Star-struck: Israeli Hotels Reject Tourism Ministry’s Proposed Ratings System

Only 7% of hotels have signed up for five-star assessment. Ministry now mulling legislation to enforce plan.

Morag Biton

Although the Tourism Ministry announced its “consumer revolution” of using a five-star rating system for Israel’s hotels little over a year ago, no such revolution is in sight. Only 7% of hotels (26 out of 350) that belong to the Israel Hotel Association have signed up and allowed an Austrian company selected to conduct the process to determine how many stars they deserve.

Among hotels agreeing to participate in the system were Jerusalem Gold, The American Colony, Mamilla and David’s Citadel in Jerusalem; the Kibbutz Lavi Hotel and Royal Plaza in Tiberias; and the Arbel Suites Hotel in Tel Aviv.

The Isrotel hotel chain also announced three months ago that it would participate in the program. This move gave the Tourism Ministry hope that other leading hotel chains would follow suit – but that has failed to happen. The Fattal hotel chain, the largest in Israel with more than 30 sites nationwide, continued to refuse to take part in the proposed ratings system.

Other large hotel chains declining to participate included Dan, Rimonim, Prima and Crowne Plaza.

Since 1992, there has been no agreed-upon or official ranking system for Israeli hotels. Every hotel can decide to advertise itself as it wishes, citing any number of stars it chooses. This situation was supposed to end with the implementation of the new ratings.

An Austrian company, Ennemoser, was chosen to rate the Israeli hotels following a tender process. A team of eight Israelis was trained to conduct the rankings, based on more than 200 criteria (using a method developed by the company’s owner, Dr. Klaus Ennemoser).

The hotels were supposed to sign up for the process by December 7, 2014, and the results were to be released a short while later – all at the same time. The ministry’s goal was to provide the hotels with a lot of good publicity and attract more guests.

Explaining why it shunned the proposed ratings system, a spokesperson for Fattal Hotels said, “Today, the social platforms of the major websites offer thousands of opinions from guests for every hotel, and this makes the matter of ratings superfluous. These opinions reflect the entire guest experience, starting from the physical dimensions through to the quality of service.”

The Tourism Ministry allocated 4 million shekels (slightly more than $1 million) to cover the costs of the initial rating examination of all participating hotels. The cost per hotel is estimated at a few thousands of shekels, and hotels in the program would be retested every three years. In any event, the Austrian company was left with almost no work.

“There is no doubt the pace of participation is completely unsatisfactory. A situation in which only 26 hotels have joined is not good,” said Tourism Minister Yariv Levin (Likud). “I am calling on the hotels to join the ratings [system] voluntarily, and without delay. If we don’t see an immediate change, we will have to make a decision on what to do about the matter. I don’t discount the claims of the hoteliers – both sides make good claims – but they will have to bring satisfactory explanations, and then we will examine them. Ratings by users on websites are not a replacement for an objective star-system rating, which could also have an effect on the price of vacations in Israel,” added Levin.

For now participation is voluntary, but the Tourism Ministry is preparing to introduce legislation to require hotels to participate. “This was the agreement back during the talks between the hotel association and the previous tourism minister, Stas Misezhnikov. The ministry is prepared to act accordingly,” said Tourism Ministry director general Amir Halevy.

Fear of the ‘look and feel’ category

Without any ratings system, and given the hotels’ ability to use any number of stars they wish, the result today – and ever since 1992 – is that tourists and Israelis must place their trust in websites like TripAdvisor, Booking.com and others in order to gauge the quality of the hotels.

In 2011, a committee on reducing the cost of vacations in Israel – headed by then-Tourism Ministry director general Noaz Bar Nir (who today heads the Israel Hotel Association) – recommended reinstating the star rating system. Officially, the association agreed for hotels to join the program and worked for years alongside the ministry to determine the criteria for the rankings. In practice, however, it hasn’t actively worked to encourage hotels to join the project.

Halevy said, “It’s possible to assume that the hotels are not interested in participating in the rating [system], since they feel it will require them to make changes and have high costs. Or there are chains that see they will not appear at the level they thought, and therefore don’t want to get involved. When the matter of ratings was a distant thing, the hotels didn’t have a problem. But when it became real, they started raising questions. We need to ask the [Hotel] Association why they are dithering. Why, on the one hand, are they partners and signed on [to the idea]. Yet on the other, they’re not encouraging their members and are dragging their feet,” he added.

Bar Nir says the hoteliers have no problem with the rating system in general, but have an issue with one particular category – “Look and feel” – which he says is not an objective criteria. The Austrian company gave this criteria more weight than the hotels wanted and they are afraid of it, he noted.

A creative solution proposed by the association is to allow the hotels to be rated, but if they feel their “look and feel” score is too low, they can exit the program. This would reduce fears and there is no need for an outside company to judge this category, said Bar Nir. That’s what the travel websites are for, he added.