin on a farm just outside Stanthorpe on Queensland’s Granite Belt. The area is renowned for fine wine, great food and interesting accommodation options.

After attending the Stanthorpe Rocks Music Festival, I think it will also become renowned for old blokes soaking up the music of their past and having a thoroughly great time. The trend of holding music festivals in vineyards seems to be really taking off and I would certainly recommend such a day to anyone who enjoys a drink, some relaxed company and some great music.

For those of you old enough to remember I can happily report that after 30 years The Radiators have defied the odds and are still one of the best live bands going around and Wendy Matthews one of our most beautiful voices. Word of warning though. If you are planning a trip to this area take the winter woollies, it gets cold even in summer.

I took the time while sitting in bed looking out over the Stanthorpe farmland to a have another read through last month’s Resort News and in particular the letters to the editor. Obviously the use of star ratings is a hot topic as is the process by which ratings are awarded. A couple of writers hit the nail on the head. How do you rate guest experience? Frankly, we’ve stayed in some highly rated establishments over the years and a few spring to mind that I would never go back to. Conversely we’ve also stayed in modest accommodation but had a five star experience.

Am I allowed to rate my experience by stars? If not let’s say we had a Fab x 5 experience. The farm cottage option at Stanthorpe is a classic example. We are greeted by the owner, an interesting and extremely friendly lady of Spanish descent, and made to feel very welcome from the get go. A slightly bumpy drive up a dirt road to our lodgings reveals a lovely little cottage with magnificent views. The fridge is stocked as is the breakfast basket. Fresh farm eggs and local condiments plus a note asking us to put out the bread bag each morning so the freshly baked bread can be delivered to our door. A selection of books and games clearly hand chosen rather than simply being the ones left behind by past guests. A radio but no TV.

As the sun sets we get a visit from a mob of kangaroos that, when coupled with the backdrop view, is pretty much the quintessential Australian scene. I suspect our accommodation might struggle to achieve a 3 star rating but for us this is a 5 star experience.

I have no small degree of sympathy for any agency trying to come up with a consistent and fair ratings system. Quality is sometimes very much in the eye of the beholder. The obvious problem is that standards and expectations can change pretty quickly while the physical presentation of an accommodation business is sometimes literally set in stone. Pity the poor accommodation manager who gets a downgrade predicated on something that cannot be changed or requires significant expense. Pity even more the motel leasee whose lease demands the maintenance of a specific minimum rating to avoid an event of default.

Of course, in my game there are no star ratings as such and as far as I can tell everyone self-rates themselves as exceptional! Maybe finance brokers should be rated by $ signs. The managing director says porky pies might be applicable to some which seems a little cruel. A company called Canstar rates various bank products and you can go on to their web site to see who is leading the pack.

Trouble is, the ratings are based on perceived best value and features only. It’s a bit like the accommodation star ratings in terms of being a benchmark for tangible results while missing the experience and service delivery aspect. A low rate and a few features will soon be forgotten when the credit process takes weeks, your documents are lost in transit and your settlement crashes. Better to try and achieve a balance of reasonable costs, sensible features and reliable and friendly service.

Ultimately I suspect that social media and sites like TripAdvisor when combined with a ratings outcome will determine the appeal of an accommodation option. In finance I expect that more and more borrowers will seek the advice of third parties like ourselves to come to their own conclusions on how to rate the lenders.

All the best for 2014.

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