Hotel Star Ratings Systems Explained in 2021

Hotel Star Ratings Systems Explained in 2021
January 14, 2020 Levi Olmstead

Choosing a hotel for any trip is a key part of the planning process. Whether a traveler is booking their next business trip or their family’s long-anticipated vacation, many of their plans will be built around the location they’ll return to after any excursion or important meeting.

One detail travel-planners will note from their first interaction with a hotel is its star rating, making it crucial for hotel marketing teams to understand the star rating system. But what does one of these ratings really mean and how can you ensure that your hotel earns a book-worthy one?

What Does a Hotel’s Star Rating Mean?

In the United States, hotels are rated on a scale of between one and five stars.

Many European hotels are only rated out of four possible stars, while countries like China and the United Arab Emirates even have super lavish hotels rated at six or seven. They boast the ultimate luxury with hotel amenities like personal attendants in each room. 

Unfortunately, there are no universal scoring criteria for hotel star ratings, but a lot of it boils down to location, amenities, and reputation.

1 Star

A one-star rating signals the most basic of accommodations. These hotels (or motels) are good for travelers on a budget who really just need a place to sleep for the night. Some one-star hotels may have shared bathrooms and will likely have a vending machine or a self-service cafeteria rather than room service. They are unlikely to have 24-hour guest reception or daily housekeeping. 

2 Star

Two-star hotels are typically clean and cover basic travel needs, like one-star hotels, but they might be located nearer to major intersections or city attractions. They may also have additional amenities like TV, a hotel bar, or limited onsite dining. They also often have twenty-four-hour guest reception and housekeeping.

3 Star

Three-star hotels are still considered affordable and they are often located near business areas. These hotels generally have multiple room options, elevated service standards, and a bigger focus on comfort and service than hotels with lower ratings. Rooms are also a bit more spacious and have better quality bedding. Amenities may include modest gyms and business facilities, and on-site bars or restaurants. 

4 Star

It can sometimes be difficult to differentiate four-star hotels from three-star ones, but four-star hotels generally have higher-quality accommodations and service. They typically have more upscale amenities like a concierge or swimming pool, and luxe decor in lobbies and rooms. Amenities may also include twenty-four-hour room service and premium complimentary products in rooms. 

5 Star

These are the most expensive hotels out there, and with reason. Five-star hotels offer premium amenities and large, beautifully furnished rooms. Their facilities are stylish and the service is impeccable. They often offer amenities like gourmet dining, luxury spas, welcome amenities, and elegant decor. Five-star resorts will often offer athletic amenities like golf courses or tennis courts.


Above: Hotel Belmond Charleston Place in South Carolina, an example of a five-star hotel.

How Are Hotels Rated?

Because different travel websites and institutions have different criteria for their ratings, the answer to this question is a bit abstract. One hotel may have a different rating depending on which website you are checking.

Further, rating systems vary based on which country the hotel is in.  Thankfully, despite all these variables, the characteristics we listed above are broadly considered standard.

How to Improve Your Hotel’s Star Rating

No matter how great the service is, a bare-bones motel will never be able to attain a 5-star rating. That said, now that you know what goes into a hotel’s star rating, there are things you can do to improve your business’ reputation, increase revenue, and enhance the overall experience your guests have during their stay. Depending on where you’re starting from and the resources you’re able to expend, you might even make the jump to the next level. 

Take whatever steps you can to boost your hotel’s reputation and reach the highest ranking possible given the facilities and amenities you are able to offer. Look back at your budget and think about what actions you can take to generate great reviews that will attract first-time guests and encourage existing ones to return.

This could include something as small as a welcome message when guests first get to their room, or as big as renovating your exercise or wellness facilities. Here are some ways to give your hotel a competitive edge:

1. Start With the Basics: Cleanliness and Comfort

Travelers place a high premium on cleanliness and comfort. What are existing functions and services you can improve on? How can your cleaning crew improve the environments of hotel rooms or the first impressions of guests when they enter the lobby? Does the customer service of your employees leave something to be desired?

Put yourself in your guests’ shoes. What about the things you see and feel when moving through your hotel could be improved? Take note and make a plan for improvement. 

2. Monitor Your Hotel’s Online Reputation

A hotel’s online reputation can have a big impact on its revenue and overall success. A big part of managing your hotel’s reputation is to manage online reviews and social media presence. 

Start by keeping track of online reviews. Ask guests to submit one when they leave and take note of details that keep coming back with positive or negative feedback. Make sure you respond to any negative reviews thoughtfully and with respect. Bad guest reviews can be deal-breakers for travelers deciding which hotel to book. 

Social media is important too. Depending on the scale of your business, you may already have accounts on all the major platforms. It may be worth it to invest in a dedicated employee to post content that gives prospective guests an idea of the sights and feels they’ll encounter at your hotel, or it might make more sense to find an existing employee willing to take on the extra responsibility. They can also be on the lookout for any undesirable comments or competitor content that you’ll want to address directly as a business.

3. Reimagine Your Hotel’s Image

For hoteliers looking to make larger-scale changes, rebranding or renovation might be the way to go. 

Rebranding can be a great way to control your business’ image. If your hotel’s name brings outdated decor or substandard service to mind, this might be just what your business needs. Really think about the image and messaging your hotel currently puts out into the world and consider changes you could make to cater better to your target audiences. You want them to know that the experience they can find at your hotel is the one they’re looking for.

If you have the budget and are looking for a straightforward way to earn another star, you might want to think about structural modifications. Would your guests enjoy themselves more thoroughly if you installed a pool or replaced outdated furniture in the common areas? 

Use Your Hotel’s Strengths to Your Advantage – Regardless of Your Star Rating

At the end of the day, not all hotels can reach a five-star rating, and thankfully, not all travelers are looking to stay at five-star hotels. Know your hotel’s strong points, manage your reputation, and ensure you are providing your guests with the best possible experience, and you’ll see the benefits – no matter your rating.

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