opinionBy Omolola Itayemi
Nigerian hospitality sector is growing at a rapid rate and major hotel chains are berthing here. Accommodation plays a key role in both leisure and business travel but in a situation where a hotel advertised as luxurious turns out to be a roach motel, it becomes a nasty surprise most can do without. OMOLOLA ITAYEMI writes about the almost non-existent state of classifications and ratings of hotels in Nigeria
Stars and Diamonds...benchmark for luxury
Hotel ratings are mostly used to classify hotels according to their quality. From the initial purpose of informing travelers on basic facilities that can be expected, the objectives of hotel rating has expanded into a focus on the hotel experience as a whole. International hotel rating systems are as diverse as the countries themselves, meaning that three-diamond resort in Dusseldorf might outclass a four-star Paris property. Today the terms 'grading', 'rating', and 'classification' are used to generally refer to the same concept, that is to categorize hotels, mostly using stars as a symbol
Rating exercises vary depending on the organization involved, but the most commonly used is the star rating. Forbes Travel Guide, formerly Mobil Travel Guide, launched its star rating system in 1958. The AAA and their affiliated bodies use diamonds instead of stars to express hotel and restaurant ratings levels.
It therefore means the higher the number of stars the greater the luxury. Everything from food service, entertainment, view, room, spa, fitness center and ease of access and location are criteria in hotel ranking/standards.
While it's seen as a norm in other countries, most African countries (Nigeria inclusive) do not have a methodical classification system. And the traveler/lodger seems to be worse for it, paying more for less as some hotels grade themselves highly with corresponding high room rates.
Having a small helping of a local delicacy doesn't make you an African culinary connoisseur; in the same vein, owning a lodging facility doesn't connote an expertise in the hotel classification and management business, more so when hoteliers take it upon themselves to grade their hotels, assuming titles like four star, diamonds and so on (which is very common in Nigeria).
Across the United Kingdom, hotels are rated under a Quality Assessment system. Similar to the AAA program, independent assessments using the same criteria are conducted by VisitBritain, VisitScotland, VisitWales or the AA (Automobiles Association). Hotels are given a one- to five-star rating. In addition, Gold and Silver awards are given to hotels that provide exceptional quality in all areas.
Hotels are independently assessed in traditional systems and rest heavily on the facilities provided. Some consider this disadvantageous to smaller hotels whose quality of accommodation could fall into one class but the lack of an item such as an elevator would prevent it from reaching a higher categorization.
Spain's star system is regulated by the government tourism authority in each of 17 regions. Representatives rate more than 10,000 hotels then submit the information to the federal tourism office, Turespana, which publishes a hotel guide for the entire country.
A number of criteria - room size, restaurant options, amenities, entertainment facilities - must be met in order to get a star rating.
Similarly, Portugal's Tourism Office is responsible for registering all lodging establishments, from boarding houses and pousadas to hotels. All are classified by stars depending on location and quality of facilities.
Setting guidelines and responsibilities
Comparism is unavoidable with hotel ratings the world over, though international hotel rating systems are as diverse as the countries themselves. Doing this, it is important to identify the responsibility of public and private sector in the classification process. While it is pertinent to note that public authorities have a social responsibility in ensuring minimum standards in safety and hygiene in accommodation, the private sector on its part will have to come up with ways to add innovation to meet the demands for transparent information delivery for destination, products and services.
Over the last few years, United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) has been working with international hotel and restaurant associations to develop a methodical guidelines on establishing national hotel classification systems. This will provide a step by step guide that will assist hotel associations and tourism administrator to produce a rating system.
The process of Inspection and Grading Criteria in hospitality requires three key elements namely government regulatory board (ie tourism or hospitality regulatory board, Legislation, and private public partnership (with a grading agency).
Looking at it more closely, we need to consider how these three units may work together. Government regulators provide the working or partnership structure and the monitoring machinery. It is their primary responsibility to ensure safety and hygiene standards. They also liaise with the local government and the state hospitality authorities in proving the details and figures that will enable the inventory process for the grading program.
Secondly, legislation is a key area without which the grading, inspection and classification cannot take place. It is the empowering element for the grading, which gives legal and enforcement powers to the government and their private sector partners. It also states specific working relationships.
Lastly, PPP (private public (government) partnership is the arm of the process that will develop the "Inspection and Grading Criteria IGC" template and the onsite IGC methodology template. Being commercially motivated, they provide the innovation that drives customer satisfaction and incentive to the business as a whole.
These crucial requirements will have to be diligently formalised before the next crucial matter of the grading process its self.
Critics and ratings
In recent years hotel rating systems have also been criticised by some who argue that the rating criteria for such systems are overly complex and difficult for laypersons to understand. It has been suggested that the lack of a unified global system for rating hotels may also undermine the usability of such schemes.
Only a few countries in Africa have classification and a substantive grading methodology for their hospitality industry and South Africa is one.
Two reasons constantly adduced by critics in the classification of tourism accommodation are increasing diversity of types of tourism accommodations and the second 'real' reason is the diversity of classification systems that have unspoken cultural and socioeconomic tainting- this has been acknowledged by the UNWTO.
Protecting the consumers' right
Almost all the popular hotel chains are either in the country or will soon make their debut. Not having hotel ratings can spell doom for lodgers who have to grapple with whatever financial implications hotels grade themselves with. Nigeria, already has one of the most expensive room rates in the world.
"According to Dozie Odigboh, an online tourism entrepreneur and consultant, "simply put the Inspection and Grading Criteria for hotels and the hospitality industry is essential to inform consumers considering it provides accommodation and lodging for persons away from home and or far from their usual environment."
"Classification and grading thus constitutes an indicator, a crucial piece of information that should give confidence to the consumer before, during and after their stay while according appropriate expectation for a particular experience and service."
"The second objective is the standardization for listings; this will allow vendors or go-betweens, like the tour operators, big companies and travel agencies, to have a reference with which to use in their business catalogues, for negotiating bulk rates with hotel chains or when preparing their travel 'specials'," he says
"The third objective is that of constituting an instrument for marketing and promotion. When a hotel features its grading 'star', it enables it to promote its specific characteristics, their additional services, based on their 'certification' provided by their stars. It is also a useful tool in measuring the development and standard of tourism infrastructure and commitment to business travel (which is a significant index in measuring inbound tourism in Nigeria)-It is an important element in promoting national or regional tourism."
"A fourth objective is to use the quality-measurement tool. This is the classification system that will provide professionals in the industry with a coherent framework for consistent evaluation. This frame work will consider the diversity of accommodation units (most of which are sole proprietorships with less than 10 employees)," he revealed.
Odigboh further buttresses his points with the following. "Classification also serves as a reference for the implementation of public policies, such as the granting of subsidies or certain tax breaks etc. In Lagos state, efforts are being made to institute this program- for now its still open to all to grade their establishments as they please and hope their guests are convinced enough for return visit," he explained.
Luxury without stars or diamonds
The five-star rating doesn't exist in France. Instead, a voluntary system includes just over half the hotels. Any hotel that would be above a standard, superior or four-star luxe is considered a Palace. However, out of the 3,000 or so hotels in Paris, only a handful have been given the title, according to LastMinuteTravel.com.
FASHOLA, HOLLOWAY INSPECT MONUMENTS, SITES AT BADAGRY
The Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola (SAN) and the State Commissioner for Tourism and Intergovernmental Relations, Mr. Disun Holloway, have inspected some monuments and tourist sites along the Badagry axis of the State as part of efforts of the State Government towards exploiting the tourism potentials of Badagry while creating job opportunities and empowering the youths.
The Governor, who led other members of the State Executive Council, inspected ongoing projects which include the Viekete Slave Market at Posukoh Quarters and the reclamation site of the Marina shoreline.
Fashola, while expressing his government's determination to reposition tourism and create jobs, restated the commitment of his administration to making life meaningful for the citizenry. He maintained that the expansion of the Lagos Badagry Expressway was part of government's resolve to bring further development to the State.
According to him, the State Government is constructing the road network around the historical town as part of its resolve to develop the axis. He opined that with the right infrastructure in place, there is bound to be an influx of tourists, adding that this will indirectly generate income for the State and provide jobs for the citizenry.
While conducting the Governor and other cabinet members round the sites, the Commissioner explained that the purpose of the visit was to get an update on ongoing projects in order to attend to the challenges facing consultants and contractors. He pledged the Ministry's determination in ensuring that all projects are completed soon.
The State Deputy Governor, Mrs. Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire, Commissioner for Works, Obafemi Hamzat, and his Health counterpart, Jide Idris, were among those who joined the Governor on project inspection of the Lagos State VIP Chalets.
KLM Introduces Renewed European Product and Price Policy
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines will be introducing even more European destinations at competitive fares. With effect from 22 April 2013, KLM will be lowering its fare to €99 for 11 European destinations. KLM will then offer flights to more than 30 European destinations at this competitively priced fare. As such, KLM leads the pack in the Netherlands offering customers the broadest range of low-cost destinations.
Additionally, KLM will be separating baggage from the ticket price. This means that with effect from 22 April 2013, passengers in economy class will pay €15 for one piece of hold baggage per flight to destinations within Europe. Anyone who enjoys a relationship with KLM will be exempted. This includes customers who are - or become - members of the Flying Blue Frequent Flyer loyalty programme. This also applies to contracted Corporate Clients, BlueBiz members and passengers in possession of a fully flexible ticket (Y and B classes).
KLM is launching this renewed business model within Europe in response to changing customer behaviour: many existing passengers already travel without hold baggage in Europe. What's more, passengers increasingly want to 'customise' their journeys. This can be achieved through paid options including seat choice, more legroom (Economy Comfort) and, in time, paid lounge access. Customers are free to choose.