In 2011 have Tourism Grading Schemes had their day?

This blog is a questioning one.  I don’t yet know what my opinion is on the question that I have raised above.  I want to write about it to hear from other’s what they feel and also by writing to clarify in my own mind what I now think about the benefits of tourism business being part of tourism grading schemes.

Tourism Grading is worldwide and in Scotland is done by VisitScotland who have a team of inspectors who assess wither tourism accommodation or visitor attractions merit star ratings from 1 star to 5 star.  Although as a marketing consultant I now work with business sectors across many industries from food and drink, leisure, professional services, retail and tourism.  www.brightlightmarketing.co.uk.  My career was built on tourism marketing.  I got this experience from working for 15 years at VisitScotland, Edinburgh Tourist Board and the Scottish Borders Tourist Board.  Starting out as a student answering the phones for tourists enquiring about holidaying in Scotland.  As a tourist board employee I was fully aware of the merits and the reasons behind the tourism grading scheme and would always check an accommodation’s star rating before staying there.  As time went on and I worked at various levels within the tourist board I also got to see how the tourism industry viewed the grading scheme with its benefits but also the issues that they faced by inconsistent inspectors and some rather strange rules along the way.

Although I could when I left VisitScotland in 2006 see the downsides to the grading scheme I was still fully in the camp that it was a necessary tool for all tourism businesses.  Firstly as it benefited consumers to assess the quality of the accommodation and secondly it was also a benefit to businesses.

So when TV programmes like the Hotel Inspector started and they visited non graded accommodation I was fully behind the Hotel Inspector’s view that they should get graded as soon as possible.  But that was a couple of years ago before Trip Advisor became such an important tool in the accommodation thought process and before social media also became an important tool.

Today if I was approached by someone wanting to set up a tourism business would I advise them to be graded?  The answer to that question is I am not sure.  I would have to look on it on an individual basis as for some who get rural diversification funding it is part of the grant process so there is a reason to be graded for that reason.  But in other cases I may well advise the client not to bother and to work Trip Advisor and social media instead.

Why have I changed?  Well simply as the way that I now search for accommodation has changed and I am not alone in that.  We recently booked a self catering holiday in Kintyre.  What was the first thing we did?  We Googled self catering accommodation Kintyre and looked at properties.  I also asked people who I tweet with and got advise from them on suitable websites.  One of which we booked from but only after we had looked at customer reviews on that property from sites such as Trip Advisor and had a close look at photos of the property on the website.  But nowhere in the process did I look at the grading.

To be honest this did not dawn on me at the time.  It only occurred to me last night when I was watching another tourism series on Channel 4 Three in a Bed.  This series features three B&B owners each week who each go to each others properties and then the person who gets either closest to or above their bed and breakfast rate wins.  Last night the winner was a non graded property and in fact throughout the whole series most of the winners haven’t been graded.  A point that has made me think about this issue.  Is grading relevant?

However it was the owner of one of the other properties who really made me think and prompted me to write this post.  He had a background in the hotel industry and had a full understanding of the grading system which in the past he had been fully for.  Now though he saw it as irrelevant as consumer review sites such as Trip Advisor were the important tool plus he ran a business where he had a clear customer in mind for and catered for that customer segment young couples and families.

So a question that has been going through my mind for at least a year made me decide to write this blog to get feedback from others on how relevant they feel grading schemes are.  For example if you now watch the Hotel Inspector they no longer push the grading schemes and yes I know previously VisitBritain sponsored the programme.  And although this will be a reason I don’t think its the whole picture.  The programme now knows that customer review sites and particularly Trip Advisor are a more powerful tool.  A hotel can be made on great Trip Advisor comments but bad reviews?  You are in trouble unless you do something about them.  I know many in the accommodation industry who hate Trip Advisor and I can understand why.  The tourism industry is not a nine to five job.  It is hard work and you are on show 24/7.  So when you put your heart and soul into it.  Bad reviews can be hurting and frustrating.  I fully understand and sympathise with these views. 

But I would advise  tourism businesses to work Trip Advisor answer good and bad comments show that you care.  As at the moment consumers play a lot of credence when making decisions to these sites.  Humans still act like we have always done.  Good service you tell a few people.  Bad service in the past you would tell up to ten more people than you did for good service.  Now what do I do if I am unhappy?  Yes I still tell people verbally but I will also mention it on my Facebook page, I will blog it and I will tweet and I will reach a lot more than ten people.  And if there is a consumer review site for the product I am unhappy with?  Yes I will use that too. 

And it’s not just for tourism I look at what people think on many products that I purchase.  It started with Amazon with their customer reviews for books.  I never buy a book unless I have looked at reviews for it from my local bookshop, to book reviews in the media, on Amazon and yes on Twitter.  I have bought two books at least recently on the strength of Twitter recommendations.  One a business book and one fiction.  My cousin last year via my recommendations on my Facebook page purchased her summer reading. 

I am the same with clothes.  I am a great fan of Boden and think their marketing is fascinating and love observing them.  But for those who know me well I also buy lots from them.  However I have bought more since they introduced the customer reviews.  That has made me buy clothes, decide though it looked good not to buy of there are comments about washing issues and up size or down size depending on the reviews.  I feel it allows me to make informed decisions.  Equally on bigger purchases like a car.  We didn’t just look at what Honda said about the CRV we purchased to replace Wanda the Honda who sadly got written off.  We also looked at consumer reviews and Which magazine.

So I am at a quandary on this issue not sure that I need to make up my mind on it.  As I say I would advise each business individually as we treat all clients this way.   But it definitely makes me feel that grading in 2011 is perhaps had its day.  It needs to be looked at for the future. 

So keen to have your views.  What criteria do you have for booking accommodation?  How has that changed in the past few years.  And if you are a tourism business what do you think?  Tell me what the benefits and downsides are to your business and how do you think consumers now view it? 

 Let’s start a discussion on this issue as I am keen to listen to your views.  And for starters when I discussed it with my husband this morning he was firmly in the camp that grading was relevant along side consumer review sites. 

So what do you think?

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About fionadranesblog

40 plus mum of two married with a mad cocker spaniel. Along with two colleagues run Bright Light Marketing a rural marketing agency who specialise in getting rural businesss noticed. www.brightlightmarketing.co.uk. Live in St Boswells in the wonderful Scottish Borders. Love books, walking and living life to the full here in the Scottish Borders though its sometimes a juggle!
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8 Responses to In 2011 have Tourism Grading Schemes had their day?

  1. Hil says:

    Fiona – I have the exact same quandary, it’s all well and good being rated 5* but what credence do tourist take on whether an attraction is 4 or 5*? I personally chose attractions by interest. I probably wouldn’t go to an attraction that had nothing to do with my interests. My decision making process would be based on reviews of the attraction that interested me, I would probably then look to see what else was in the area. Hotels: I tend to start with the money!! – and see what I can afford, then start reading the reviews. I have never once looked at VisitScotland for hotel info which is pretty sad, because I am aware of it, but my first stop is always Tripadvisor. I also agree with you about clothing and book reviews, clothing reviews have changed my shopping habits totally and there are many things I have planned to buy, then not, because of something I have read! This comment doesn’t answer your question, but I find myself in pretty much the same place as you!!

    • Thanks Hilary that does help not least as it shows it’s not just me in the tourism industry thinking this. i did mean to write about phone App’s to as you are right I would use them now when exploring a new area.

  2. Since writing this blog this morning I have been doing some research for a client’s marketing plan and came across the following research on the holiday booking process on VisitScotland.org. More food for thought on the topic. http://www.visitscotland.org/research_and_statistics/tourism_topics/holiday_planning_and_booking.aspx

  3. bluedog1257 says:

    I run self-catering and value the annual benchmarking quality grading visit from VisitScotland. You can quickly get out of touch running a rural tourism business, and VisitScotland’s advice has always been welcome. My business is 25 years old, and I always learn something new every year.

    There is an interesting parallel with farming cereals. There is a voluntary scheme, Scottish Quality Cereals, or SFQC as it is now called. In practice, all the major buyers insist on buying only SFQC grain, so the scheme is not really voluntary at all in practice. We have an annual visit, which I dread, but seem to get by. To comply, I also have to attend an annual sprayer operators’ course which updates us on the latest safety and ever-changing legislation.

    Back to tourism: people answering the phone/replying to e-mail enquiries in a tourism business are in fact answering the phone/e-mailing for Scotland: it is essential that the tone and professional attitude is correct. A poor response could put off potential visitors, who may go to a different part of the UK, or different country. Responses are not always what they could be.

    I am for keeping grading and advice, but also for introducing continual professional development as part of the scheme. Other industries have CPD, and tourism seems to be one of the few where you can open your doors with no qualifications whatever. I am not sure this can continue.

  4. John H says:

    Official ratings from a truly independent body making surprise inspections would make a world of difference. However when a hotel knows it is about to be inspected then it is likley to get a more favourable review. That is the issue with official gradings.
    The big travel firms get round this with their “key ratings” and such like.

    The ratings / reviews on the likes of Tripadvisor can be entered without anybody actually visiting the hotel / guesthouse. This can be used in underhand and misleading ways. also someone who usually stays in top end hotels may give an awful review to a mid hotel – when the mid hotel actually is the best in class. You need to understand the reviewer before you understand the review – adding another layer of complexity into the equation.

    In the end I believe the more information you have then the better chance you have of making the best decision. So I would opt for official ratings and reviews, along with personal ratings and reviews.

    • This seems to be the general view point that both are required which is what the VisitScotland research is saying. It will be interesting to see how this changes in the future. Sites like Trip Advisor can be manipulated by competitors or just Mr Angry people who haven’t had the courtesy of telling the hotel to their face. This is why we advise all clients to use the Owner response mechanism that Trip Advisor has as it gives them a response mechanism and shows that the accommodation establishmemt cares.

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