The ins and outs of hotel star grading

When you think of a five-star hotel, you immediately picture luxury. On the other end of the spectrum, when you think of a one-star hotel, the more budget-focused offerings come to mind. But what does star grading entail from country to country? This is worth knowing, as star grading isn’t the same across the globe. A three-star establishment in one country may be the lesser counterpart in another.

Grading criteria and minimum standards are used to rate hotels. This is known as legacy ratings, and it gives travellers a sense of the standard of quality and service they can expect. In South Africa, this is governed by the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa (TGCSA).

According to the TGCSA website, a one-star establishment offers an acceptable basic quality in the overall standard of furnishings, service and guest care. Visitors are also entitled to breakfast as well as soap and bath towels. A two-star establishment offers what a one-star does and includes hot food and hand towels. At a three-star hotel, visitors can expect good-quality facilities, furnishings and guest care, and are able to order from a extensive breakfast menu. For a four-star establishment, an excellent quality of facilities, furnishings and services are expected. Added to this, a full breakfast should be offered, with the option to have it served at your table. Room service should also be made available for at least 18 hours every day and a work desk fitted in rooms. A five-star hotel will offer the best in luxury facilities, furnishings and service, on par with international standards. There should be 24-hour room service and a breakfast menu, which caters to different tastes, that’s served all day, while in-room and seated dining are non-negotiable.

Internationally, different countries have different criteria, which means there’s no international standard or classification system, which may lead to confusion as to what you might actually expect. In Europe, grading is standardised by the European Union Hotel Union, while the Automobile Association (AA) system is used in Britain by some hotels. Others use the Royal Automobile Club rating. The American Automobile Association (AAA) diamond rating system is widely used in the USA. In some countries, the rating systems are poorly monitored or, worse, manipulated.

When you compare European countries, which use similar rating systems, a five-star hotel room places emphasis on personal touches. Guests can expect a greeting note or small gift. Also included would be an ironing service already added to the room rate. In the US, a five-star, or five-diamond, hotel includes a stay in an exceptionally luxurious setting, the option of a wake-up call when requested and a turndown service. In the UK, five-star hotels offer multilingual services and “extra” facilities. Guests should be greeted at the door.

With the advent of travel apps such as Airbnb and user-generated sites such as TripAdviser, however, an increasing number of travellers have come to trust and continuously use these when planning their holiday. Review sites such as Expedia, which uses its own star grading criteria, are used rather than legacy ratings to get an idea of what to expect at an establishment.

In essence, for lesser-known establishments it’s best to check both the legacy ratings by reputable raters as well as user reviews and comments for extensive insight into the service and overall experience at the hotel you’re considering.

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