UK newspapers reported on Monday, January 24, 2011, that UK tourism minister John Penrose stated the government is considering phasing out government-sanctioned star-ratings of various lodging accommodations in favor of traveler-written reviews.

That's an idea ahead of its time.

Currently, representatives from various UK tourism authorities like VisitEngland, VisitScotland, and the Automobile Association (known in the UK as the AA) anonymously visit and assess hotels, B&Bs, and even campsites. These reviewers grade each establishment on a scale of one to five stars, using a process and criteria discussed here.

Tempting as it may be to use traveler-written ratings and reviews — which the UK's Department for Culture, Media and Sport considers to be more "truthful '' — it's too soon to abandon the government-set standards. Why?

  • Too few travelers write reviews now. Sites like TripAdvisor and have empowered consumers — consumers are now the brand manager. Yet data from Forrester's European Technographics® Retail, Customer Experience, And Travel Online Survey, Q3 2010, shows very few UK travelers take the time to share their opinions. Only 6% of UK leisure hotel guests have written a review or rated any kind of travel product or service provider. Some may say that the government-based ratings depend on the opinions of individuals — but the people who conduct these assessments use established criteria. Traveler-written ratings and reviews can be highly subjective. It's also possible for employees to heap fawning accolades on their hotels, while trashing a competitor — neither one of which is acceptable business behavior. Plus, smaller lodging establishments may have few ratings/reviews (or none), or their ratings/reviews may not be regularly updated. That doesn't serve either the business or the traveler well.
  • Less than half of UK hotel guests currently read traveler-written ratings and reviews. TripAdvisor's home page states that it has "over 40 million trusted traveler reviews [and] opinions." Do travelers read them? According to our European Technographics® Retail, Customer Experience, And Travel Online Survey, Q3 2010, 42% of UK online leisure hotel guests said they read travel-related ratings or reviews online. That's certainly a critical mass of travelers — and, for all we know, may far exceed the number of travelers who read the governments' own ratings — but it is still a minority of UK online hotel guests. Clearly, lodging establishments need to elevate the visibility for whatever credible ratings and reviews that do exist for their businesses, along with the government-established star-rating they have earned.

More than seven in 10 online travelers in Europe and the US now participate in social media. Clearly, travelers are interested in sharing ideas, opinions, and information about all topics related to their trips via social media. As more travelers engage in social media — and engage more often — the creation, readership, and value of traveler-written ratings and reviews will increase. What the UK proposes may not be practical now, but three years from now — 2014 — provided there are an adequate number of travelers writing reviews, it may indeed be practical for the UK government to move from its own star-rating system to one based on traveler-written ratings and reviews. And this is clearly a wake-up call to other organizations, whether government or private-sector, that provide lodging ratings/reviews — your days are numbered. One caveat: There must be a "fallback" procedure so smaller lodging establishments who receive no ratings/reviews, or businesses that don't receive a valid number of regularly updated reviews, have the ability to be graded by an accredited organization in order to remain competitive.

What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the "comments" field below. And, as always, thanks for your time.