Many people are confused by the star rating system used for hotels. To make matters worse, there is no consistent rating system from country to country.

Most classification schemes on the continent don’t always take into account the sort of attention to detail which makes the difference between a good hotel and a bad hotel. They simply reflect the facilities and services available. But that doesn’t always give a very accurate impression of what you can expect from a hotel.

How many European travellers for example realise just how random and probably irrelevant are the requirements for a particular star rating? In France, three-star double rooms must be at least 10sq.m – which is tiny! There must be a lift in buildings with three or more storeys, and a telephone in the room, but only 80% of the rooms need to have an ensuite lavatory.

In Italy, where the regulations are extremely detailed – right down to the requirement for a spare roll of lavatory paper (all stars) – a three-star hotel must offer porterage for bags at least 12 out of 24 hours, but it doesn’t indicate what the quality of the service has to be.

In Spain, room size is very important to classification and the requirements are much more demanding than in France. So a double room in a three-star hotel must be at least 15sq.m – that’s 50% bigger than the French system demands. But while this reflects a minimum standard that is applied nationally, the exact details of what facilities are required vary, because each region of Spain operates a slightly different system.

In the UK we have been fortunate in that since 2006, and after decades of a highly-confusing system, we now have one which works very well, which has been adopted by England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, which assigns stars to reflect the facilities on offer but also measures the quality of an establishment in line with its star rating. This means that all hotels in the UK are assessed to the same criteria and gives a boost to hotels which make an extra effort to improve and maintain service levels - to make guests feel both comfortable and welcome.

However, in saying this, many people (both consumers and hoteliers) are still unsure of what the real difference is between a four-star hotel and a five-star hotel here in the UK. To help make things a bit clearer, I thought I’d write down the key differences:

§ A five-star hotel must be open seven days a week all year

§ A five-star hotel must provide enhanced services e.g. valet parking, escort to bedrooms, proactive attentive table service in bars and lounges and at breakfast, ‘concierge’ service, 24-hour reception, 24-hour room service, full afternoon tea. At a four-star this may well be offered but is not compulsory

§ A five-star hotel must have at least one restaurant open to residents and non-residents for all meals seven days a week (A four-star hotel’s restaurant does not need to offer a full-on lunch service, however this may well be offered)

§ A five-star hotel must have 100% of its rooms (as a minimum) with an ensuite bathroom with WC, and thermostatically controlled showers. Only 20% of the rooms can have shower only facilities if the size and quality of the ensuites is exceptional . (A four-star hotel can have thermostatically controlled showers only)

§ A five-star hotel must have additional facilities, such as secondary dining, leisure, business centre, spa

§ A five-star hotel must offer permanent luxury suites, comprising three separate rooms – bedroom, lounge and bathroom. Four-star hotels may well offer suites but it is not compulsory

§ A five-star hotel will have excellent staffing levels with well-structured and dedicated teams with depth in management levels, as well as exceptional levels of proactive service and customer care. A five-star establishment is based on perfection, and extreme luxury and exceptional attention to detail

§ With four-star hotels, the service should come to you, but with a five-star hotel your every need should be anticipated in advance of when you want them (e.g. hotel staff of a five-star establishment will take control of luggage from guest’s arrival outside to prompt delivery in bedroom, full 24hr room service and 24hr reception and concierge services)

§ With a five-star hotel even from the biggest chain to the smallest boutique hotel, the customer is treated as an individual. The customer service experience is seamless. The high calibre of professionally trained staff means that knowledge provided is expert whether it be bar staff, receptionists or any other department, and is without detriment to other service areas

§ In order to maintain this exceptional level of service you would expect the ratio of staff to guests goes up exponentially for a five-star hotel. In a four-star establishment you would on average expect the ratio to be one staff to three guests. In a five-star it could be as high as up to two staff to one guest

§ In most five-star hotels you would normally expect a renowned chef who has achieved accolades ranging from Rosettes to Michelin stars

§ In a five-star hotel every physical aspect in regards to look and feel has been specifically designed/chosen for that accommodation whether it be table ware, bed linen, fabrics, colour schemes, so even within a group of hotels it will still remain individually designed

There are many great iconic hotels in the UK, all offering exceptional levels of service at all our star levels, but a five-star it is expected as the norm where perfection is guaranteed.

At Quality in Tourism (QiT) we are the official assessment body for VisitEngland and provide ratings and accreditations to thousands of accommodation outlets throughout England. The grades we provide are based on solid industry research meaning that you can book in confidence that a property will meet your desired needs.

So when you next book a hotel in the UK, ask the venue about their VisitEngland assessments. It will make all the difference.

Quality in Tourism (QiT) is the official assessment service provided for VisitEngland. With a field force of more than 50 experienced assessors and a highly dedicated in-house team, the organisation carries out assessments and handles the administration of the national quality assessment schemes on behalf of VisitEngland. For more information email, call 01684-864083 or visit


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