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State tackles new hotel star system

Ads started running in Norwegian media last week for a leader to coordinate a new state-backed project that’s caused lots of arguments in the local hotel industry: Rating the hotels on a standard star system like those used in many other countries.

 

Norwegian Accreditation, the country’s signatory to an alphabet soup of multilateral agreements on accreditation, has been hired by the state ministry in charge of business and trade to set up an impartial hotel star system in Norway. Top hotels would get the highest number of stars, with basic hotels (of which there are many in Norway) getting the lowest. Not all hotel chains are pleased with the initiative.

 

Hotel Continental is one of the few Norwegian hotels to make it into some top international rankings. It's not included, however, in the new hotel booking system just launched by Innovation Norway. PHOTO: Views and News

 

“The reason we’re opponents of a star system is because stars are superfluous and an antiquated way of addressing yourself to the market,” Torgeir Silseth, chief executive of Nordic Choice Hotels, told newspaper Aftenposten. He seems to favour customer reviews of hotels posted on social media, and also thinks the introduction of a star system in Norway will be expensive.

 

Ironically, Choice Hotels uses a star-ranking system itself on a new hotel booking system in Norway, but then it was allowed to rank its own hotels by awarding each a certain number of stars. “That’s a great paradox,” commented Knut Almquist of employer organization NHO’s tourism division (NHO Reiseliv), who’s been on the other side of the debate.

 

Long overdue
Almquist thinks a star system is long overdue in Norway. He said he respects Choice Hotels’ opposition to a standard star system but thinks it’s “completely wrong” for Choice to communicate with the market on the new hotel booking system (which is backed by the state-funded business development organization Innovation Norway) with stars they choose themselves.

 

The booking system’s credibility has itself been called into question since its star system has allowed hotels to rank their own properties. It has resulted, for example, in a business hotel next to a freeway at Helsfyr, outside the city center, getting the same number of stars as relatively luxurious properties downtown. The project leader for the booking system called BookNorway.no notes that the classification of hotels with stars was “voluntary” and that the stars will be replaced with the state’s official star system when it becomes available.

 

Less luxury than abroad
Some argue that Oslo has no hotels that offer the same standard of service and amenities as luxurious, five-star properties in Asia or elsewhere in Europe. Hotel Continental is among the few hotels in Norway that’s been listed in some top international hotel chains or won mention in leading international travel magazines like Conde Nast, but many other allegedly top hotels aren’t in the same league as the five-star Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong or a Four Seasons hotel just about anywhere. That suggests many hotels that are among Norway’s finest might only qualify for four stars on a standardized system, and that most other hotels would wind up with two or three stars.

 

The state is trying to clean up the system, or lack thereof, and hopes to have a standard star system in place sometime next year. Norwegian Accreditation, the firm hired to set it up, has been granted the authority to also set criteria for stars, which it says can include such factors as room size, bathroom access and wattage in reading lights. Its director, Geir Samuelsen, said the firm would cooperate with the hotel industry and hopes “we can can together show the hotels’ customers that hotel stars can have a predictable value.”

 

Judging from the quarrelling that’s gone on for years, that won’t be easy. Halvard Ingebrigtsen, state secretary in the trade ministry, remains optimistic.

 

“I hope we can hand out the first official Norwegian hotel stars right after New Year,” Ingebrigtsen told Aftenposten earlier this month. The ministry has allocated NOK 4 million to finally get the job done.

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