Rating systems

A vast array of incompatible rating systems purport to evaluate restaurants, hotels and travel accommodation in individual countries or worldwide. The value of these systems, much like the criteria used to generate the ratings, varies widely. In their original format, establishments were visited by professional reviewers on behalf of guide book publishers; an establishment which met a reviewer's minimum expectations under established criteria received a very brief printed description and a shorthand rating as a number of stars (some automobile associations use diamonds). In most reputable guides, an establishment of poor quality simply didn't get listed at all.


The original star ratings were introduced by the Michelin Guides for restaurants in 1933. There were only three levels, defined in terms of how a driver might reach them since Michelin is a tire company:

Later, the ratings were applied to hotels and attractions as well as restaurants, and other guides started using more than 3 star levels. While criteria varied, most respected printed guides set a high bar before awarding multiple, additional stars. The Mobil Travel Guide (now the Forbes Guide) awarded five stars in 2006 to 32 hotels in all of North America (US, Canada & Mexico); more recent editions award "five stars" to just a handful of US hotels (10 in CA, 7 in NY, 2 each in HI and IL, 1 each in TX and DC, many states zero).

The ratings are a shorthand intended to accompany (not replace) the short textual commentary on each venue in a printed guidebook.

As anyone can publish their own ratings or even their own guidebooks, reviewing based on any arbitrary criteria, the use of a "star rating" on its own has substantial limitations:

A travel rating system that is impartial, contains no marketing affiliations and uses well-constructed algorithms paired with customer reviews could certainly make the travel industry more efficient, caring and responsible.

Conversely, an innkeeper giving themselves five stars (or six, or seven...) is completely meaningless.


South Africa

Establishments in South Africa may choose to have themselves graded by the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa on a 5 star scale. Many establishments make use of this service and you will see the star grading displayed on most advertising material.



Canada Select, an industry-based organization, is the largest Canadian rating agency. During periodic inspections, properties are evaluated for physical quality, content of facilities, services and amenities provided, only taking service into account at the higher star levels. Each category and star level has distinct criteria which must be achieved; where the quality of facilities is superior a property may be awarded a half-star above its criteria rating. This system was originally devised to rate hotels.

★ or ★+Clean, well-maintained and comfortable, providing necessary facilities for an enjoyable stay. Meets or exceeds nationally accepted criteria for facilities, services, amenities and accommodation quality, including standards such as room size, window screens and coverings, clothes storage, linens, door lock, smoke detector, and parking facilities.
★★Mid-range accommodation which exceeds the one-star level in quality of mattress, bed linen, floors/window/wall coverings, and in provision of bedside and seating area lighting, additional room furniture, and parking space.
★★★Above average facilities and services, larger units with additional room furniture, coordinated furnishings, better quality mattresses and linens, clock/alarm, extra amenities in washrooms
★★★★Exceptional or superior quality in all areas of facilities and services, guestrooms, bath and common areas. The property typically provides laundry/valet service as well as many additional amenities.
★★★★★Luxurious at a world standard, offering outstanding facilities, guest service and amenities.

Canada Select also rates cottage cabins, bed and breakfast and camping facilities, using different criteria for each. A B&B room must include an ensuite bath and a full breakfast (not merely "continental breakfast") to receive three stars or above.

A rival group, Canadian Star Quality Accommodation, operates its own star system and inspection process. The programme is voluntary, but these ratings appear to be in use in tourism guidebooks published by three of the Western provinces.

In Canada, as in the US, automobile associations (CAA/AAA) have long published their own guidebooks for members with a rating scheme based on diamonds instead of stars.

United States of America

The best known standardized rating system is the AAA (American Auto Association) Diamond Rankings. These ratings appear in a long-running series of printed state or regional guidebooks which are offered free to AAA members.

It is quite reliable and meaningful in describing the level of service, i.e., what amenities to expect at a hotel. The vast majority of motels and hotels in the U.S. are rated two or three diamond, while four diamond properties are upscale/fancy—often the best hotel in a city. Five diamond properties are super-lux and usually found only in the most major cities.

The guidelines are meticulous, interesting and available (pdf). To find top-rated hotels by city, see the 2015 five-diamond list (pdf) and the 2015 four-diamond list (pdf).

AAA also provides ratings for restaurants, but these are less referred to.

Star ratings for hotels in the US are not in any way standardized or regulated, and are generally best ignored. In certain cities, some people may find local star ratings for restaurants, such as those by the New York Times for New York restaurants, to be of some use.


United Kingdom

The three biggest organizations for rating are VisitBritain, Automobile Association (AA) and Royal Automobile Club (RAC). They cooperate when it comes to rating which makes it easier for the traveller.

Their hotel ratings are:

Guest accommodation

The diamond symbol is used by the RAC.


Restaurant with rooms

This category includes restaurants, bistros and brasseries. Establishments included will:

Branded hotels

Many well known hotel companies have their own consistent style of service and quality to such an extent that the chain name is a guarantee for high quality.

VisitBritain Silver & Gold Award

The VisitBritain Silver & Gold Awards are awarded to establishments with the highest levels of quality within their rating. The overall rating is based on a combination of the range of facilities, the level of the offered services and the general quality, the gold and silver awards focuses solely on the quality aspect.



Star Ratings Australia is a 1-5 star system operated by Australian Motoring Services, which is owned by the state-level automobile associations (NRMA, RACV, RACQ, RACWA, RAA and RACT).

There are separate criteria for hotel, motel, serviced apartment, self-catering, hosted accommodation and caravan-holiday park (so a "five-star motel" can't be compared directly to a "five-star hotel"). The hotel criteria are about fifty-six pages; each category of accommodation is rated on three groups of criteria ("Quality and Condition", "Cleanliness" and "Facilities and Services") and inspected at roughly three-year intervals. Half-stars may be awarded.

★ or ★+Offers budget facilities without compromising cleanliness or guest security. Guests may access fee-based services or facilities upon request.
★★ or ★★+Focusses on the needs of price conscious travellers. Services and guest facilities are typically limited to keep room rates affordable and competitive but may be available upon request or fee-based.
★★★Delivers a broad range of amenities that exceed above-average accommodation needs. Good quality service, design and physical attributes are typically fit for purpose to match guest expectations.
★★★★Achieves a deluxe guest experience. A wide range of facilities and superior design qualities is typically complemented by service standards that reflect the varied and discerning needs of the guest.
★★★★★Typifies luxury across all areas of operation. Guests will enjoy an extensive range of facilities and comprehensive or highly personalised service relevant to the accommodation type. Properties at this level will display excellent design quality and attention to detail.

Innkeepers are under no obligation to participate in the scheme; many choose not to do so due to the fees involved. A star rating may be upgraded if a property is renovated or revoked entirely in response to consumer complaints.

New Zealand

Qualmark, owned by Tourism New Zealand, a government organisation, provides the official rating system and uses a 1–5 star system; half-stars may be awarded for properties better than the others in their class.

★ or ★+Acceptable. Meets customers' minimum requirements. Basic, clean, and comfortable accommodation.
★★ or ★★+Good. Exceeds customers' minimum requirements with some additional facilities and services.
★★★Very good. Provides a range of facilities and services and achieves good to very good quality standards.
★★★★Excellent. Consistently achieves high quality levels with a wide range of facilities and services.
★★★★★Exceptional. Among the best available in New Zealand.
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