Are star ratings or self-ratings better for managers?

In a hotly anticipated sequel to our 2015 opinion round-up on whether star ratings still influence bookings, accomnews spoke with a wealth of industry voices and experts about the pros and cons of star vs. self.

Of course, views ranged from diplomatic to impassioned but the crux remained: of the two rating types, which holds more benefit for managers and why?

First, a quick breakdown. Star ratings are attributed to six types of accommodation: hotels, motels, serviced apartments, hosted accommodation, caravan-holiday parks and self-catering properties. The symbols are a licensed trademark that can only be used by properties that have been licensed to use them by Australian Motoring Services – a wholly owned subsidiary of the Australian Auto Clubs. Star Ratings Australia confirmed there are more than 200 criteria used to determine a property’s official star rating and they primarily focus on cleanliness, quality and condition.

The term self-rating refers to self-appointed ratings that accommodation providers can choose to give themselves. They are unofficial and, aside from the court of public opinion, largely unregulated. In the past, tourism groups have encouraged self-raters to be truthful rather than exaggerate their property’s luxuriousness as unmeetable expectations are a breeding ground for negative online guest reviews.  TAA CEO Carol Giuseppi told us: “With the rise of the internet and review sites, hotels that exaggerate their rating will be quickly found out.”

Official star ratings do take the onus of truth away from managers and property owners, replacing it with a strict, logical process of assessment and ongoing review that standardises the industry in a way consumers can understand. Everyone knows what a three-star hotel looks like: correction, everyone thinks they know what a three-star hotel looks like. And that is essentially the point industry-makers have wrestled with over the last few years. Are official ratings necessary if the general population feels their own judgement is accurate enough? That is quite a big ‘if’…  Guests might trust other guests to suggest a realistic rating but do they trust managers to be realistic about their own pride-and-joy properties?

Do guests understand that there are over 200 criteria involved in an official rating? Do they understand that self-ratings are entirely at the discretion of individual accom providers? Probably not. When they see ‘five-star hotel’ they will have a set of expectations based on what they feel a five-star property should offer. An issue arises if those expectations have formed on the back of the standardised 200+ criteria used by the official star ratings system, then a self-rated property fails to meet those expectations. Guest expectations are essential to this debate.

On the other hand, as Ms Giuseppi elaborates later on, there are some things outside of the official criteria that might improve a property’s rating in the eyes of its guest. Location, history, and sentimentality, for instance.

The issue of ratings is a fine line walked by accom managers of all property types, accentuated by online travel agents and review sites like TripAdvisor that oftentimes feature their own review-based web ratings as well. It can be a confusing landscape for guests to navigate but what about the managers themselves?


Are you star or self rated? Let us know why in the comments below.
Are you star or self rated? Let us know why in the comments below.

Which type of rating has the most benefits and why?

accomnews asked a variety of industry experts and managers in the field for their opinions.

Carol Giuseppi, CEO, Tourism Accommodation Australia: “Transparency is the key to hotel ratings and with an increasing range of hotel products targeting different demographics, it has to be the ‘brand’ that really determines a hotel’s standing for the larger groups. The evolution of the hotel industry means that it is hard to set a simplistic rule for hotel ratings. There is often quite a difference between five-star business hotels and five-star resort hotels, but the traveller knows the ‘style’ a particular brand represents and usually opts for that. In some cases, a very boutique hotel might not technically meet five-star standards, but because of the location, the ambience and the style, the guest might rate this far higher than a traditional five-star hotel. So while we support the concept of an official, professionally-managed star ratings system that is respected by both the industry and guests, the larger hotel groups know that if their brands aren’t providing the level of facilities and service that is expected, then the guests will respond accordingly.

“Hotels can choose to gain official star ratings or ‘self-rate’. If they choose to self-rate we encourage owners and managers to be realistic with the rating, because with the rise of the internet and review sites, hotels that exaggerate their rating will be quickly found out. In the end, the market will decide the issue. If a hotel calls itself five-star but delivers three-star service, guests will go elsewhere and with over 100 new hotels scheduled to enter the Australian market over the next five years, the pressure will be on all hotels to deliver what they promise.”

Star Ratings Australia general manager Sarah McCully: “A recent study by TNS Research showed that 50 percent of consumers agree independent ratings accurately reflect property standards versus only eight percent for self-ratings. An officially accredited star-rated property is reviewed around the quality and condition standards to carry one of Australia’s most trusted and distinguished trademarks: star ratings.  The independent review centres on over 200 criteria that have been determined by what consumers have said is important to them. By being star-rated, it gives the manager complete confidence that the rating they promote to their guests is accurate and guests will get the accommodation they expect when they book.

“A self-rating on the other hand is highly subjective and has no set criteria, which means a self-rated properties can lack consistency and may not meet the expectations of the guest. When a reviewer visits a property, they also provide managers with expert advice, tips and tricks to improve the guest experience, giving them valuable insights into how they can make the property more appealing to guests.”

Spencer Watson, head of operations, Best Western Australasia: “The effectiveness of a star rating system lies in its reliability and transparency. The simplification of the Star Ratings Australia Program allows consumers to better distinguish accommodation standards. While it’s clear that the majority of guests rely on peer reviews when choosing accommodation, there remains great value in a well-recognised categorisation for our properties.

“Many segments of our market, both leisure and corporate, use star ratings as a key part of their decision-making process as well. Best Western requires its Australian hotels to also be star ratings members. It complements our internal global Quality Assurance Program, which assesses every hotel annually and helps to communicate expectations to guests. We continue to see star ratings providing value to our brand and hotel managers as it standardises what would be a very confusing and congested product offering otherwise.”


Michael Georgeson, general manager, Golden Chain: “There is no doubt in my mind that being star-rated holds greater value than a self-rating.  This is not to say that the star rating scheme, the way it has been managed, promoted and engaged over the years does not create doubt in regards to its validity or value but, in the balance of things, both the operators and the industry as a whole benefit from the program.  The scheme provides an independent, quantifiable, qualified assessment of property standards and as the only scheme doing so on the scale that Star Rating Australia is, provides a quality control system to the operator and to the industry.

“In the absence of this, operators are influenced in an assessment of their own standards based on internal marketing agenda such as their comp set, influence of branding needs, positioning and/or reputation as well as their own focus on priorities rather than those of the guest. Such considerations are of course important; however, being star-rated should confirm and support these influences rather than conflict with them. The confirmation of the internal assessment through a star rating or conflict with it is quality control in action.

“Further to this, with so many other representations of quality available, star ratings act as an independent response, particularly, to consumer ratings that are more reflective of a comp set expectation rather than an across the board comparison of industry players.  Star ratings therefore qualifies a property’s position in the market.”

Geoff Hussin, resort manager, Ivory Palms Resort: “As managers of strata complexes, the star ratings system has become very complicated. The rules used to be set in stone with some flexibility on inspection day if there were a few owners within the complex that would not comply with our standards and we could create a different room type while preserving the overall star rating. Recently it appears that if there is not a very deep bucket of money available, compliance to stay at the current rating is almost impossible. For this reason, managers are turning their heads because there is enough to deal with and no bucket! Owners are asking why the resort has been downgraded, which causes anguish. “There was no downgrade, just a shift in rules” managers would say to a disbelieving owner. There was a battle for a short while; however, this change coincided with the GFC and a huge downturn. All of a sudden the star rating became secondary to preserving the business and owners happiness. The self-rating system became an essential ‘out’ rather than a desire.

“Managers will still say that the star rating system is not as important as it used to be especially if they are self-rated. In honesty the majority would all love the opportunity to once again become star-rated without the need for that bucket! It is a system that with total industry support could become as strong as it was pre-GFC.”

Debra Tapiolas, manager, Surfers Horizons: “As a newcomer to the business-side of the holiday accommodation industry, I diligently added the need to acquire star ratings to our list of things to achieve within the first year of operation.  Remembering how I had previously noted the number of stars, when booking hotels for our own use, the gaining of stars seemed, at the time, an important criterion for success, until one day, the undertaking must have fallen off my list.  More likely it could be in my ‘must look into one day’ basket.  The reality of property management operation quickly revealed: we are not a ‘hotel’. As self-contained apartments, we do not provide one-night accommodation; therefore, we do not seem to attract the type of guest who is looking for ‘a room for the night’, at a specific repeatable ‘standard’. It seems the goal for most of our guests is to experience a ‘holiday’ of some sort, even if it is for only two nights. They frequently share with us the reason for their holiday as well as their preferences and expectation at the time of booking.

“Many of our guests have historically re-booked year-on-year for a decade or two, so they know what to expect and are not dependent on a star rating to assist them in their decision.  Returning guests generally already know what to request and also what to expect. All of our apartments are individually owned and therefore every apartment is unique and styled with the decorating decisions of each apartment owner.  While I believe every apartment in this complex would easily meet a four-star rating or higher, I believe our guests would perceive some to be five-star, some four-star and a couple possibly three-star.  For example, regardless of the existing star rating criteria, most of our guests seem to constantly request ‘a modern style unit’ giving their highest preferences to:  stone benchtops rather than laminate, tiled or wood floors rather than carpet, shutters rather than curtains, bed-runners against clean white rather than beds presented with fitted bedspreads, uncluttered surfaces and walls rather than ornaments and lots of wall-art.  Most of our guests expect to pay a higher rate per night for ‘premium’ units that meet most of those preferences.  Some of our guests appreciate ‘good value’ achieved by renting a ‘standard’ unit without all the renovation upgrades, for a lower rate per night. We advertise ourselves as self-rated four-star because historically we seem to attract guests who seem to be looking for four-star level of accommodation and who seem to be satisfied by the level of accommodation provided.

“The images uploaded to our own website as well as the online channels, provide an opportunity to ‘tell it like it is’, which seems to surpass the need for a formal star rating system.  Our images are uploaded ‘as is’, rather than professionally doctored to create elongated images and therefore ‘elongated’ guest expectation.  We believe that creating an accurate expectation, lays foundation for guest satisfaction.  It seems preferable to under-promise, leaving potential to over-deliver in every single instance.

“While our business works well, with guest expectation matching our self-rated four-star, then acquisition of a formal star rating seems not a priority.  If we were to experience a downturn, coupled with high incidence of guest dissatisfaction, then it seems that we may need to review, change, improve and resolve issues, that surely no number of stars may be able to fix.”

Simon McGrath, COO, AccorHotels Pacific: “As a leader in the Australian tourism industry, AccorHotels continues to recognise and support the need for independent quality assurance bodies within the Australian tourism industry. The Australian star rating scheme is a helpful and independent tourism body assessment to help consumers in the decision-making process and it works well alongside other review sites such as TripAdvisor. The decision to participate in the star ratings program is made at a property level based on the hotel’s market and business needs. However, strong brands that are internationally-recognised with a reputation for consistent quality and service standards is ultimately what customers are looking for and helps to inform their purchase decision.”

David and Janice Riddel, on-site managers, Outrigger Bay Apartments: “We feel that when potential guests are looking for accommodation, they simply have more confidence in an independently star-rated system rather than a self-rated system.

“Being relatively new to the accommodation industry, we found the star-ratings inspection very helpful as the inspection comes with advice and encouragement with simple and inexpensive ideas for improvements that had not occurred to us.  The inspection is only every three years so gives you plenty of time to prepare for the next inspection and the yearly fee is reasonable for the prestige the star-ratings message conveys to guests.  Star Ratings Australia has now introduced a Gold Listing, which recognises guest satisfaction for different accommodation categories for which Outrigger Bay Apartments has been listed 6th in NSW for serviced apartments.  This gives potential guests added confidence in selecting suitable accommodation.  Star-rated get the thumbs up from us!”

Rachel Argaman, CEO, TFE Hotels: “In today’s world there are many star rating options.  The official star rating definitely has value and is tried and trusted by many consumers and can ‘place’ the hotel in a category and give comfort to guests. However, that rating system is dependent on consultants coming to give an official rating and tends to happen only once a year.  In some cases where a hotel has been refurbished to a new level or things have changed in between inspections, hotel managers self-rate to better represent their opinion of their hotel. Personally my view is that the ratings that count the very most are those of our guests.  CGR or consumer generated ratings tend to give multiple perspectives of a property, which come together for the reviewer to give them an overall view.  There are very few guests who come to a hotel for a leisure stay today who have not looked at TripAdvisor, or the hotel’s own website, to view the reviews of guests who have stayed there most recently to get a feel for the quality, the service and the amenities of a hotel.”

Janice Lee Fang, communications director, APAC, TripAdvisor: “Online traveller reviews have revolutionised the way people plan their trips today.  When TripAdvisor was founded 16 years ago, most travellers were relying on travel agents and guide books to make their booking decisions – this was a time when star ratings were most valued as you could get a sense of what you were buying into when making these decisions, at least in terms of how much a stay would cost and what sort of standards to expect.

“Being able to call upon the good and bad experiences of previous customers when you’re looking to book a hotel stay is what makes online review sites like ours so valuable. People’s opinions and priorities differ, sometimes knowing what other people didn’t like about a product or service helps you decide if it’s the right choice for you.

“What we’ve been able to do is to give travellers a voice and in so doing, we have promoted transparency in the travel industry, levelling the playing field so that smaller and more independent hospitality businesses are able to compete. According to 2015 Phocuswright research commissioned by TripAdvisor, 93 percent of respondents have found TripAdvisor hotel reviews to be accurate of the actual experience.”

David McCall, independent consultant for tourism and accommodation: ‘Yea or Nay to Star-Rated’ is another way to put the question. During the last twelve months, my team surveyed 174 accommodation properties with very interesting results. There were only 92 properties that had committed to ‘star-rated’ for the financial year 2016-2017, which left 52 properties choosing to be ‘self-rated’ and the remainder 30 properties not believing in any rating system at all. These numbers indicated that there was a staggering shift leaning towards ‘self-rated’ and ‘non-rated’ from previous years. The general consensus being that prospective guests were happy to view a property’s website that showed accurate photography of the accommodation provided and form their own decision. The guests were also noticeably becoming more like typical retail customers, i.e. being ‘price driven’ as well. Online travel agents (OTAs) advertising and marketing with the top OTAs spending approximately $1,000,000 per month to capture guests has also changed the way people may contemplate their next holiday.

“Even though there are still plenty of believers that are very loyal to a ‘star-rated’ system, our industry is forever changing and unless there is a revolutionary change in the way that accommodation properties are marketed in the very near future, it will be inevitable that there will be further shifts in greater numbers drifting away from ‘self-rated’.”

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