Look for the Quality Rose and stars
Helping you find accommodation that suits your budget and meets your needs
hen planning your trip, you’ll want to find accommodation that suits both your budget and meets your quality expectations. VisitEngland is here to help. Our 50-strong team of assessors working for Quality in Tourism and another 40+ assessors trained to assess to VisitEngland’s standards and working in self-catering agencies, which have a franchise arrangement with VisitEngland, quality assess and award star ratings to more than 30,000 accommodation businesses in England every year.
Their first job is to decide the category – “Is it a hotel or a guest house?” or “Is it a holiday park or a touring park?” There are clear definitions for each, as consumers have different expectations for different accommodation types.
For example, consumers generally expect more facilities at a hotel than at a guest house. Consequently, to achieve a ‘Hotel’ star rating establishments must be licensed, all rooms must have an en-suite or private bathroom and dinner must be served at least 5 nights a week (unless categorised as a ‘Metro Hotel’ or ‘Town House Hotel’).
The assessor’s next job is to check the services and facilities offered. To move up a star rating, there is usually an expectation that the range of services provided will be greater. This is particularly true in the hotel and park schemes, where consumer expectations are known to be demanding at the highest-rated establishments.
The crucial task for the assessors is to assess the quality of the accommodation. Assessments take place each year and every aspect of the accommodation is assessed, including the efficiency of the booking process, the comfort of the bed, the practicality of the bathrooms, breakfast and dinner (if offered), hospitality, service and cleanliness.
All hotel assessments include an overnight stay. For B&Bs, an assessor initially undertakes an overnight ‘mystery shop’ style visit in the first year, to emulate a genuine visitor experience and accurately award a star rating. Pre-announced day visits to confirm, improve or reduce the quality rating can then be made; however, these establishments should receive an overnight assessment at least once every 2-3 years.
For self-catering properties and serviced apartments an assessor will carry out a day visit at a pre-arranged time with the manager of the property. Holiday parks receive an annual unarranged day visit to assess their facilities. Hostels receive an assessment at least once every 3 years and campus accommodation is assessed annually, either on a ‘mystery’ overnight visit or a pre-arranged day visit. Boats also receive an annual pre-arranged day visit, although hotel boats also receive an overnight visit at least once every 2 years.
Cleanliness is the most crucial element of any assessment and minimum standards, particularly at the higher star ratings, reflect consumer expectations at each level.
Once an assessor has agreed the category, or designator, of the accommodation with the owners, they review the services offered within that scheme and award a quality score. If an establishment offers the facilities required at a certain level, it must also achieve the quality score for that level before being awarded the rating – for example, if a hotel has 4 star facilities such as staff on duty 24 hours a day, it must also meet all the minimum scoring requirements for aspects such as cleanliness and service, which are much higher at a 4 star establishment than a 2 star.
Since the 2011 review of the Hotel Standards used by all the assessing bodies in the UK, including the AA, a much tougher regime is being imposed and if the quality is not up to standard in all the key areas, a lower star rating will be awarded. VisitEngland awards ratings for exactly the same criteria as other national assessment bodies such as the AA.
Hotels and Guest Accommodation – B&Bs, Guest Houses, Farmhouses, Restaurants with Rooms and Inns
Consumers have higher expectations and facilities for hotels compared to guest accommodation. For example, even a 1 star hotel must have a liquor licence, have a clearly designated reception facility and all bedrooms must have either en-suite or private bathrooms. In contrast, guest accommodation is assessed more by the quality provided than the number of services available – a specific reception area is not a requirement and it is only at 5 star level that all bedrooms are required to have an en-suite or private bathroom (50% at 4 star).
Quality and service levels are important in all schemes and higher levels of both are required at higher star ratings; at a 4 star hotel the service should be proactive and flexible and at 5 star consumers also expect high staffing levels including a concierge and doormen. Due to the scheme designator, there are many smaller and personally-run 2 star hotels that are of good and even high quality, yet just lack the facilities a larger hotel can provide. Accommodation with limited facilities but high quality standards may achieve a Silver or Gold Award (please see below).
Top Tip: Remember to check the classification – 4 star guest accommodation cannot be compared to a 4 star hotel. Different criteria apply.
The assessors work to strict criteria to check the available facilities. A quality score is awarded for every aspect of the layout and design of the accommodation, the ease of use of all the appliances, the comfort of the beds, the range and quality of kitchen equipment and, most importantly, cleanliness. For very high scoring properties a Gold award may be awarded. The more stars, the higher the quality and the greater the range of facilities and services provided.
To achieve higher star ratings, an increasing level of facilities and services are offered. For example, a 3 star accommodation must offer bed linen (with or without additional charge) while at 4 star, all advertised sleeping space will be in bedrooms (unless a studio) and beds will be made up on arrival.
Serviced apartments have the freedom of self-catering with the benefits of services normally found in hotels, such as a weekly cleaning service. Expectations, and therefore facilities, are higher for serviced apartments than self-catering, with the result that at 5 star level a 24 hour reception and a television in the master bedroom is required and extras such as soup spoons are a minimum requirement, compared to self-catering where they are only expected at higher star ratings. For very high scoring properties a Gold award may be awarded.
Parks – Camping, Touring and Holiday Parks
Parks are assessed on the overall quality of the site, including individual pitches/caravans, the arrival service, bathroom and laundry facilities and external signage and lighting. The quality standard includes minimum entry requirements such as an extensive kitchen inventory for caravans and a reliable, adequate supply of hot water at all reasonable times. Like other designators, the services required increase at the higher star ratings, with a minimum ratio of bathroom facilities per pitch and electric hook-ups required at 4 and 5 star. High scoring Holiday Parks that have their own letting fleet may be awarded a Gold award.
Holiday Villages and Forest Holidays
A Holiday Village usually contains different types of accommodation, such as chalets or hotel rooms, on a large complex with a range of facilities available. The assessment criteria are similar to that of parks, but take into account the requirements of self-catering and serviced accommodation on site.
Hostels and Campus
The hostel quality scheme awards star ratings based on the needs of many guests who stay at this type of accommodation, as well as standard requirements for cleanliness and satisfactory quality. For example, facilities for hanging/drying wet clothes are a minimum requirement in this scheme.
Campus accommodation provides a budget-friendly alternative to other accommodation, yet may offer more privacy than a hostel. The star rating takes into account the style of accommodation – ‘pod’ style bathrooms are acceptable at any level, yet there are also minimum requirements such as an extensive kitchen inventory and higher levels of service and presentation required at higher star levels.
Other scheme designators are budget hotels, individual caravans, chalets and alternative accommodation. For more information on VisitEngland’s assessment scheme, visit http://www.qualityintourism.com/quality-schemes/
Gold and Silver Awards
No matter what the star rating or designator, you can find accommodation which excels in hospitality and service and has top scores for bedrooms, bathrooms, food and cleanliness. These special properties hold a VisitEngland Gold or Silver Award, which offer the ‘best of the best’, regardless of the range of facilities and services they offer. There are 4,536 Gold Award properties and 1,189 with a Silver Award across England.* In summary, a high star rating means top quality in all areas and all the services expected of that classification of accommodation. A lower star rating with a Silver or Gold Award means limited services or facilities, but top quality.
There are 1,556 hotels and guest accommodation establishments which hold the coveted VisitEngland Breakfast Award.* This recognises breakfasts which exceed guest expectations at each star rating by rewarding excellent range, presentation, quality of ingredients and service.
VisitEngland also assesses visitor attractions under our Visitor Attraction Quality Assurance Scheme (VAQAS), so look out for these signs:
* figures at 15/05/2013