Travel forums are gold mines of information if you care to review the postings of enchanted and disgruntled travelers coming back from abroad. I often peruse these forums to find out about the concerns voiced by fellow travelers headed to the ‘City of Lights’.
Among the postings which keep coming back, one stands out from the crowd: what does a 3-star rating really mean? Travelers tend to be confused by the many star-rating systems in use. I felt the subject called for an educated explanation.
The meaning of stars in the US
First of all, let’s be clear: there is absolutely no relationship whatsoever between the number of stars commercial travel sites award to hotels, and the hotel rating system in use in France.
The core business of commercial travel sites is to sell you hotel rooms, flight tickets, car rentals, and cruise packages. They purport to guide your choice by awarding stars to the products they peddle.
When you book a room on such sites, a significant portion of your money goes to the travel operator which presents the hotel – up to 50% on well-known websites.
For this reason alone, you could reasonably ask yourself: are these ratings unbiased, or tainted by corporate greed?
To make matters more complicated, each travel website uses its own rating method. Consumer Reports published an enlightening article on the topic in its November 2005 issue.
In other words, the number of stars awarded by commercial travel sites is not a fully reliable yardstick for selecting a hotel.
The meaning of stars in France
The French hotel rating system works on a completely different set of rules.
1.It is a standardized system: meaning, all hotels across France are categorized on the same unique basis.
2.The rating system was not born out of mercantile purposes: it was framed by the French lawmakers without any concern for profit.
3.Last but not least, the French hotel rating system does not measure quality. Instead, it uses 22 measurement criteria to assess the presence or absence of certain features in the hotel.
Among the main criteria used:
- Room sizes and numbers
- Room soundproofing
- Heating and air-conditioning
- Design of bathroom facilities
- Phone system
- Electrical equipment
Each requirement varies from one star category to another. (See link to full article below.)
Subjective quality vs. objective quantity
The French rating system does not take into account subjective quality criteria.
And because of this limited approach, it does not guarantee your expectations will be fulfilled.
First, there are keen differences in perception between populations. For example, American travelers are used to larger sizes of rooms and beds than the average room and bed sizes offered in Parisian hotels. This can be a source of disappointment.
Moreover, the French rating system does not measure service quality – cleanliness, absence of smells, staff attitude, speed of service, etc.
It may thus be chancy to base your hotel choice solely on the French rating system.
The safer bet
To afford the best chances to pick the right hotel in Paris I recommend the following 4 steps:
- Have a basic understanding of the French rating criteria
- Check guests’ reviews
- Visit the hotel’s own website
- Do not hesitate to e-mail your questions to the hotel.
Many travelers write reviews on the hotels they stayed at. No hotel satisfies 100% of its guests throughout the year, so both extreme judgments and moderate opinions can be found on this open forum. My advice: favor moderate reviews with some flesh on the bones. They will usually give you a useful picture of what to expect from the hotel – good and less good.
Visiting the hotel’s website will usually allow you to see multiple views of its rooms and bathrooms. I insist on visiting the hotel’s own website since it usually is the place which offers the greatest number of photos.
Lastly, e-mailing your questions to the hotel owners may or may not get you an answer, usually depending on the proficiency of the receptionist in your language. Receiving informative answers to your questions is a good sign that the hotel cares for his prospective guests.
Following these 4 steps should help you minimize the risk of being disappointed during your stay in Paris. This is no guarantee though. Remember that cultures differ from each other, and your expectations of service might not be fully understood. In such case, communicate with the owner. They are usually keen on serving you to the best of their means.
Have a safe and pleasant trip to Paris!