What do the five star ratings mean?

“Selective Accommodations”

Simple; open your handy Forbes Travel Guide– (formerly known as the Mobil Travel Guide), select a 5 star hotel, make a reservation and check in; piece of cake.  Hotels that receive a Forbes Travel Guide Five Star rating  must have accommodations, service and amenities that qualify as truly superior; and must not only meet your needs and expectations, but exceed them.  Such attention to detail is expensive to offer, and hotel rates will certainly reflect such standards.  The higher the rating, the better the hotel.  But you knew that.

What you didn’t know is…it depends. It depends on who is awarding the ratings. If it’s Forbes Travel Guide providing them, you’re probably fine. If it’s a local or national government, a volunteer organization, or the King’s brother-in-law, not so much.  Perhaps the lobby is not configured in a way the rating inspector approves of, there is a room in the back without an en-suite bath, or the hotel owner is out of favor with the Monarch. One star for you! Indeed, there are approximately eighty hotel rating systems utilized worldwide, with many countries having no rating systems at all. Umm, what does five monkeys mean?

And then there is always the possibility that the hotel owner simply doesn’t want to be bothered with an annoying   rating system at all. Their reputation, they believe, precedes them. And may!

So what is the Talented Traveler to do? First, if there is indeed a rating system in place, determine its value. A call to your travel agent is a good start. Travel agents are usually knowledgeable in such matters, and can either give you an answer or direct your inquiry to the appropriate place. They are also a secure (and recommended) way to make your final bookings.

Then it’s time for the fun part; some firsthand investigating of you own! In fact, doing so may be your best means to insure that your unique accommodation needs are met. You’re selective, right?

I’ve found that today’s internet provides a wide array of Travel/Hotel Rating Sites  to assist you in your search; although one still must avoid the five monkeys. It’s always in your best interest to select a site that is free of conflicting loyalties or pre-selected offerings. I favor sites that only rate hotels, not sell them; with the widest possible assortment of hotels available.

A benefit to utilizing such sites is that they provide a much more personalized method of hotel selection that puts your requirements first and foremost. One of my favorite travel review sites, TripAdvisor.com, provides interactive maps that not only show a hotel’s location, but its proximity to transportation services, restaurants (also rated) and attractions. In addition, the site offers hotel listings based on both price and popularity, as well as amenities provided.

One of the best benefits of Trip Advisor, and similar sites, is that they publish current hotel ratings provided by visitors to the property in the recent past. This option not only rates the property using an understandable rating scale, but also offers recent visitor photos (the more the better) and detailed commentary on the hotels positive and negative qualities. Hotel offerings can change quickly, and old reviews and ratings may not still be accurate.

Additionally, these guest reviews are broken down into the type of travel engaged in, such as: Business, Couples, Family, Friends Get Away and Solo Travel. Business hotels are not often well-suited for family travelers, and this break down allows you to read ratings by travelers that share your needs.

As useful as Travel/Hotel Rating Sites can be, they must offer the best hotel rates, right? Yet again, it depends. Although the rates they offer can be tempting, and lower than other offers, you may be comparing apples to oranges. In fact, hotels often offer such sites discounted rooms based upon the tried and true supply & demand system. As demand goes up, so do prices. Common sense suggests that no hotel will sell a hotel room for $100 when they can get $200; and they don’t. Hotels offering discounted room rates to such sites often provide only those rooms which they are having trouble selling due to their size, location in the hotel, or over difficult-to-fill dates. All hotel rooms are not the same, and the general rule of thumb applies; you usually get what you pay for. Visiting the hotel’s own web site will often give you a much clearer picture of what you are actually being offered.

And now the trump card. You are likely to find that you are not the first Talented Traveler to have visited a particular hotel, and that they often go into the kind of detail about their experience that you can make excellent use of. Such as: “The shower pressure is great!” “Rooms on the south side of the hotel overlook the river; the north side overlooks the parking lot.” “Don’t forget to ask for the feather pillows.”  “We stayed there for a week, and room number 315 is definitely the largest and most comfortable room in the house!”   “Heaven, 500 thread count sheets!”  OR…”This place is really over rated.”  “The tile was falling off the bathroom wall.”  “The traffic was so loud I didn’t sleep all night.” “This is a seedy part of town.” It’s the kind of detail you want, and can help make your hotel selection experience better.

With a little effort and travel savvy on your part, you can avoid relying on the carefully cropped and worded hotel brochures and self serving advertising, and find a hotel rated well by real travelers, in real time, in a price range and location you prefer, with the amenities you require.  And it’s really kind of fun to do.

And upon your return, do us all a favor and provide your ratings. It’s a jungle out there! Well, it depends.

Mr. Garrett’s 40 year career in the Travel & Tourism Industry includes public and private experience with hotels & resorts, travel destinations, food & beverage facilities, cruise lines, airlines and travel writing. He currently holds the designation of Professor Emeritus after teaching Travel and Tourism for 25 years. He has also been there and done that!

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