A vast array of incompatible rating systems purport to evaluate restaurants, hotels and travel accommodation in individual countries or worldwide. The value of these systems, much like the criteria used to generate the ratings, varies widely.
In their original format, establishments were visited by professional reviewers on behalf of guide book publishers; an establishment which met a reviewer's minimum expectations under established criteria received a very brief printed description and a shorthand rating as a number of stars (some automobile associations use diamonds). In most reputable guides, an establishment of poor quality simply didn't get listed at all. The latter is also (for the most part) policy here at Wikivoyage.
The original star ratings were introduced by the Michelin Guides for restaurants in 1933. There were only three levels, defined in terms of how a driver might reach them since Michelin is a tire company:
- one star: worth a visit; you should eat there if you are in the area
- two star: worth a detour; consider going out of your way to eat there
- three star: worth a special trip just to eat there.
As of 2019 there were only 137 Michelin three-star restaurants in the world.
Later, the ratings were applied to hotels and attractions as well as restaurants, and other guides started using more than 3 star levels. While criteria varied, most respected printed guides set a high bar before awarding multiple, additional stars. The Mobil Travel Guide (now the Forbes Guide) awarded five stars in 2006 to 32 hotels in all of North America (US, Canada & Mexico); more recent editions award five stars to just a handful of US hotels (10 in California, 7 in New York, 2 each in Hawaii and Illinois, 1 each in Texas and Washington DC, many states zero).
The ratings are a shorthand intended to accompany (not replace) the short textual commentary on each venue in a printed guidebook.
As anyone can publish their own ratings or even their own guidebooks, reviewing based on any arbitrary criteria, the use of a "star rating" on its own has substantial limitations:
- Marketers began to dilute these terms, with dozens of hotels claiming to be "five star" even if most merely met Mobil's definition of three star "Well-appointed establishment, with full services and amenities" or (at best) four star "Outstanding-worth a special trip".
- Rating systems designed for traditional restaurants and hotels performed poorly when assessing bed and breakfasts or non-conventional properties. The availability of each item from a check-list of desired amenities is easily quantified; the quality of the provided services and the hosts themselves is subjective and difficult to assess in a repeatable manner. At most, a professional reviewer might be afforded discretion to award an additional half-star (★+) if a property is better than others in its class.
- Travel organisations (agencies, tour operators and transportation services) fell through the cracks; there are either no ratings or ratings based primarily on a self-selected sample of user-supplied reviews. The little-used TripCook rates travel companies on multiple criteria, but quite clearly brands itself a "travel business promotion agency".
- Some rating systems were operated by organisations representing travel industry vendors. One star in le guide Michelin means a property is not only one of the select few good enough to be listed by le bonhomme Michelin at all but also one of the even fewer to receive such an imprimatur. One star in a guidebook which lists every member of the local innkeeper's association, conversely, doesn't mean "actually good enough to join this very select list" but instead "possibly the worst hotel in the city".
- On-line reviews are prone to inconsistent standards and vulnerable to manipulation. Instead of employing professional reviewers using established criteria, websites opened the floodgates for a self-selected sample of users to submit their own subjective reviews. As those who felt most strongly were the most eager reviewers, most lauded (five stars) or scathingly despised (one star) any given venue. Website owners routinely exercised heavy-handed control over which reviews were published, despite an inherent conflict of interest: many sites were funded by adverts from the very vendors they purported to objectively review.
- The status of the rating organization is often unclear, or the ratings vague or non-descriptive. There is a virtual jungle of rating systems in the world. Even where an official system rates properties on a clear, published set of criteria, its ratings co-exist alongside multiple other "star" ratings, everything from le guide Michelin to some random Yelp user. As all use differing criteria, direct comparison of ratings between systems is meaningless.
- Unless the voyager knows why and how a specific rating is given under specific criteria, a star rating on its own is just a number.
Some countries have carefully implemented one standard, established rating system with well-defined criteria. In this system, an official guidebook issued by a province or state will consistently use one rating system across all listed properties. While this does not eliminate the inherent loss of data when reducing observations like "good room service, but badly dated décor" to one arbitrary number rating the hotel as a whole, it at least allows comparison between properties in the same market.
A travel rating system that is impartial, contains no marketing affiliations and uses well-constructed algorithms paired with customer reviews could certainly make the travel industry more efficient, caring and responsible.
Conversely, an innkeeper giving themselves five stars (or six, or seven...) is completely meaningless.
Establishments in South Africa may choose to have themselves graded by the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa on a 5-star scale. Many establishments make use of this service; the star grading is displayed on most advertising material.
|★||Clean, comfortable and functional.|
|★★||Good: Quality furnishings, service and guest care.|
|★★★||Very good: Better furnishings, service and guest care.|
|★★★★||Superior: Excellent comfort and very high standard furnishings, service and guest care.|
|★★★★★||Exceptional: Top of the line quality and luxurious accommodation to match the best international standards. Flawless service and guest care.|
Canada Select, an industry-based organization, is the largest Canadian rating agency. During periodic inspections, properties are evaluated for physical quality, content of facilities, services and amenities provided, only taking service into account at the higher star levels. Each category and star level has distinct criteria which must be achieved; where the quality of facilities is superior a property may be awarded a half-star above its criteria rating. This system was devised to rate hotels.
|★ or ★+||Clean, well-maintained and comfortable, providing necessary facilities for an enjoyable stay. Meets or exceeds nationally accepted criteria for facilities, services, amenities and accommodation quality, including standards such as room size, window screens and coverings, clothes storage, linens, door lock, smoke detector, and parking facilities.|
|★★||Mid-range accommodation which exceeds the one-star level in quality of mattress, bed linen, floors/window/wall coverings, and in provision of bedside and seating area lighting, additional room furniture, and parking space.|
|★★★||Above average facilities and services, larger units with additional room furniture, coordinated furnishings, better quality mattresses and linens, clock/alarm, extra amenities in washrooms|
|★★★★||Exceptional or superior quality in all areas of facilities and services, guestrooms, bath and common areas. The property typically provides laundry/valet service as well as many additional amenities.|
|★★★★★||Luxurious at a world standard, offering outstanding facilities, guest service and amenities.|
Canada Select also rates cottage cabins, bed and breakfast and camping facilities, using different criteria for each. A B&B room must include an ensuite bath and a full breakfast (not merely "continental breakfast") to receive three stars or above.
A rival group, Canadian Star Quality Accommodation, operates its own star system and inspection process. The programme is voluntary, but these ratings appear to be in use in tourism guidebooks published by three of the Western provinces.
In Canada, as in the US, automobile associations (CAA/AAA) have long published their own guidebooks for members with a rating scheme based on diamonds instead of stars.
The best known standardized rating system is the AAA (American Auto Association) Diamond Rankings. These ratings appear in a long-running series of printed state or regional guidebooks which are offered free to AAA and CAA (Canadian Automobile Association) members.
It is quite reliable and meaningful in describing the level of service, i.e., what amenities to expect at a hotel. The vast majority of motels and hotels in the U.S. are rated two or three diamond, while four diamond properties are upscale/fancy—often the best hotel in a city. Five diamond properties are super-lux and usually found only in the most major cities.
AAA also provides ratings for campgrounds and restaurants, but these are less referred to. The star attraction or event for a locality may be designated by AAA as a "GEM" or "great experience for members" with no numeric rating. There is also an "AAA Approved Auto Repair" designation for garages, but these listings do not appear in the TourBook with the hotels and restaurants and do not use a star or diamond rating system.
Star ratings for hotels in the US are not in any way standardized or regulated, and are generally best ignored. In certain cities, some people may find local star ratings for restaurants, such as those by the New York Times for New York restaurants, to be of some use.
The Hotelstars Union seeks to harmonize hotel rating standards and criteria among its member countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Slovenia, Sweden and Switzerland.
Hotel star ratings can only be taken as a broad indication of what you will get for your money. There are many marvellous 2-star hotels that you will want to return to every year and many 5-star hotels that you will never want to set foot in again. The star rating, as in all countries, is based on a bureaucratic assessment of the facilities provided and does not necessarily relate to comfort. Often the only difference between a 3-star and 4-star hotel is that the latter offers all meals while the former only offers breakfast.
Royal Automobile Club (RAC) inspectors provided their own ratings from 1905-2006.
The various organisations cooperate when it comes to rating, which makes it easier for the traveller.
There is a consistent set of standards; as of 2011:
|★||Every hotel, from one star up, must generally be open daily during its operating season, providing the level of service and facilities appropriate to its star rating seven days a week. The proprietor or staff are available during the day and evening to receive guests and provide information/services such as hot drinks and light refreshments; they are on site all day and on call to resident guests at night. Resident guests, once registered, have access to the hotel at all times. The hotel meets all current statutory obligations, carries liability insurance and provides a minimum of 15 double en suite bedrooms, a clearly designated reception facility and a bar or sitting area with a liquor licence. A dining room/restaurant or similar eating area serves a cooked or continental breakfast seven days a week, as well as evening meals seven days a week.|
|★★||Additionally, for two stars, all areas of operation should meet the Two Star level of quality for cleanliness, maintenance, hospitality, quality of physical facilities and delivery of services.|
|★★★||Additionally, for three stars, all areas of operation should meet the Three Star level of quality for cleanliness, maintenance, hospitality, quality of physical facilities and delivery of services. All bedrooms have en suite bathrooms. An in-room telephone system provides, at minimum, the ability to phone from bedroom to reception and vice versa. Once registered, residents have access at all times during the day and evening (e.g. from 7AM until 11PM) without use of a key. Access is available outside these times. Wi-Fi is available in public areas. Dinner is served six evenings a week with bar snacks or equivalent available on seventh evening. Room service offers a minimum of hot and cold drinks and light snacks (e.g. sandwiches) during the daytime and evening. Guests should be made aware of this service provision via room information and made aware of prices before ordering.|
|★★★★||Additionally, for four stars, there is an expectation for higher quality of service levels in all departments and in general higher staffing levels, as well as a serious approach and clear focus to the food and beverage offering. Once registered, residents should have 24-hour access, facilitated by on-duty staff. All bedrooms include a Wi-Fi or Internet connection, as well as en suite bathrooms with WC and thermostatically controlled showers. At least one restaurant is open to residents and non-residents for breakfast and dinner seven days a week. The 24 hour room service includes cooked breakfast and full dinner during restaurant opening hours. All areas of operation should meet the Four Star level of quality for cleanliness, maintenance, hospitality, quality of physical facilities and delivery of services. Enhanced services are offered, such as afternoon tea, offer of luggage assistance, meals at lunchtime or table service on request at breakfast.|
|★★★★★||Additionally, for five stars (the highest rating), a hotel must offer exceptional levels of proactive service and customer care, providing excellent staffing levels with well-structured and dedicated teams with depth in management levels. All areas of operation should meet the Five Star level of quality for cleanliness, maintenance, hospitality, and for the quality of physical facilities and delivery of services. The five-star hotel must be open seven days a week all year, with additional facilities (e.g. secondary dining, leisure, business centre, spa) and enhanced services offered (e.g. valet parking, escort to bedrooms, proactive table service in bars and lounges and at breakfast, ‘concierge’ service, 24-hour reception, 24-hour room service, full afternoon tea). At least 80% of bedrooms have an en suite bathroom with WC, bath and a thermostatically controlled shower; 20% may be shower only. A number of permanent luxury suites are available. There is at least one restaurant open to residents and non-residents for all meals seven days a week. A choice of environments in public areas (of sufficient relevant size) provides generous personal space.|
The VisitBritain Silver & Gold Awards are awarded to establishments with the highest levels of quality within their rating. While the overall rating (in stars) is based on a combination of the range of facilities, the level of the offered services and the general quality, the gold and silver awards focus solely on the quality of service.
Different (typically less restrictive) criteria apply to guest accommodation, self-catering and serviced apartments, parks, holiday villages and hostels.
The Automobile Association uses rosettes to evaluate eateries ranked in the top 10% of all British restaurants. The higher levels (three or four rosettes) are difficult to obtain; when a restaurant at these levels changes to another chef, it is re-evaluated. The AA typically adds only one restaurant a year at the four rosette level.
There are separate criteria for hotel, motel, serviced apartment, self-catering, hosted accommodation and caravan-holiday park (so a "five-star motel" can't be compared directly to a "five-star hotel"). The hotel criteria are about fifty-six pages; each category of accommodation is rated on three groups of criteria ("Quality and Condition", "Cleanliness" and "Facilities and Services") and inspected at roughly three-year intervals. Half-stars may be awarded.
|★ or ★+||Offers budget facilities without compromising cleanliness or guest security. Guests may access fee-based services or facilities upon request.|
|★★ or ★★+||Focusses on the needs of price conscious travellers. Services and guest facilities are typically limited to keep room rates affordable and competitive but may be available upon request or fee-based.|
|★★★||Delivers a broad range of amenities that exceed above-average accommodation needs. Good quality service, design and physical attributes are typically fit for purpose to match guest expectations.|
|★★★★||Achieves a deluxe guest experience. A wide range of facilities and superior design qualities is typically complemented by service standards that reflect the varied and discerning needs of the guest.|
|★★★★★||Typifies luxury across all areas of operation. Guests will enjoy an extensive range of facilities and comprehensive or highly personalised service relevant to the accommodation type. Properties at this level will display excellent design quality and attention to detail.|
Innkeepers are under no obligation to participate in the scheme; many choose not to do so due to the fees involved. A star rating may be upgraded if a property is renovated or revoked entirely in response to consumer complaints.
Qualmark, owned by Tourism New Zealand, a government organisation, provides the official rating system and uses a 1–5 star system; half-stars may be awarded for properties better than the others in their class.
|★ or ★+||Acceptable. Meets customers' minimum requirements. Basic, clean, and comfortable accommodation.|
|★★ or ★★+||Good. Exceeds customers' minimum requirements with some additional facilities and services.|
|★★★||Very good. Provides a range of facilities and services and achieves good to very good quality standards.|
|★★★★||Excellent. Consistently achieves high quality levels with a wide range of facilities and services.|
|★★★★★||Exceptional. Among the best available in New Zealand.|