So, we’re in the process of planning a three-part winter trip to flee the Canadian winter for a while in early 2013. We are already booked on our first Seabourn cruise aboard the Seabourn Spirit, and since it leaves from Barbados and ends in St. Martin, it only seemed natural that we’d book-end the cruise with vacations in Barbados and then St. Martin. Can’t wait! But, trying to find the right hotel or resort in which to spend a week or so in each place has proven to have eaten up more time than any of our numerous hotel/resort choices in the past. It occurs to us that it’s at least partly because (a) the resources we have now are almost too-much-information; and (b) the ratings systems are so inconsistent and even, dare we say, capricious.
Let’s start where we usually start: namely our favorite hotel aggregator. That would be Air Canada Vacations. We have tended to use ACV in the past because we’re AC frequent fliers and can accumulate points by booking hotel packages through them, even if we’re not actually booking an air-hotel and/or cruise package, all of which can be done. We have also often found that the package rate is better than booking hotels on their own (and we have absolutely no interest in those aggregators like Hotwire where you pay in advance and don’t know exactly where you’ll be staying – you may be able to save money that way, and we’re sure that many people enjoy this. We don’t.). We had a great find in Paris a few years ago. In fact, we have booked our Barbados hotel through ACV.
We wanted to experience The House on Barbados and it happened to be among the ACV offerings , and advertises with that enticing descriptor that we love so much: “adults-only.” The rate was competitive and booking this way allows us to put down a deposit and then pay the whole thing in advance (with cancellation insurance, of course). That way our entire holiday is paid for before we go, a feeling that we truly enjoy. But trying to find a hotel in St. Martin was a different thing altogether.
To date, we are still not booked for that week of vacation, since somehow our first choice hotel on St. Martin, La Samanna, does not seem to be available any longer (according to our travel agent, and this despite the fact that today when we surfed over to the ACV site, it’s still listed). So, we’re left trying to decipher the hotel rating systems to figure out where we’d like to stay.
Air Canada Vacations has their own rating system, and it does not necessarily reflect the systems by any other organizations, or countries for that matter (some countries, predominantly in Europe, have their own rating systems).
This explanation is helpful, but the way they rate is not the same as how others rate and we’re left scratching our heads.
One of the important considerations in deciphering rating systems is the rating organizations’ reason for doing the rating. Are they trying to sell hotel rooms? Are they a travel advice service only? Or, as is the case so often now in this excess of information age, are they simply allowing people to post their own reviews from which an overall rating is then created?
Air Canada Vacations, and others like them, have a vested interest in having these ratings clearly establish certain parameters in the minds of consumers. If they are wrong, or misleading in any way, not only will the customer not book that hotel again, the customer is unlikely to book any of their hotels again. But, of course, sometimes customers disagree with the rater, or have a particularly bad experience that might not be the experience of the majority of others.
Then there are the ratings that are assigned by third-party organizations like Forbes. They are not in the business of selling multiple hotel rooms, so their ratings are often viewed as more objective. They have things like anonymous inspectors and consistent criteria that provide you with what is likely to be an overall more accurate rating than, say, customer-generated ratings. For a very good explanation of rating systems, read the CN story The Dirty Truth About Hotel Ratings.
We have been reviewing hotels and restaurants on TripAdvisor for a while now, and we do use customer ratings, but recognizing their limitations, we do take them with a grain of salt. We’ve discussed this before, and the overall ratings that come out of customer reviews are often baffling to us. It seems that we are not looking for the same things as many of the reviewers (who are predominantly from the USA, by the way – and this makes a difference).
Other customer-generated ratings are published in magazines and on web sites as “readers’ choice” ratings or awards and are even more peculiar since anyone can vote and that anyone need not have ever traveled to more than that single hotel or been on any other cruise line to make a judgment about ‘favorite.’ But that’s a different story.
The bottom line is that to the discerning traveler, hotel rating systems are useful, but need to be taken into consideration only with an array of other information you have available to you. So, where does that lead us in our search for the perfect spot to enjoy St. Martin? Exactly nowhere at this stage. We’re still looking!