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The Hotel Star Rating System -Why We’ve Created Our Own System Aimed At Families

By Gaynor Pickard – 13th April 2020

There’s no better place to start my Travel Truths Series than with the star rating system used by hotels across the world because, quite simply, it’s a load of b*llocks.

It’s misleading, confusing and, when you get down into the detail of it, is meaningless for families wanting a brilliant holiday and a hotel to suit them. The star rating system is all about business centres and conference facilities, and sewing kits and shoe polishing services (seriously – in Europe, three-star hotels must provide guests with these mending ‘necessities’. Bloody ridiculous!).

To add to the confusion, there’s no consistency around the world and on sites such as TripAdvisor and Booking.com, if the country has no official rating system, the hotel can award itself whatever rating it wants.

The AA Star Rating System in the UK Makes Sense

In the UK there is at least a sensible, recognised system of stars. Awarded by the Automobile Association (AA), Visit Britain, Visit Scotland and Visit Wales, all working to the same accreditation criteria, hotels have to have an overnight inspection annually and pay a fee, depending on their rating.

They’re judged on common standards and are assessed across nine areas, including hospitality, service, bedrooms, bathrooms, cleanliness, food, exterior, public areas and restaurants. Makes sense right?

So in a one-star hotel, you can expect to find at least five bedrooms with en suite facilities and a restaurant open for dinner at least five nights a week, while in a five-star there will be multilingual receptionists, baths in at least 80% of the bathrooms and at least one restaurant open every day for all meals.

You Reap What You ‘Sew’ in Europe

So far, so helpful, but in Europe, it’s not so clear… Hotels in 17 European countries have signed up to the Hotelstars system, which is similar to the British ratings but includes such oddities as the sewing kits in three-star hotels mentioned above, and four-stars needing to supply bathrobes and slippers on demand.

Plastic Not-So-Fantastic For Five-Star Hotels

The insanity of it all really stands out for me when you learn that five-star hotels have to supply shampoo, conditioner, shower gel etc in individual bottles. So much for saving the planet with all those little plastic bottles filling the bathrooms!

But at least we know what to expect if we book a three-star hotel in France, right? Wrong. Some of our favourite countries aren’t part of the Hotelstars scheme – France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Croatia are all absent and have their own ratings.

Which travel has done some research into all of this, and finds that France, for example, rates hotels on the size of its bedrooms, as does Spain, but in Spain, you’ll get a bigger bedroom in a one-star than you will in France (12m2 versus 9m2 minimum), while in Italy one-star hotels only need have one bathroom for every three bedrooms.

It’s All About Diamonds Across The Pond

And we haven’t even mentioned the States yet, where they don’t have stars but diamonds (awarded by the American Automobile Association), and only about two-thirds of the country’s hotels are signed up. And the criteria are wishy-washy – five-diamond hotels must, for example, have ‘extraordinary physical attributes’. What does that even mean?


It all makes my head explode!

I’ve been working in the travel industry for the best part of 25 years and I can’t get my head around it all.
And as a mum who loves to travel with my family, but prefers a quaint little independent hotel in an off-the-beaten-track resort to a sprawling hotel in a more prevalent holiday destination, I really want some peace of mind.

Because quite frankly I get zero peace of mind from websites such as TripAdvisor and other global review travel websites. What I do get is a lot of contradicting opinions from people who have nothing in common with. Combine this rather pointless intelligence with a star rating system that in no way supports what I’m looking for, and quite frankly, I want to boil my head every time I start researching our family adventures.


We can’t change it, but what we can do is create our own! – The 5-star hotel rating system

So we’ve done just that. We’ve spent months creating our own rating system at Girl About Travel. We ran surveys, asked our network of mums across the country and used all that intelligence to develop a system that supports families, first and foremost.

It’s a rating system based on what we want and needs as families, and it means that smaller and more family-friendly hotels won’t be hidden from you or pushed to the bottom of the pile just because they don’t have tech conference facilities, 24-hour room service or bloody sewing kits!

When I travel with my family we want to get off the beaten track, we want to experience the local culture and we want to stay in authentic accommodation, in the best possible location.
So our Girl About Star Rating System covers location, facilities, value, and the overall Girl About experience you can expect from a place.

It’s as follows:

Location – how close is it to the beach, the village, the main attractions? If it’s in the middle of nowhere is that ‘nowhere’ a worthy destination in its own right?

Value – how does it compare to other properties in the area? If it’s expensive, is it worth it? If it’s cheap, does it still offer all a family would need? If so, it’ll rate highly. If it’s in the middle of nowhere yet charges extra for breakfast, leaving you with no option other than paying €20 per person per day, we rate it down.

Facilities – does it have all the basics of a restaurant and bar, a pool, a spa, and childcare? Anything above and beyond, such as bike hire, water sports or cinema rooms, get extra points.
Girl About Yellow Star Rating – how does the place make us feel? Does it have outstanding service and atmosphere? It may not have all the bells and whistles of a five-star hotel but what it does have it offers with style, enthusiasm and authenticity.

Here, we’re looking for unique, special places that’ll stay in the memory long after we’ve checked out.

Each hotel we mention on Girl About Travel is rated out of five on the above four criteria and is based on the personal experience of our team. We believe in the places we write about and with the help of our rating system, we want you to too.

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