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What do you really get for your five stars?

Nov 14, 2017
Five-star service is a must for some business travellers. In this article Steve Jordan looks at what extra you get for your money if you demand the ultimate in luxury.

Any hotel with even a single star, anywhere in the world, should provide clean linen, a shower room and toilet, a daily maid service, a TV and somewhere to eat and drink.  What more could anyone want?  Well, quite a lot it seems as many people, especially those travelling on business, wouldn’t be seen within three blocks of such a place.    

For some, only five stars will do and they are willing to pay a significant premium, maybe 20% or more, for the extra twinkle above the door.  So, I thought it might be interesting to find out exactly what luxury travellers are getting for their hard-earned money.  

The first thing to say is that there is no global body for issuing star ratings or internationally recognised guidelines for doing so. The USA, for example, has a number of competing systems – such as Forbes Travel and the American Automobile Association – that awards diamonds or stars plus local councils and national government organisations.  In Britain, there’s the Automobile Association and the national tourist authorities; France and Spain have similar national systems.  But they don’t all work to the same criteria so a five-star hotel in Madrid might not be the same standard as a five-star in Paris.  Also, some consider location as one of the criteria so, a four-star hotel in central London might not be as good as a three-star in the suburbs – but it’s much more convenient for the theatre.    

But the problem is acknowledged and there are some moves to provide the consistency that’s required to help guests work out which hotel suits them best.  The Hotelstars Union, for example, brings together the hotel communities in 17 European countries under a common classification with the intention of harmonising standards with common criteria and procedures. In April 2017 the organisation proudly announced that Slovenia has joined its number so, presumably, it’s on a mission to spread its influence as far as possible.  

But, even if it is successful, it only partly solves the problem. Even using the Hotelstars Union standard criteria it is possible for anomalies that could skew the results and lead to a visitor making an unwise decision.  

It’s necessary for a hotel to score 600 points from a numerically-weighted list of 270 criteria if it is to rise to the dizzy heights of five-star status according to Hotelstars Union.  A four-star hotel, by comparison, only has to make it as far as 400 points when judged on: general services, quality and online services, event facilities, gastronomy, rooms and reception services.   But a hotel will automatically be granted over 400 points by doing nothing more than meeting the required minimum standards for a five-star establishment; and that doesn’t include any of the things that many might consider to be essential such as a pool, a spa, a gym, a business centre, a conference room, air conditioning or, can you believe it, an ironing board.  Yes, it is quite possible to stay in a five-star hotel that does not offer you access to the most basic of items to iron your shirt. The five-star rating is only obliquely related to the size of the room.    

There are, of course, some facilities that a five-star hotel must have over its more lowly four-star cousins.  Some of the key differentiators are: 24-hour reception and room service, valet parking, a 9-hour laundry service, flowers or a gift in the room on arrival, turndown service, the ability to make the room completely dark, a safe, a sewing kit and shoehorn, personal care products in bottles, a bathroom stool and at least two suites.  It is quite possible for a four-star hotel to provide all these facilities, and more, but never be able to achieve its five-star status because it doesn’t have any suites.  Nor does this rating take account of the location, the view, or the general ambiance of the hotel which could easily make a huge difference to the experience of staying there.   

Of course, if you want a suite, or really can’t manage to face life without your own personal sewing kit or shoehorn, well, the 20% supplement might be worth paying for.  But for most of us?  I wonder.  Have the practicalities and requirements of international travel given way to snobbery and one-upmanship?  I shall leave you to decide.  

There is, of course, another aspect to all of this.  You could argue that you don’t stay in a five-star hotel exclusively for the facilities: you stay there for the people you meet.  It’s certainly true that you won’t be rubbing shoulders with anyone who’s on the breadline, but wealth in itself is no guarantee of good company.  I have met plenty of well-off people with whom I would not choose to share my time, and a great many more ordinary souls who are a joy.  But there is just the chance that you might meet the CEO of your hottest prospect in the lift; or maybe discovery of the next ‘big thing’ is only a bar stool and a pink gin away, if you are in the right place.  Maybe that’s the best reason of all to make sure there’s a JW above the door of your Marriott and maintain your Ritz-Carlton loyalty card. 

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