The Tourism Ministry thinks the old tried and true standard of ranking hotels by the number of stars is still relevant: Next week, after a long and expensive process that took years, the ministry will offer hotels the chance to sign up for the new ratings, which will be from two to five stars. The hoteliers don’t seem very excited, in fact there seems to be almost no interest in the new system so far.
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Still, ministry director general Amir Halevy explains, “We want to stick to the European standard. [In Europe] the method we chose works and there is no reason to be too smart.
“In the end it will serve everyone, and mostly the guests, who will be able to compare hotels. I also believe that it will help the hotels market themselves in a trustworthy fashion,” Halevy continues.
But he is also careful not to promise that the change will lower hotel prices, which he knows are particularly high by international standards. The regular price for a room for one night at the Hilton Hotel in Tel Aviv now costs 321 euros ($398). A one-night stay at the Hilton in Manhattan, in a not particularly cheap city, costs only 260 euros. In the Hilton in Berlin it costs only 128 euros a night.
I spoke with over 10 hoteliers about the new star system, and they all had their reservations about it. They said their hotels and hotel chains would not join the new system at this stage. Each of them explained at length why the idea of star ratings was a mistake, and the timing was also wrong.
The hotels are invited to sign up for the process by December 7, and the results will be released a short time later – all of the hotel rankings at the same time. The ministry’s goal is to provide the hotels with good publicity and attract more guests.
But as for the interesting question of how many hotels have signed up so far, the Tourism Ministry supplied a rather opaque answer: “So far there is interest on the part of the hotels and also sign-ups for the rankings. We will publish the extent soon.”
Since 1992, there has been no agreed upon or official star rankings for Israeli hotels. Every hotel can decide to advertise itself as it wishes, citing any number of stars they want. This situation is supposed to end in the next few weeks, if the ministry’s initiative succeeds.
An Austrian company was chosen in a tender process to rate the hotels in Israel. A team of eight Israelis was trained to conduct the rankings based on over 200 criteria, using a method developed by the company’s owner, Dr. Klaus Ennemoser.
He recently demonstrated his methods in room 606 in the Dan Panorama Hotel in Tel Aviv, where he explained his criteria, which include such things as room size, cleanliness, furniture and accessories. But when he tried to describe how his staff conducts their work, he surprised everyone by saying that before they arrive at a hotel for the rating procedure, they first read the reviews the hotels have received on TripAdvisor or other websites. Then, if they find a complaint about a specific room in the hotel, they ask to see it.
Shmuel Zuriel, head of the Israel Hotel Association, has signed on the invitation, alongside Halevy, to all hotels to join up for the rating process. But at the same time, at the beginning of our interview, Zuriel makes it clear he does not particularly like the new system.
“The correct ranking is the customers’ ranking. ... That is the relevant ranking today and it was my recommendation. We participated in the process since it was important to the Tourism Ministry and we cooperated to the best of our ability, but there is no replacement for the wisdom of the masses on the Internet,” said Zuriel.
Nonetheless, he came out in defense of the new star ratings method: “The company chosen in the tender is good, professional and well-suited to the task. The right criteria were chosen. The method is used in two thirds of the hotels in Europe and it is important to stick to such a standard.” He also admits that in the star rating system there is no possibility of getting into the exact details, as do the reviews of hotels on the customer satisfaction websites.
Boaz Ben Haim, a hotelier with over 30 years experience in the business, claims the star rankings are not needed in Israel. “The market today is sophisticated enough for guests to determine by themselves what their opinion of the hotel is. The Tourism Ministry wants to show it is doing something for the public, since everyone is aware that the prices are sky high and the rating will seemingly bring about lower prices. I wish. In reality, to my regret, it won’t happen,” said Ben Haim.
He expects the large hotel chains to join the rating system in the end, but thinks the smaller hotels and boutique hotels will be deterred from joining since they only have what to lose. Many boutique hotels are at the top of the ratings on TripAdvisor for Tel Aviv, so if they are already there, why do they need to take the risk of receiving only, say, three stars, he says.
But Reuven Elkes, CEO of Fattal Hotels, which operates 34 hotels in Israel, says even large chains like the one he runs will not join the new ratings system.
“When incoming tourism is actually dropping, it is not right to invest money and energy in the outmoded stars ratings. We think it is better to invest the money in marketing,” he says. Eighty-six percent of his customers decide on the hotel based on reviews on Internet and social networking sites, said Elkes.
Prices will also not change, because the new ratings won’t alter the supply and demand in the hotel market. The last thing needed now, he said, is heavier regulation, and the ministry does not seem to understand that the market has changed completely over the past five years.