Concrete doesn’t make tourism. Bricks and tiles can keep you dry, an air-conditioning unit can keep you cool, a comfortable bed will make sure you sleep like a baby and a restaurant will stop you from being hungry – but put them all together and you don’t have a five-star hotel. Well, sorry, if you are in Croatia then that’s exactly what you have.
“There is a huge difference between a five star hotel in London and New York and in Croatia, it is almost nonsensical to group them in the same category,” explained a friend to me over coffee a few weeks back. I was intrigued. “You mean in terms of price, service or quality?” I asked. “In the most basic of all things, the way in which the stars are earned,” he answered. I was even more intrigued.
The hotel category system works pretty much the same way in America and the UK, no great surprises there, and is based on three conditions – the object, the amenities and the service. Basically all these must reach a certain standard that then ranks from one star to five. Now this friend that I was drinking coffee with used to work in the States in this industry, he was an inspector for the service part. “It isn’t brain surgery, we have a long checklist of things to look for and inspect when we visit a hotel, and as we visit each hotel as a secret guest none of the staff know that we are inspectors,” he said with a wry smile.
As he could see I was interested he started going through the checklist in more detail. “For example when a guest enters a hotel somebody must greet him/her within 30 seconds, anything more than 30 seconds and the hotel could lose a star. Then as a guests walks around the hotel he/she must be greeted by every member of staff he/she meets, whether a cleaner or the director of the hotel. If a member of staff fails to greet a guest then again the hotel could lose a star,” he continued. As he started to go into more detail it all made sense, there was nothing that was too demanding and after all high-paying guests expect a certain level of service. And it seemed that this independent way of judging whether a hotel meets these high standards was the best way to keep an overall standard.
It would also make sense if every country in the world followed the same standards, a universal star system; however that is not the case. A five-star hotel in Dubrovnik and Denver could be miles apart, and not just geographically.
Yes, hotels here are checked for room size, reception size, amenities and other technical requirements but the service side of the hotel is completely ignored. As long as you meet all the technical demands required by the Ministry of Tourism you can pretty much have lepers staffing the hotel. This is one of the main reasons why many hotels in the city have been reconstructing their rooms over the past ten years, to keep their five-star status.
“Let’s be honest Dubrovnik might have the highest number of five-star hotels in Croatia but how many of these would be able to proudly display five stars if they were in the UK or the US, not many, maybe two,” added another friend in the tourism business. If you are simply judging the star category of a hotel by the size of the room then we have no future. People are the key to tourism, always have been and always will be. Concrete and plaster board will never make you smile or give you memories to last a lifetime. We should be selling experiences not bloody real estate!
This again is the reason that Dubrovnik can “import” cheap labour from poorer regions, staff who whilst good meaning have no training or experience in the hotel industry. We are filling five-star hotels with two-star staff! The only thing that “saves the day” is that these staff are generally friendly by nature and therefore cover over the cracks in their knowledge with a warm smile. I am not blaming the staff; don’t get me wrong, I am blaming the system that allows this to happen. A system that judges tourism in terms of metres squared and not with a human touch. “I agree it is madness but the Ministry don’t seem willing or indeed interested to change,” concluded the friend. It would be like buying the most expensive computer in the world, one that could run NASA on its own, and then using the Windows 95 operating system.
So when you are sitting in a “so called” five-star hotel and have been waiting for ten minutes to get your coffee just remember – at least the toilets are the right dimensions – does that make you feel better (no, doesn’t help me either).