Time was when a four-star rating for a hotel was the marker of sheer, unbridled luxury. Then it was five stars, then six and seven. But is anyone keeping a cap on star ratings?
The great hotels that graced European capitals when they first opened were never given star ratings, but everyone knew what they stood for – luxury, opulence and privilege.
When London’s landmark Savoy Hotel, overlooking the Thames river, opened its doors in 1889, it boasted such remarkable features as electric lifts, “speaking tubes” to link each floor, and 67 fully plumbed bathrooms – which prompted the builder to ask: “Do you expect your guests to be amphibians?”
In today’s terms the equivalent features would be the infinity pool, a helicopter landing pad on the hotel roof, and a butler and Bentley at your disposal.
The high-end luxury hotels, and their eye-candy images in magazines and on travel websites, are easy enough to spot.
But often when it comes to booking a hotel, navigating the global hotel star rating system can be the most complicated part of a trip.
That is because no such system exists.
Star rating systems can vary from global region to global region, country to country, and in many cases even within countries.
And there’s further disarray about which star rating denotes the best of the best.
The four-star ceiling of old has given way in some places to a five-star rating – the promise of ultimate luxury. But recently this has been usurped by six- and seven-star ratings for hotels in Europe and the United Arab Emirates.
There are even rumours of a 10-star hotel planned for somewhere in the Middle East.
But some in the industry believe this star-rating inflation is more for the benefit of the hotels than their guests.
“This is only done for prestige,” says Dr Ghassan Aidi, president of the International Hotels and Restaurants Association. “They want to be apart from the four or five stars existing. They call themselves six stars, seven stars, 10 stars. No such thing exists. Five stars is already too much.”
It’s an opinion backed by Margaret Bowler, who works closely with businesses and books millions of rooms around the world on their behalf.
“It’s totally confusing because it’s very fragmented,” says Ms Bowler, director of Global Hotel Relations. “It depends on which part of the world you are actually in to what the rating is, or if in fact they actually have one.”
Part of the problem is that no one can agree what exactly the stars represent, says Ms Bowler.
In Europe stars are assigned if hotel properties have lifts and leisure facilities and not necessarily on when the property was last refurbished and its current state, she says.
“You may be staying in a top-end hotel, but that may not be the experience that you actually get.”
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