British government support for VisitEngland hotel ratings scheme will be withdrawn following a declaration by the department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) that “consumer review websites offer the information consumers want”.
The fate of the star rating system is now in the hands of VisitEngland.
James Berresford, VisitEngland’s chief executive, said, “As long as the national Quality Assessment Scheme remains beneficial to the industry, VisitEngland will continue to support it and ensure that it evolves to meet the needs of the industry and consumers.
However, he added “The use of social media and user-generated content will be key to this process. It’s clear from our research that the consumer of today is web savvy and uses a number of methods to aid purchasing decisions.”
In a later defence of the current objective review system, Jenny McGee, also from VisitEngland, said “Our star rating scheme is not in question at all. What we are looking at in our current review is how we can support the scheme in a reduced-funding environment.” She said this could involve higher fees for participating hotels.
Since 2006, the official star rating systems have followed the same common standards set by the government, determined by inspections to check the services and facilities provided, the hospitality of the staff, the food and the cleanliness. The proposed changes could lead to confusion if each establishment can choose which, if any, rating system they join.
Furthermore, Mr Beresford’s suggestion that VisitEngland may use unregulated third-party review sites could raise a storm of protest in the hospitality industry, as many hotels and B&Bs have learned to their cost that reviews on sites such as TripAdvisor cannot always be trusted. The problem is that there is no proof required that the person has stayed at the place they review, or that their review is even remotely reasonable.Ufi Ibrahim, Chief Executive of the British Hospitality Association (BHA) said: “As more and more people are now turning to third-party and consumer sites for feedback and ‘objective’ views on hotel products and services there are continued cases of non-bona fide reviews appearing which can inflict significant damage on hoteliers.
“Together with any discussion on star ratings, we should be ensuring that there are ways to ensure the validity of alternative consumer information. This is something which the BHA is actively pursuing.”
She added that an independent organisation such as the AA would be capable of running an objective, professional rating scheme as a private enterprise.