Wednesday 13 December 2017

Rating Hotels: It's time to stop seeing stars

Castlemurray House
Castlemurray House

Pol O Conghaile

It was the only Irish property to feature on 'Travel + Leisure' magazine's list of the world's Top 50 Most Romantic Hotels.

Its boutique bedrooms look out on Donegal Bay, and the lobsters in its tank are keeping fresh for a restaurant where the customers have included Sarah Jessica Parker.

So why is Castlemurray House only rated as a two-star hotel?

The answer lies in the fine-print of a classification scheme crunching 900 Irish hotels into just five star ratings.

Some of Castlemurray's 10 bedrooms do not meet the precise size criteria, and it doesn't have front-office staff on duty for the hours deemed necessary to qualify for three stars.

So, despite the stellar international reputation, it only gets two.

Plenty more surprises lurk in the system. Would you be surprised to learn that neither Mount Juliet nor Parknasilla qualify for five stars, for instance?

Or that five-star hotels such as Ashford Castle and the g in Galway do not have (nor are they required to have) swimming pools?

Irish hotels are registered and classified by Fáilte Ireland, which says its star system caters for the needs of "today's consumers".

But how up-to-date can a system be that doesn't require three or four-star hotels to provide Wi-Fi and online booking facilities for their guests?

Service, the making of many good hotels, is not even a category. The system does provide for some nuance in allowing two, three and four-star hotels to score points, expressed as a percentage within their classification, based on facilities they offer beyond the minimum requirements (eg, larger bedrooms or 24-hour room service).

These percentage points are shortly to appear on the new website, but how many customers understand them?

And what is the point, in any case, of awarding more points to the 220-bed Slieve Russell in Cavan, say, than the 18-bed Ard na Sidhe (pictured) in Kerry?

Adding to the confusion, there is no international gold standard. Hotel classifications vary from country to country, and often within countries. And that's not even starting on the nonsense of 'seven-star' hotels such as the Pangu in Beijing or the Townhouse Galleria in Milan.

Ireland's star system may not have been a problem in boom times, but with so many hotel loans on NAMA's books, it has become one.

Certain four and five-star hotels clearly no longer have the cash to meet those standards. If they could be released from the ratings regime, wouldn't that help them to downgrade, re-position their prices and start rebuilding viable businesses?

In an online age, user reviews arguably carry more weight than the classification system anyway.

This week, TripAdvisor members rated Castlemurray House with five stars.

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