Before jumping into that cosy bed, clinking that champagne glass or devouring that sumptuous dinner, crosscheck to ensure you are not ripped off in the new year, OBINNA EMELIKE advises.
No. I cannot take this after paying online. You promised us a four-star hotel but this is a guest house,” a South African businessman on holiday in Lagos last Christmas notes sadly.
But the manager of the Lagos-based resort insists that his resort is four-star by all standards, and that guests are on standby for the room if the infuriated would-be guest declines.
The already sad holiday maker opts for another hotel. But on getting there, he meets a standard below comfort, yet the hotel concierge insists that the outfit is three-star rated. The well-travelled businessman who knows a hotel’s rating just by the sight of it hisses in disbelief, but he needs a roof over his head for one-week holiday in Nigeria.
If he had stayed in the self-acclaimed four-star hotel, he would have paid $300 instead of $200, the right price. Even when his countrymen who are resident here visit him at the budget hotel, they are surprised that Star lager beer costs a little less than what is on offer at Transcorp Hilton Hotel, a supposedly five-star hotel where some of them were recently for corporate lunch.
There are so many travellers across the world today who face a near rip-off situation such as the holiday maker because of misinformation on hotel standard, rating, and offering. This misinformation that breeds unpleasant experiences for guests necessitates the question, what star is your hotel?
The hotel star-rating is a big issue for travellers across the world, especially to developing countries where lack of regulation allows most hotels to overrate and, consequently, overprice their offerings. The development means more expenditure for travellers in today’s cost-cutting world.
Basically, one-star hotel offers very basic hotel accommodation and need; two-star offers modest, comfortable, affordable accommodation and services; while three-star offers, in addition, nice styling and extra amenities.
But for a four-star-rated hotel, it offers very nice lodging, many extras, and service and facilities that are more comfortable than a three-star, while a five-star, seen as the benchmark offering, is simply a luxury hotel with everything.
But when a hotel offers services and facilities above five-star, it can claim to be six- or seven-star.
“In actual sense, any hotel that claims seven-star is just for advertorial as five-star is still the benchmark and the highest offering in hospitality business across the world,” says Ikechi Uko, a hotel expert.
While the result of the 56th annual Forbes Travel Guide Star Rating reveals that there are 97 five-star hotels worldwide, regrettably, there are no official five-star hotels in Nigeria. The likes of Transcorp Hilton Abuja, Intercontinental Hotel Lagos Hotel, Eko Hotel & Suites and Federal Palace Hotel & Casino, according to Uko, are not officially rated five-star.
You have to look at room diversity, food and beverage operation, language skill, facilities and services on offer, the style and presentation, among others, to aim for five-star, he says.
But Kevin Kamau, general manager, Raddisson Blu Anchorage Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos, notes that quality standard is all that matters to guests and any rating that does not conform to standard on ground sends the wrong signal, which is bad for business.
Though the star-rating system created in United States of America by Mobil Travel Guides is a very subjective way of measuring hotel quality, most hospitality experts believe that guests rate hotels better than any agency because they are the ones to say how satisfactory or poor a service or facility is.
“No matter what any agency does in the name of hotel rating or grading, the guests still have the core decision on rating because they are the ones who pay to use the facilities. It is easier for guests than rating agencies to sample quality on offer at different hotels they visit because they are constantly looking for value for money offerings,” says Emmanuel Ocheme, an Abuja-based hotel manager.
In any case, most hotels do not conspicuously display their rating for guests to see before making any booking or payment, and most would-be guests do not ask after the star-rating as well; they are usually mindful of the rates and discounts.
“As a guest, you are king and have right to ask whatever question, even rating. You can even go to inspect the room or have a taste of a dish before paying. It is allowed. But most guests in Nigeria are after price, hence they are easily ripped off by substandard hotels that parade star-ratings, services and facilities they do not have,” Ocheme says.
Hassan Yahaya, a hospitality consultant, regrets that most substandard hotels that parade false status are still in business unchecked. “Why should a hotel spring up in a residential area, or a residence turned into hotel by just a signpost. Are there no standards? Where are the regulators or are they collaborators in the illegal business?” he asks.
Efforts in the past by Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) to regulate and rate hotels yielded less result as the stakeholders (who are still calling for proper rating today) kicked against it on the ground that it would expose and puncture their financials.
Following the debate in some quarters over the rationale for the rating and grading, Olusegun Runsewe, the then director general of NTDC, who wanted AA London to do the rating first with Abuja hotels, had to stop because of the N2 billion or more it required.
Also, the rating encountered several legal battles centred on who regulates the hospitality industry, especially between NTDC and Lagos State Government through its House of Assembly that made the hotel laws, and Ministry of Tourism that implemented them.
Since the victory at the Supreme Court, Lagos State is regulating its hospitality sector; so also other states, while NTDC that lost out keeps watching helplessly. The development has since led to various standards that further make it difficult for guests to understand the hotel rating as so many hotels keep parading different stars when they are bed-and-breakfast outfits.
While the recent effort by Lagos State to rate hotels in the state starting with 50 hotels is commendable, some stakeholders note that the pace is very slow, while others are scared that it might just be a revenue drive. Guests, on their part, await the result of the exercise to serve as a guide.
The dilemma is that even most international-branded hotels in Nigeria are unofficially rated, hence guests could be paying more for less. But the fundamental thing, according to Yahaya, is to ask questions, compare facilities and services on offer and go for value-for-money offerings which often correspond with ratings.