Hotel star system fades away

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Business and Trade Minister Trond Giske has been spending millions on a plan to rate Norwegian hotels through a national star system, but the hotels themselves have been resistant from the beginning. Only a handful of hotels are now cooperating, and the whole plan looks likely to be scrapped.

The trade ministry's new official portrait of Giske, taken by well-known photographer Morten Krogvold. PHOTO: Nærings- og handelsdepartementet

Trade Minister Trond Giske may need to scrap his ministry’s plans for a hotel star-rating system. PHOTO: Nærings- og handelsdepartementet

Giske took over the star system plan from his predecessor Dag Terje Andersen, now president of the Norwegian Parliament. Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported Thursday that Giske, known as being someone who hates to admit defeat, may have to this time.

“Giske is a clever politician, but seeing what’s in the stars is not his strongest suit,” Roar Ingdal, chief executive of Nordic Choice Hotels, told DN. “He should stay away from astrology in the future.”

Ingdal did agree to join a group that will evaluate the future of the state hotel star-marking system for hotels set up by the government five years ago. He already thinks the entire plan should be “buried.”

“Our view is the same today as it was when all this started, that star classification is pre-historic,” Ingdal told DN. “The reality is that hotels are rated every single day on websites like Tripadvisor.com. Our hotels are linked up to it and are transparent all the time.

“A static system where inspectors travel around and count clothes hangers in the closet may have worked in the 1980s, but not today.”

NOK 10 million in costs so far
DN reported that of the roughly 900 hotels operating in Norway, only five have joined the national hotel rating system QualityMarkNorway that Giske has been trying to build up. It was supposed to have been self-financed by the hotels themselves, but with so few participating, the state has been paying the costs of its administration, so far more than NOK 10 million since its origin in 2007.

The idea was for QualityMarkNorway to give consumers a signal about the quality of a hotel on a scale from one to five stars. The system evaluates everything from the size of guest rooms, availability of room service, cleanliness and, yes, the number of clothes hangers in the closets.

The industry admitted to one problem at the outset, that even the best hotels in Norway that presumably would be granted five stars can’t compare with the famous five-star hotels of Asia, for example. Standards of service luxury are just too different, making it difficult to make meaningful comparisons in an international perspective.

‘Lost in translation’
Anita Blomberg-Nygård of Norsk Akkreditering, which was formed in Giske’s trade ministry to administer QualityMarkNorway, admitted that the Norwegian hotel chains so far haven’t seen advantages of the star system “and it’s of course up to the hotels whether we shall have such a system or not. The whole project seems ‘lost in translation.'”

She acknowledged that once the proposed system was actually hammered out in 2008, “incredibly much” has developed in terms of technological solutions and user-generated websites. “Now our mandate has changed, funding also. We are operating very carefully until June,” when a final evaluation is expected. Blomberg-Nygård said there’s been no active marketing of the star system since November, when a meeting between the hotels and the ministry led to formation of the evaluation group of which Ingdal is a member.

Giske hasn’t given up yet. The system’s days seem numbered, though.

“We have registered the signals from the hotel chains and understand that this system hasn’t functioned,” Kristin Maurstad, state secretary for Giske, told DN. “At the same time a lot has happened on the Internet with Tripadvisor and other websites during this period. But we will wait for what the evaluation group comes with before making any conclusions.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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