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?