How Do Hotels Get Star Ratings? A Comprehensive Breakdown

When it comes to selecting a hotel for a holiday or business trip, one of the primary factors often considered by potential guests is the establishment's star rating. These ratings provide a quick and easy way to gauge the level of service, quality, and amenities one can expect during their stay. But how exactly do hotels achieve these prestigious rankings, and what criteria are considered in the process?

The hotel star rating system is not a singular, globally recognised standard, but rather an amalgamation of various classification systems employed by different organisations and countries. Generally, a set of criteria encompassing aspects such as room size, cleanliness, available facilities, and quality of service are evaluated, and the hotel is assigned a ranking based on overall performance. While the specific details might slightly differ between systems, the fundamental intention remains consistent: to provide travellers with a reliable and recognisable method to compare their accommodation options.

It's essential for travellers to understand that various organisations, including government bodies, industry associations, and independent companies, are responsible for the assessment and rating of hotels. Some of these organisations perform regular inspections and are highly regarded for their rigorous evaluation process. Knowing how hotels receive their star ratings can empower potential guests to make informed decisions and have realistic expectations when booking their stays.

Fundamentals of Hotel Star Ratings

The hotel industry star rating system serves as a benchmark to measure the quality of service, amenities, and overall experience provided by a hotel. Hotels worldwide are rated using a combination of objective criteria and consumer reviews. The primary factors considered include cleanliness, quality of amenities, staff attentiveness, and guest satisfaction. In this section, we will explore the fundamentals of hotel star ratings, including their origins, classification methods, and the impact on consumer choice.

The hotel star rating system traces its origins back to the early 20th century. It was originally developed by the automobile associations in North America and Europe, such as the AA (Automobile Association) in the UK and the CAA (Canadian Automobile Association) in Canada. Today, various independent organisations, government agencies, and industry bodies are involved in assigning ratings to hotels, each with their own rating criteria. Some examples of these include Forbes Travel Guide and Michelin Guide.

Hotel star ratings are typically assigned based on the following characteristics:

  1. Cleanliness: The overall cleanliness and hygiene standards of the hotel, including rooms, bathrooms, and common areas.
  2. Amenities: The quality, variety, and accessibility of amenities such as Wi-Fi, swimming pools, fitness centres, and on-site restaurants.
  3. Services: The level of services provided to guests, including front desk assistance, concierge services, and room service.
  4. Location: The hotel's proximity to key attractions, transportation options, and the general desirability of the location.
  5. Value: The overall value for money offered by the hotel, taking into consideration room rates, services, amenities, and location.

Each category is assigned a score, and the total score determines the hotel's star rating. The table below provides a general overview of the key features and facilities associated with hotel star ratings provided by The AA.

Star Rating


1 ★

Friendly staff offering a casual yet efficient service. Every room comes with an ensuite or private bathroom. Guests can enjoy breakfast daily and dinner on most nights in a specific dining area.

2 ★★

This rating features a restaurant or dining area where breakfast is served daily and dinner is available most evenings.

3 ★★★

Expect well-dressed, professional staff. Both residents and non-residents can dine in the restaurant or dining room.

4 ★★★★

Experience service from professional staff in uniform, attentive to your needs. The hotel boasts well-furnished public spaces. The restaurant or dining area, open to all, offers lunch in a specific area.

5 ★★★★★

Top-tier luxury in both accommodation and public spaces, with a variety of additional amenities and services in multiple languages. Welcoming staff greet guests at the entrance. The menu and wine selection are of high quality.

It is essential to note that not all star rating systems are the same, and travellers must understand the specific evaluation criteria of a particular rating agency to make an informed choice.

A complete and detailed breakdown of hotel ratings and awards can be found on the AA website.

Official Star Rating Organisations

AAA and Forbes Travel Guide

The American Automobile Association (AAA) and the Forbes Travel Guide are two major organisations responsible for rating hotels in North and South America. AAA uses a diamond rating system, awarding hotels with one to five diamonds based on factors like cleanliness, service, and amenities. The Forbes Travel Guide utilises a similar approach, providing hotels with one to five stars according to their overall quality, staff, and facilities.

European Hotel Stars Union

In Europe, the European Hotel Stars Union (EHSU) is a prominent organisation in hotel star ratings. Established by hotel associations from several countries, the EHSU follows a harmonised criteria catalogue to provide consistent and reliable star ratings across the continent. Their rating system ranges from one to five stars, with each level featuring specific requirements concerning room size, furnishing quality, and service standards.

National Tourism Agencies

In addition to international organisations, national tourism agencies play a key role in providing hotel star ratings. Different countries may follow independent rating systems, each with its own set of evaluation guidelines. For example:

  • United Kingdom: The Automobile Association (AA) is responsible for awarding star ratings to hotels in the UK. The system evaluates properties based on quality, facilities, and services, with ratings starting from one to five stars.
  • Australia: The Australian Star Ratings Scheme takes into consideration various factors, such as cleanliness, room quality, and facilities, assigning hotels with one to five-star ratings.
  • France: The Atout France agency manages the hotel rating system in France, adhering to a set of 246 criteria to award properties with one to five-star ratings.

It's important to note that local organisations may have collaborations with international rating bodies for more widespread recognition.

Criteria for Assigning Stars

Facility Amenities

When evaluating a hotel, the presence and quality of facility amenities play a pivotal role in determining the star rating. The range of amenities spans from basic requirements like suitable parking, adequate security, and availability of Wi-Fi, to more advanced offerings such as spa services, fitness centres, and swimming pools. Typically, the greater the variety and quality of amenities, the higher the rating.

Service Quality

The standard of service quality is another critical component in the star classification process. Factors like the efficiency, professionalism, and friendliness of the hotel staff are assessed. Additionally, 24-hour reception availability, concierge services, and room service also contribute towards the overall rating. The higher the quality and range of services provided, the more stars a hotel is awarded.

Room Features

Luxury and attention to detail in room features differentiate higher-rated establishments from their counterparts. This includes comfortable bedding, modern bathroom facilities, climate control, and in-room electronic devices such as flat-screen TVs and music systems. Furthermore, room features like a minibar, safe, and complimentary tea and coffee making facilities are taken into account when assigning stars.

Cleanliness and Maintenance

The maintenance of cleanliness and maintenance standards is crucial in the hotel industry. Regular cleaning and inspections for both individual rooms and shared facilities are paramount, with higher-rated hotels expected to rigorously exceed guests' expectations. In addition to sanitation, the condition of furnishings, fixtures, and decor are also evaluated to determine the hotel's star rating.

The Impact of Star Ratings on Consumer Choices

When it comes to selecting a hotel, star ratings play a crucial role in shaping consumer decisions. Based on an established set of criteria, these ratings provide a quick and straightforward assessment of a hotel's quality and amenities.

First and foremost, a higher star rating instils greater confidence in potential guests. A hotel with a 4 or 5-star rating is typically expected to have high-quality facilities, attentive service, and a comfortable environment. As a result, consumers are more likely to choose such establishments, as they can be reasonably assured of a satisfying experience.

Another important aspect of star ratings is their impact on the perceived value of a hotel. Consumers often use these ratings to gauge whether a hotel's prices are justified. For instance, a 3-star hotel charging similar rates as a 5-star hotel might be perceived as overpriced, leading potential guests to seek better deals elsewhere.

Moreover, star ratings help consumers to compare hotels within a specific market or destination, making it easier to identify key differences and find the best option for their needs. 

An effective illustration of this can be seen in the table below:

Star Rating

Typical Amenities

1 ★

Basic room, limited facilities

2 ★★

Clean and comfortable room, basic amenities

3 ★★★

Good quality room, additional amenities and services

4 ★★★★

High standard, multiple facilities, superior service

5 ★★★★★

Luxury, exceptional facilities, exceptional service

Lastly, star ratings have an impact on the target audience of a hotel. High-end hotels with 4 or 5-star ratings typically cater to business travellers, affluent tourists, and those seeking a deluxe experience. Conversely, hotels with lower star ratings may appeal to budget-conscious or less demanding guests.

In summary, star ratings have a substantial influence on consumer choices in the hospitality industry. By providing a straightforward reference point for quality and value, these ratings empower potential guests to efficiently compare options and make informed decisions, ultimately shaping their overall experience.

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