tourism accreditation in australia
Tourism accreditation in Australia centres on the federally administered Australian Tourism Data Warehouse (ATDW); a database of accredited tourism businesses used by distributors including Australia.com, trustthetick.com.au, australiatourism.travel, australias.guide, and in WA westernaustralia.com and trailswa.com.au. To be on this database a tourism business needs to be accredited by Star Ratings Australia (SRA) or the Australian Tourism Accreditation Program (ATAP); both of these schemes are now administered by the Australian Tourism Industry Council (ATIC).
SRA's slogan is "Because the accommodation you expect should be the accommodation you get" - we can't disagree with that.
what you expect
Star Ratings Australia are fond of claiming that their ratings are official and independent; that at least sounds pretty good and doesn't seem too much to expect. You might also expect that their rating would give a reasonably reliable indication of the standard of facilities on offer.
what you getUnder SRA's scheme, what you get is accommodation that will have been visited ONCE in the previous THREE YEARS by someone who gave the owner up to TWO WEEKS notice of the inspection, who didn't stay there, or necessarily even see inside the unit you could stay in. They would have been treated like royalty, so couldn't objectively assess ANY of the service or hospitality on offer, or any of the value represented.
The owners would have paid SRA a minimum of $1080 over three years for this single visit; they are SRA's customers and SRA is going to look after them as a priority. SRA's claim that their ratings are independent is clearly false; if they were, such payments would be corrupt (refer last bullet point below).
We've generally had better experiences at non-rated or self-rated establishments than star-rated ones, which we now avoid. Perhaps that is because the star-rated ones are usually bigger with no owners on site; perhaps it is because they don't have to take personal responsibility for their ratings.
Amongst the things we have found at star-rated establishments (4 stars or higher) are:
- Tapwater (rainwater) which wasn't filtered or sterilised*
- Muddy dam water in the shower and spa bath*
- A shower that took over a minute to run hot
- Cold rooms due to:
- Gas heating locked on the lowest setting and quite ineffective
- Wood heating with less than an hour's supply of wood provided
- Air conditioning controls disabled
- Tea, coffee or milk missing, or insufficient for more than one cup each
- Towels that were small, old and hard
- Dirty barbeques
- A complete lack of any guest-accessable firefighting equipment* (we only looked for it because the bush came right up under the verandah of this elevated chalet in the Margaret River area)
- A 5-star resort in the South West that only changes one sheet if guests only stay one night (staff instruction overheard)
- A local operator who had abandoned the SRA star rating scheme, only to be offered an extra half star to rejoin
It is safe to assume that most of these things would be unknown or not detected by anyone who didn't stay there. If you trust in stars, you really need an astrologer.
* Water quality/safety or fire safety is not assessed under SRA criteria.
the australian tourism accreditation program
ATAP is essentially a quality assurance program that offers consumers confidence that tourism operators have commitment to standards of product and service, continuous improvement, and truth in advertising. This is accomplished by accreditation to a defined set of management systems, policies and procedures which are administered and audited by the State-based tourism authorities. Like all quality assurance programs, the concept makes sense but the main beneficiaries tend to be the accreditation agencies/auditors rather than the licensees or consumers.
The ATDW claims as listing benefits "massive" online exposure, comprehensive statistics, and cost effectiveness, on which basis Mumbles became accredited in mid 2015 under the "Trust the Tick" scheme administered by the Tourism Council of WA (TCWA). The reality bore no resembance to the claims:
- Massive on-line exposure? ATDW distributors seem to like ponderously slow websites with very poor search facilities; with the utmost patience we couldn't find our own listing on some of them. They focus on the international market, and direct tourists to iconic destinations that they have probably already heard of.
- Comprehensive statistics? According to ATDW our listing was seen only 46 times in the first year (all from Queensland on the same day) and only 86 times in the second year (sources unknown). These views generated just 68 click-throughs to our website from ATDW distributors.
- Cost effectiveness? Our 68 click-throughs cost $8.79 each (about 16x the cost of Google ads) and generated no bookings at all.
So much for truth in advertising! Our complaints fell on deaf ears, as neither ATIC, ATDW, or TCWA have any evident procedure for handling or resolving them. Needless to say our tick has gone; all the commitment and the systems remain.
Neither scheme comes anywhere close to delivering on what it promises; it would be nice to see some evidence of the same high standards that they impose on their unwitting subscribers. Tourism consumers are justified in placing more credibility in reviews on Google and sites like Trip Advisor and the major booking agencies; small wonder that ATIC are now incorporating reviews trawled from such sites into their own marketing. It's a bit like tying the "Titanic" to an iceberg to try to keep it afloat.