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, australiatourism.travel, australias.guide, and in WA westernaustralia.com, trustthetick.com.au and trailswa.com.au. To be on this database a tourism business needs to be accredited by Star Ratings Australia, or under the Australian Tourism Accreditation Program (ATAP).
The Star Ratings Australia (formerly AAA Tourism) star rating scheme was for a long while the only tool people had to compare the quality of accommodation on offer. The rating criteria are freely available, so it is simple for providers to self-rate their accommodation and avoid the hefty fees charged by SRA for "official" accreditation (currently upwards of $340 per year - try finding that on their website).
Not that it matters, because most people have their own idea of what 4 or 5 star accommodation looks like without needing to know the thread count of the sheets or the hours that Reception is open; hosts and guests alike are relying more on guest reviews on sites like Trip Advisor because they offer a credible alternative, and only use star ratings ("official" or self rated) as a guide to facilities on offer. It matters to SRA because it undermines their outdated business model and claimed intellectual property rights; their defences have included some very negative advertising denigrating self-rated establishments. How sad is 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 get
Star Ratings Australia is a private for-profit company wholly owned by automotive associations including state RACs/AAs and the NRMA. They are not part of the Government (unlike appliance, building and food health star ratings) and their accreditation is not to any Australian Standard. They do have trademark rights over the "star" accommodation rating symbols, which may be the basis of their claim to be "official".Under 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 $1020 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).
what you might get
We've generally had better experiences at non-rated or self-rated establishments that star-rated ones. 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. Anyway, we don't like their advertising; we avoid star-rated establishments and RAC products in general.
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)
- One 5-star major resort that only changes one sheet if guests only stay one night (staff instruction overheard)
- One 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 we signed up in mid 2015 for accreditation under the "Trust the Tick" logo. According to ATDW's "comprehensive statistics" 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 ($8.50 per click) and no bookings at all. The problem seems to be that distributors focus on the international market and their websites for the most part direct tourists to iconic destinations; we had difficulty finding our own listing on most of them, and our complaints fell on deaf ears. So much for truth in advertising.
Needless to say the tick is gone; all the commitment and the systems remain.