The comments come in response to industry confusion after press reports suggested that the hotel quality rating system could be scrapped.
“Our star rating scheme is not in question at all,” said Jenny McGee from the country’s tourist board, VisitEngland, which currently oversees the government-backed hotel quality rating system.
“What we are looking at in our current review is how we can support the scheme in a reduced-funding environment,” she told BigHospitality. This, she said, could involve higher fees for participating hotels as “just one possibility of many different options”.
Prioritise government funding
Ufi Ibrahim, chief executive at the British Hospitality Association (BHA) said: “It’s not a question of abolishing the star system. The question is the use of government funding.”
“VisitEngland’s funding has been cut back significantly (34 per cent over the next four years) at a time when we have the Olympic Games in one year’s time. With limited funds, if you have to prioritise, then you need to put the funds into promoting the country.”
VisitEngland’s chief executive James Berresford confirmed that the board will continue to support the star scheme as long as it “remains beneficial to the industry”. However, he added that the scheme would “evolve” and be “modernised”.
This would involve ensuring it is independent of government funding and also expanding its reach to include social media and online review sites.
John Penrose: industry can pay
In an interview with BBC Radio 4 yesterday afternoon, John Penrose, Minister for Tourism, said: “We’re trying to strike a slightly better balance. The fact is that most people do both – they have a look at a star rating if there is one out there, but they also will go and look at one of the various rating websites as well.
“We would like to get people to use those websites rather more frequently, but also if the industry wants to carry on running a star rating system off its own back that’s absolutely fine as well.
“It’s rather bizarre that the government is involved in rating hotels when, for example, there’s no government rating scheme for cars or cornflakes; I’m not quite sure why hotels are so special.
“Tourism is tremendously important but so are many other industries, and fundamentally this is about making sure that people have the right information to make sensible decisions about where they’re going to go on holiday. And I think most people will want to have both a star rating and be able to look at what other consumers have thought about [a hotel] too.”
AA star scheme
The star rating systems currently used are run by the tourist boards of England, Scotland and Wales, as well as a private scheme run by the AA.
Since 2006, all systems have followed the same common standards set by the government, with star ratings determined by the services and facilities provided, as well as the hospitality of the staff, the food and the cleanliness.
The main difference between VisitEngland’s and AA’s systems is that AA focuses only on hotels and guest houses, while VisitEngland covers all types of accommodation, including ‘alternative’ options such as holiday parks or camping.
AA and VisitEngland also follow different models when assessing the cost of participation in their schemes. Whereas the AA charges a different fee per star category, VisitEngland’s fee depends on the size of the property and the number of rooms, and starts at £132 plus VAT for a small guest accommodation property.
An official decision on the future of VisitEngland’s scheme is expected to be announced at the end of February as part of the Department for Media, Culture and Sports (DCMS) new Tourism Strategy.