Star Attractions - how useful are accommodation ratings?

It's probably the first thing we look for when booking a place to stay, the star rating of the accommodation in question. Five stars leap out at us, screaming opulent luxury, one star surely means things will be pretty basic and spartan. Anything in between we'll judge accordingly. But are we judging too quickly, and just how much information can you gleam from those five-prong sets?

In times gone by, in Britain at least, things seemed more straightforward. The AA (Automobile Association) and the RAC both provided 1 to 5 star ratings for hotels, which generally gave you a straightforward idea of what you were in for. Times have changed however. The RAC pulled out of accommodation grading a few years ago, and in Scotland grading is now provided not just by the AA but also by VisitScotland, the national tourism organisation.

The latter's rating schemes are by far the most likely you'll encounter in Scotland, however it's not necessarily a case of glancing at the number of pips to get an idea of luxury. For one thing the rating awarded has a much heavier focus on overall standards of cleanliness, service and hospitality, with 1 star indicating "clean and tidy, a fair and acceptable, if basic, standard", up to 5 stars indicating "an exceptional standard". This however is not a flat rating system covering all forms of accommodation, but have differing criteria in multiple categories, from B&Bs and budget hotels, to serviced apartments, lodges and metro hotels. Put simply a 5 star rural B&B is very unlikely to have the same level of opulence and on-hand services as a large 5 star city hotel. Standards though should be "exceptional" in both cases.

In the internet era however we now have the ability to in some ways turn the traditional ratings system on its head, via guest ratings. Some have suggested (not surprisingly accommodation owners in particular) that guest reviews and ratings, provided most prominently by the likes of TripAdvisor, are not a fair and accurate representation of the accommodation in question. A guest may be more likely to provide a review only if they've had a negative experience, as opposed to those who've had a positive experience and therefore didn't feel the need to express an opinion, which may distort the view of potential future guests. There may be some truth in this, but overall its fair to say good accommodation will have overwhelmingly good reviews, although the more reviews the more accurate the picture.

Such is the strength of guest reviews accommodation providers can often charge a higher price than might be expected for their star rating, such is the strength of the reputation they've built up through their patrons. It's also worth looking out for accommodation that has no, or has supplied no star rating, but which nevertheless has good guest ratings.

So, what's in a star? Well, plenty as it turns out, in fact probably more than initially meets the eye. But as we've seen there's now more than one way to judge if your potential accommodation is worth staying in.

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