Hotel star rating system: A SIMPLE explanation

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(Last updated on: 09/03/2021)

The hotel star rating system is designed to give tourists insight into the standard and quality of the type of accommodation that they are booking. However, I have learnt from my own personal experience, that this is far from standardised across the world. Lets face it, a 5 star hotel in Mumbai is NOT the same as a 5 star hotel in Sydney or New York or London….

So lets take a look a what the hotel star rating system is and why we have it…

What is a hotel star rating?

When a tourist is considering booking accommodation for their next trip, they will likely want to know how good or bad a certain hotel is.

Similarly to purchasing a car or choosing where to eat, tourists want to know what other people think. This helps you know whether it’s worth booking! Research has shown that reviews are important. This is for a few reasons – including:

  • Showing a company’s reliability 
  • Indicating what real people think
  • Making it easier to decide where to go/what to buy
  • Building transparency 
  • A more personal experience

Star ratings are different to customer reviews, they are determined by ‘professionals’. This means that they are a trusted and respected review of standard and quality.

Hotel star ratings are, in a way, a quantifiable summation of the different positive aspects of a hotel. The ratings are based on a specific set of criteria laid out by the establishment who are awarding the stars, which is used to determine which star is awarded.

Hotel star ratings differ in different countries, making it confusing for travellers.

Hotels (and booking sites or travel agencies) will use star rating systems to give a one-look insight into how good a particular hotel is. This means that if you are booking in a rush or you’re not sure exactly what you’re after, you have something to base your decision on.

Typically the higher the hotel star rating, the better the hotel is. Most parts of the world use a 1-5 star rating system, although there are also hotels that classify themselves as having 6, 7, 8 or even 10 stars!

Hotel star ratings are also reflected in the price. Hotels with a higher star rating cost more, while low-rated hotels are much cheaper.

You can often filter your search by star-rating, too. This means if you’re after something “bougie” you can search by high-to-low in terms to star rating: the best and fanciest hotels will come top!

The history of hotel star ratings

In 1958, Forbes Travel Guide (formerly Mobil Travel Guide) released their star rating system. This used to be a printed guidebook. Print copies ceased production in 2011 but the guide can still be found online at ForbesTravelGuide.com – here you’ll find the hotel star ratings system alongside written content from hotel inspectors hired to write by Forbes. 

The Forbes Travel Guide is the oldest travel guide in the US. There is an objective criteria. Ratings are given by anonymous (paid) Forbes staff members. These star ratings are a mark of certification. This is because Mobil registered trademarks for the phrases and designs they used to indicate each star level – and only actual rated establishments were and are allowed to display them.

Hotel star rating systems around the world

When the guide was still the Mobil Travel Guide, hotels were rated on a 1-5 star system. Since it became the Forbes Travel Guide, hotels are now rated Five-Star, Four-Star and Recommended. As of 2019, here’s how each country fared in each category…

5-star

  • USA – 151
  • China – 77
  • UK – 16
  • France – 13
  • Mexico – 12
  • Italy – 10
  • Japan – 7
  • Singapore – 7
  • Canada – 6
  • Switzerland – 5
  • Other – 39
  • 4-star

USA – 444

  • China – 105
  • Canada – 36
  • UK – 29
  • Mexico – 27
  • Japan -26
  • Italy – 23
  • UAE – 23
  • Indonesia – 21
  • France – 19
  • Other – 150
  • USA – 213
  • China- 33
  • Italy – 19
  • UK – 13
  • Canada – 11
  • France – 10
  • Mexico – 10
  • Japan – 9
  • Spain – 8
  • Portugal – 7
  • Other – 115

As we have identified, there is no world-standard hotel star rating system that applies to every hotel and is universally recognised. Terms around the world are widely accepted – but not ‘standard’. As in, there is no worldwide law or universal system.

However, some countries do have laws that define hotel ratings: Belgium, Denmark, Greece, Italy, Malta, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Hungary. 

And in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, ratings are defined by the country’s respective hotel industries. The Swiss were the first to do this. In 1979 they became the first country to have a formal non-governmental hotel classification. This then influenced Germany and Austria!

In South Africa, they have a Tourist Grading Council which grants hotels up to five stars. Over in France, the tourist board also has a five-star system. This changed in 2009 from their original four-star system. In New Zealand, it is also the tourist board (actually a government organisation) who oversee Qualmark – the company in charge of the country’s hotel star ratings.

hotel star rating
Hotel star ratings are a great way to determine the level of quality.

The European Hotelstars Union

In 14 September 2009, the Hotelstars Union classification system was established at a conference in Prague. This was done under the patronage of HOTREC. This is an umbrella organisation of 39 associations across 24 countries in Europe. HOTREC is an abbreviation of Hotels, Restaurants & Cafés in Europe. Earlier, in 2007, HOTREC launched their EHQ. This is the European Hospitality Quality scheme – it accredited existing national inspection bodies for hotel ratings, like some mentioned above.

The Hotelstars Union includes Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Belgium, Denmark, Greece, Liechtenstein and Slovenia. The hotel star ratings are as follows:

  • * – Tourist
  • *S – Superior Tourist
  • ** – Standard
  • **S – Superior Standard
  • *** – Comfort
  • **** – First Class
  • ****S – First Class Superior
  • ***** – Luxury
  • *****S – Superior Luxury

Some of the criteria for each star rating are…

The Superior flag is provided when the additional service and accommodation provisions are not sufficient for the next Hotelstar. The bathroom facilities are usually at the same level as for two stars hotels but built from cheaper materials. The cost for regular inspection by independent associations is waived as well.

Tourist

  • 100% of the rooms with shower/WC or bath tub/WC
  • Daily room cleaning
  • 100% of the rooms with colour-TV together with remote control
  • Table and chair
  • Soap or body wash
  • Reception service
  • Facsimile at the reception
  • Publicly available telephone for guests
  • Extended breakfast
  • Beverage offer in the hotel
  • Deposit possibility

Standard

In addition to the single star (*) hotels:

  • Breakfast buffet
  • Reading light next to the bed
  • Bath essence or shower gel
  • Bath towels
  • Linen shelves
  • Offer of sanitary products (e.g. toothbrush, toothpaste, shaving kit)
  • Credit cards

Comfort

In addition to the standard star (**) hotels:

  • Reception opened 14 hours, accessible by phone 24 hours from inside and outside, bilingual staff (e.g. German/English)
  • Three piece suite at the reception, luggage service
  • Beverage offer in the room
  • Telephone in the room
  • Internet access in the room or in the public area
  • Heating facility in the bathroom, hair-dryer, cleansing tissue
  • Dressing mirror, place to put the luggage/suitcase
  • Sewing kit, shoe polish utensils, laundry and ironing service
  • Additional pillow and additional blanket on demand
  • Systematic complaint management system

First Class

In addition to the comfort star (***) hotels:

  • Reception opened 18 hours, accessible by phone 24 hours from inside and outside
  • Lobby with seats and beverage service
  • Breakfast buffet or breakfast menu card via room service
  • Minibar or 24 hours beverages via room service
  • Upholstered chair/couch with side table
  • Bath robe and slippers on demand
  • Cosmetic products (e.g. shower cap, nail file, cotton swabs), vanity mirror, tray of a large scale in the bathroom
  • Internet access and internet terminal
  • “À la carte”-restaurant

Luxury

In addition to the first class (****) hotels:

  • Reception opened 24 hours, multilingual staff
  • Doorman-service or valet parking
  • Concierge, page boy
  • Spacious reception hall with several seats and beverage service
  • Personalized greeting for each guest with fresh flowers or a present in the room
  • Minibar and food and beverage offer via room service during 24 hours
  • Personal care products in flacons
  • Internet-PC in the room
  • Safe in the room
  • Ironing service (return within 1 hour), shoe polish service
  • Turndown service in the evening
  • Mystery guesting

Superior Luxury

The Luxury star hotels need to attain high expectations of an international guest service. The Superior Luxury star is only awarded with a system of intensive guest care.

For travellers to and within Europe, this is the most universal system you will come across. It is a well-recognised way of understanding how good a hotel is. Or not!

hotel star rating
The hotel star rating in Europe is the most universal system there is.

Other hotel rating systems

As well as hotel star ratings, there are other systems in place. Perhaps you are looking for a hotel that is particularly Muslim-friendly. In this case, look for hotels with the ‘Salam Standard’ classification – divided into four tiers, certifications are awarded based on different criteria such as halal food and prayer mats. There are also various rating systems for how eco-friendly a hotel is; even if you don’t opt for an eco lodge, for example, you might still be interested in how sustainable your accommodation is!

Hotel star ratings: Further reading

Whilst hotel star rating may not be universal across the world, they are certainly a good way to get a feel for the quality and standard of accommodation. If you enjoyed this article and would like to learn more, you may be interested in the following articles:

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