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Star ratings mismanaged and outdated, say operators

Two years after star ratings were ditched and then reinstated, accom operators say the system is plagued by false claims and a lack of compliance.

Star Ratings Australia was disbanded in 2017 as online reviews began to take precedence for consumers – but was restored within weeks under the management of the non-profit Australian Tourism Industry Council following pressure from industry bodies.

According to some operators, those ratings are so badly policed that disreputable accommodation hosts are falsely advertising star ratings or maintaining rating advertising despite having lost their accreditation.

Andrew Wall of the Apollo Motel in Parkes told AccomNews: “A number of other motels in Parkes are illegally using and displaying star ratings when they are not in the program. 

“Both my wife and I have approached Star Ratings Australia about this issue asking for them to take action.

“We have been raising this issue with them for more than 12 months and still no action! 

“There is a massive problem with the stars. I don’t understand why all members who are paying for their licences aren’t up in arms of the pathetic lack of action by the Australian Tourism Industry Council (ATIC).” 

Chris Fozard, operations manager for the Budget Motel Chain, said star ratings had “been a problem for a number of years”.

“The stickers they give out should have the year, prominently displayed, that the property was awarded their star rating which would give travellers a clearer idea of when the property actually was last assessed,” he said.

“One of the most disappointing things for property owners who are doing the right thing when it comes to the star rating system is the property owners who are still advertising their ‘star rating’ without being a paid-up member of ATIC.

“Often, I’ve found, property owners aren’t even aware that they should be paying an annual fee to display their star rating, they’ve just inherited them from previous owners. 

“They may not even be aware how the scheme works, or could possibly be a bit apathetic towards the whole thing and don’t really care once they’ve got the stars.”

ATIC general manager Erin McLeod has defended the organisation’s management of Star Ratings Australia, saying reports about the misuse of the star rating trademark are all followed up according to ATIC compliance standards.

“There is a process that is undertaken, which has been advised by our legal representation as the best way to resolve misuse of the trademarks,” she said.

“This does begin with general advice to the business who may, or may not, know that they are breaching trademark rights by using the star ratings logo.

“Further instruction is made to remove the use of the trademark, and dependent on where the trademark is in use, a time frame provided.

“If businesses continue to use the trademark whilst not licenced to do so, then we will follow this through the appropriate court system.”

While businesses are revisited on a three-yearly basis for assessment, McLeod says there are exceptions if issues are suspected or material changes are made to properties.

“If renovations or refurbishments have been undertaken, we will conduct an ‘out of cycle review’. Furthermore, if there are multiple complaints regarding a specific business we will also conduct an ‘out of cycle review’.”

While some industry players are questioning how the program is run, others are questioning its relevance in today’s review-driven market.

Ross Given of Camden Motor Inn told AccomNews: “I haven’t paid star ratings much attention at all since the rating organisation closed. We rely solely on reviews and try to hover around or above 8.5 across the board. Guests seem to rely on review scores.”

Another industry insider said: “I would not have had anyone ask about star ratings for years. I have been here 16 years.

“They probably were important back in the days of RACQ. I don’t think anyone is rated anymore in small operations. Large hotels or chains are probably different…”

Despite the criticisms, Erin McLeod says ATIC has no plans to discontinue the program.

“We believe this is a valuable asset to our industry which is why we continue to invest into the IT systems that underpins the assessment process and into the promotion and marketing of the trademarks,” she said.

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Kate Jackson

Kate Jackson is the editor of Accomnews. You can reach her at any time with questions or submissions: [email protected]

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4 Comments

  1. I have never had anyone in the past 6 years say I’ve seen your star rating and decided to stay with you because of that. A very outdated system in this age of online reviews.

  2. Food for thought and keeping the issue simple. There are too many properties to review, and too expensive to police……….With regards to chains and franchises, the star standards and compliance’s are product specified and they respectively are able to monitor and police their franchisees and management agreements. The Independents are a different criteria but can pay for an official review from ATIC/Star Ratings for their Certification and reassessed every 2- 3 years. Nevertheless chains and franchisees can also access Certification from ATIC/Star Ratings on a volume arrangement given they comply with ATIC/Star Rating standards which in most cases they do.

    Needless to say the likes of TripAdvisor provide a service to gauge the quality of the product and service standard but key to the debate, is safety and compliance standards interpreted in client/guest reviews?

    To be considered, is there a need for Government legislation to standardize the process that provides due protection for the end user based on the Star Rating?…….NHI

  3. The STAR ratings scheme made itself largely irrelevant when it refused to listen to the industry about the changes in guest expectation and review methodology. In many cases they ignored the advice of the “expert panels” that they convened and the assessment process became subjective, complex and flawed, which helped to contribute to its failure.
    In todays world of online review platforms and revised guest expectation, its definitely a dinosaur.

  4. It is never a good idea to relinquish all control of the hotel’s ratings to faceless digital behemoths. Online guest reviews, in my experience, are much more subjective and less trustworthy. There will always be those willing to rubbish a place as revenge for not getting the freebie they were after, and on the other hand there are operators who are willing to pay for good reviews, although both practices are illegal. In other words, online reviews can be and are actually manipulated, the aggregators are notoriously slow to act when there is trouble, whereas Star Ratings has a thorough inspection process in place.

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