News Analysis Tourism

The answer is in the stars

One of the problems which tourists face when booking their trips to the Philippines, is how to gauge the quality of hotels. In Europe, Australia and the US, for example, hotels are variously rated by independent agencies which issue stars for establishments which meet a defined standard for various criteria. And while it’s not an exact science, star ratings provide a fair indication of a hotel’s quality.

In the Philippines, largely, it is the hotels and resorts themselves which dispense their own stars. And some – too many – have a far higher opinion of their star quality than the guests do. It is a sensitive area, but one which the Department of Tourism (DOT) would like to get to grips with. And it should: it is in receipt of a US$6.8 million grant from the Government of Canada to do just that.

Discussions on introducing a star-rating system for Philippine hotels and resorts has been kicked around for years. A DOT initiative for such a scheme was expected to be unveiled last November, but differences in opinion within the trade itself as to how hotel quality should be adjudicated forced the issue once more to the back burner.

The DOT’s proposed scheme is a simple one. It would grade hotels with between one and five stars with regards to inventory, room availability and the condition and quality of facilities – this would take into account everything from bathrooms to kitchen.

The hope is that a nationwide system would bring the country more in line with what the industry has put in place in other countries.

Advocates of such a system believe that a unified star-rating will give foreign and domestic travellers more confidence when booking their stay and, consequently, would lift the country’s tourism profile. They also believe that it would give the country’s hotels and resorts a more international credibility.

Discussions on the scheme, we understand, are ongoing but little real headway has been made so far. Many of the country’s hoteliers and resort and apartelle owners are reluctant to lose the ability of grading their own properties, arguing that they know best how to brand their own products. Others believe that star-rating systems are outdated. There is also skepticism over any involvement by foreign agencies.

While so far no single international classification has been adopted – despite repeated attempts – many countries have adopted single or common rating systems. And those that have agree that they have benefitted their hospitality industries. South Africa’s Tourist Grading Council, for example, states that its system has helped to “maintain our international competitiveness as a tourist destination”.

In Britain, the largest tourist destination after the US, hotels are graded with one to five stars by the Automobile Association and the respective tourist boards of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

In Australia, a similar system is applied where between one and five stars are allocated by the six Australian Auto Clubs.

In Europe, the European Hotelstars Union rates the quality of hotels, restaurants and cafes in 24 countries. This, however, is a complex grading system which estimates quality across 21 criteria comprising 270 different elements. “Mystery guests” are also used to check service quality on a regular basis.

In South Africa, the Tourist Grading Council implements strict rules for hotel types granting up to five stars. The Council inspects all accommodation types from luxury hotels to game and nature lodges to B&B establishments.

In India, hotels are classified by the Hotel and Restaurant Approval & Classification Committee, an agency of India’s Ministry of Tourism. Grades fall within two classifications: Stars which range from one to five stars deluxe, and Heritage which range from basic to classic to grand.

In New Zealand, hotels and a host of other tourism amenities are graded by Qualmark, a government agency under Tourism New Zealand.

So there are plenty of precedents for the Philippines to devise its own stars system. The question is how long will the country’s hotel and resort owners resist it? And how long will international travellers have to rely on the industry’s unreliable and often misleading self-grading practices?

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