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Hotel star rating system: Meaning and how it works

  Posted in Resources  Last updated 29/01/2024

What are hotel star ratings?

Hotel star ratings are an internationally accepted indicator of a hotel’s quality, cleanliness and standards. The higher the star rating the more you can expect from the hotel, with one star hotels offering a no frills stay and a five star hotel providing a high-end luxury experience.

What is a hotel star rating system?

Hotel star ranking systems can sometimes seem confusing or arbitrary, but they are traditionally relied upon by guests looking to make the best accommodation choices. While there are many different hotel star rating systems, all managed by different organisations in different countries, the general idea is that the higher your star rating, the better experience your hotel provides to guests overall – and therefore, the more attractive it is to future guests.

In essence, hotel star ratings are a powerful piece of social proof, gleaned from expert reviewers and/or other guests, that serve as an incredibly valuable piece of marketing collateral, assuming you can secure a good score.

Here’s everything you need to know about hotel star rating systems – what they mean, how they work, and how they might apply to your hotel.

Table of contents

Why is a rating system for hotels important?

A hotel star rating is an independent and objective grading, so it’s a reliable system that helps guests understand what they can reasonably expect when staying at a hotel.

A common understanding about the quality of a hotel also makes it easier for guests to compare hotels and make booking decisions. For example, guests might want to understand which five star hotel is most affordable? Or whether it’s worth it to pay extra for a five star hotel compared to a three star hotel. The star information facilitates these comparisons and decisions.

What do star ratings mean for hotels?

A hotel star rating is an independent and objective grading, so this means that it’s a reliable system that helps guests understand what they can reasonably expect when staying at a hotel.

A rating system for hotels is important because it provides a common understanding about the quality of a hotel,making it easier for guests to compare them and make booking decisions.

For example, guests might want to understand which five star hotel is most affordable? Or whether it’s worth it to pay extra for a five star hotel compared to a three star hotel. The star information facilitates these comparisons and decisions.

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How do hotel stars work?

Star ratings generally run from one through to five. A greater number of stars corresponds with an increasing sense of luxury (and often a bigger price tag). It’s a graded system, with steps up between the bottom and top ratings.

In Australia, hotel stars meanings are described as follows:

1-star hotel meaning

For those who seek basic, no-frills accommodation, one-star hotels are the practical choice. These establishments provide guests with clean, secure rooms, ensuring fundamental comfort and safety. While the facilities are budget-friendly, guests may have the option to access additional fee-based services, enhancing their stay. 

This level of accommodation is ideal for budget-conscious travellers who prioritise affordability and essential comforts during their travels.

2-star meaning

Two-star hotels cater to travellers who are mindful of their budget yet look for modest comfort. These hotels offer basic, comfortable rooms with limited amenities, focusing on the essentials. The streamlined services ensure a pleasant, hassle-free stay, making it an economical option. 

This combination of comfort and value makes two-star hotels a suitable choice for short stays or business trips.

3-star meaning

Perfect for those seeking above-average accommodation, three-star hotels provide a broader range of amenities. Guests can enjoy well-equipped rooms, enhanced by a variety of facilities to improve their stay. The focus on good quality service and guest satisfaction is evident, offering a harmonious blend of comfort, quality, and value. 

These hotels cater efficiently to both leisure and business travellers, making them a popular choice for various travel needs.

4-star meaning

Four-star hotels are the ideal choice for guests desiring high-standard accommodation. These hotels boast a wide array of high-quality amenities, complemented by elegant design and decor. Exceptional service, with meticulous attention to detail, ensures a memorable guest experience

This level of accommodation is perfect for those seeking a sophisticated blend of luxury and comfort, suitable for special occasions and discerning travellers.

5-star meaning

For guests who demand the finest in luxury and service, five-star hotels represent the pinnacle of hospitality. These establishments offer an extensive range of top-tier amenities, set in environments of exquisite design and luxurious detailing. 

The comprehensive, personalised services cater to every need of the guest, anticipating their every desire. This unparalleled level of luxury and indulgence creates an extraordinary and unforgettable stay, catering to the most discerning guests.

What does it mean to be a five-star hotel?

From the iconic Burj al Arab in Dubai to the swanky The Plaza in midtown Manhattan, to the historic The Westin Excelsior in Rome, the five-star hotel category includes some of the most luxurious and celebrated hotels around the world.

Service, amenities, architecture, design and furnishings – everything about a five-star hotel is premium and personalised. Guests will only need to relax and enjoy the comfort and extravagance of their surroundings as the hotel’s flawless service meets and anticipates their every need.

Even the little details touches and details are provided for, including things like:

  • High-end toiletries
  • Nightly turndown service
  • Robes and slippers
  • Medical team on call
  • Smart TV with complimentary streaming services
  • Selection of daily newspapers
  • Night room lighting
  • Pillow menu
  • Blackout shades
  • Poolside service

Sometimes, a half star rating might be added where a hotel is between star gradings.

Image explaining hotel star rating system

How are hotel stars determined?

The most important feature of a hotel star rating system is that it is independent and objective – so a hotel can’t self-rate its property. Guests need unbiased ratings when making decisions.

Using Australia as an example again, a hotel’s star rating is judged by more than 200 criteria which have been ranked by Australian travellers. The star symbols are a licensed trademark as part of their hotel grading system, and can only be used by properties that have been licensed by the Australian Tourism Industry Council (ATIC) to use them – meaning guests can have confidence in the rating system.

Criteria used to rank hotels include amenities, property quality, cleanliness, food services, entertainment, view, room variations, ease of access, location and more.

Unfortunately, there is no one universal or official hotel star rating system, which can make the system a little confusing when comparing a five star hotel in the United States to one in Europe when the hotel star rating system in the USA is different to the hotel star rating system in Europe.

Who gives star ratings to hotels?

Different regions and countries often have their own rating systems, managed by various organisations, each with its unique criteria and evaluation methods. Here’s an overview of some prominent organisations around the world that assign star ratings to hotels:

AAA (American Automobile Association) – North America

In the United States, AAA is one of the most well-known organisations for hotel ratings. AAA uses a diamond rating system, ranging from One to Five Diamonds, to evaluate the quality of hotels based on numerous criteria including comfort, cleanliness, security, and available services.

Forbes Travel Guide – Global

Forbes Travel Guide is renowned for its rigorous and independent inspection process. Its international hotel star rating system awards ratings from one to five stars globally, focusing on luxury hotels. Their criteria emphasise not just the quality of facilities but also the level of service provided.

AA (Automobile Association) – United Kingdom

In the UK, the AA star rating system is widely recognised. It assesses hotels based on a variety of factors such as hospitality, service, cleanliness, and bedrooms. The ratings range from one to five stars, with additional designations for higher-end hotels.

DEHOGA (German Hotel and Restaurant Association) – Germany

DEHOGA provides a hotel classification system in Germany, offering ratings from one to five stars. The criteria include room quality, service, and amenities, with a special emphasis on guest comfort and experience.

Tourism Grading Council of South Africa (TGCSA) – South Africa

In South Africa, the TGCSA grades hotels on a scale of one to five stars. Their focus is on providing a reliable, quality assurance standard for tourists, assessing aspects like customer service, cleanliness, and facility quality.

Hotelstars Union – Europe

The Hotelstars Union is a consortium of European hotel associations, providing a harmonised hotel classification with common criteria and procedures in member countries. The star ratings, from one to five stars, evaluate facilities, service quality, and overall guest experience.

MICHELIN Guide – Global

Although primarily known for its restaurant ratings, the MICHELIN Guide also rates hotels, particularly in Europe and Asia. Its focus is on luxury and boutique hotels, assessing comfort, quality, and service to provide a reliable guide for discerning travellers.

JTB (Japan Travel Bureau) – Japan

In Japan, JTB provides a rating system that assesses hotels based on their facilities, service, and hospitality. The Japanese system also takes into account the unique aspects of traditional Japanese inns, known as ryoukans.

Hotel star rating requirements: Examples of hotel rating criteria

You may be wondering: how do hotels get stars? The specifics depend on the rating system that you’re being recognised under, but there are some consistent aspects that highly rated hotels have mastered:

  • Room quality: Comfortable size, quality furnishings, effective soundproofing, air conditioning/heating, and cleanliness.
  • Facilities: Essential amenities like dining options, fitness centres, and Wi-Fi quality.
  • Bathroom standards: Cleanliness, hot water availability, and quality fixtures.
  • Service: Professional staff, efficient check-in/out, and effective handling of requests.
  • Food and beverage: Diverse and high-quality dining options, including room service.
  • Safety and security: Robust security measures and adherence to safety regulations.
  • Maintenance: Regular upkeep of the hotel, including common areas and facilities.
  • Location: Proximity to attractions and transportation, plus accessibility features.
  • Eco-friendliness: Sustainable practices and use of eco-friendly products.
  • Special features: Unique amenities or services that enhance the guest experience.

How to check for your hotel star rating

There are several ways for hoteliers to check for both past and current star ratings. Again, every rating agency will be a little different, but you can start by:

  1. Reviewing official documents: Many hotel rating agencies provide physical documents of recent ratings. Check your archives for these.
  2. Contact the rating agency: Sometimes simple is best. Get in touch with your local hotel rating agency and simply request for an update on your current score.
  3. Check official websites: Many rating agencies publish hotel ratings on their official website. Search for your hotel’s name to see if you’re listed.
  4. Ask local tourism boards: Sometimes, local tourism boards will have up-to-date records on recent hotel ratings. The same can be said of some local government websites as well, though this is more rare.

How to increase your hotel’s star rating

Nudging your hotel up into the next star category can provide the boost necessary to fill more rooms at higher rates. But how do you get there? Here are our top tips:

1. Talk to your certifying authority

They’ll be able to tell you the criteria on which the decision is based and where you may be able to improve or add things to jump up to that next level.

2. Improve cleanliness and comfort

These can be low-cost investments that make a big difference to guest satisfaction.

3. Improve hotel operations

Build better processes into your operations to smooth out and improve customer service.

4. Add amenities

Pools, gyms, eating options, streaming services and other things are often critical when it comes to star ratings.

5. Improve food and beverage options

Consider diversifying your menu with a range of quality, locally sourced ingredients. Introducing special diet options, like vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free meals, can cater to a broader audience. 

Also, focus on the dining environment – an inviting atmosphere can elevate the overall dining experience. Training staff in food service excellence and perhaps introducing themed dining nights or chef specials can add a unique appeal.

6. Modernise with tech upgrades

Implementing smart room features like automated lighting, climate control, and digital assistants can significantly enhance guest comfort. Offering a mobile app for convenient check-ins, room service orders, and local information can improve the guest experience. In addition, consider upgrading your Wi-Fi infrastructure to ensure high-speed connectivity – a must-have for modern travellers. 

Remember, technology that improves operational efficiency, like advanced booking systems or data analytics tools, also contributes to a higher rating through better, faster, and more personalised service.

7. Action on guest feedbacks

Implement mechanisms to gather feedback through surveys, online reviews, or direct communication. Address negative feedback promptly and visibly, showing guests and evaluators that you take their experience seriously. Use the insights from feedback to make targeted improvements in areas like service, facilities, or guest amenities. 

Showcasing a history of positive changes based on guest suggestions can be a strong indicator of your hotel’s dedication to excellence and guest satisfaction.

By Dean Elphick

Dean is the Senior Content Marketing Specialist of SiteMinder, the leading technology provider delivering hoteliers unbeatable revenue results. Dean has made writing and creating content his passion for the entirety of his professional life, which includes more than six years at SiteMinder. Through content, Dean aims to provide education, inspiration, assistance and value for accommodation businesses looking to improve the way they run their operations achieve their goals.

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