Sunday, November 21, 2010

Rating Backpackers

We were interested to learn that Australia's official accommodation star rating agency, STAR Ratings Australia (SRA) will cease grading backpacker accommodation.

In a recent strategic review, SRA proposed to drop the backpacker category due to "lack of demand" however "will consult with key operators to identify alternative arrangements." It is unclear what "alternative arrangements" may mean? Could it mean that a more appropriate and cost effective (ie dumbed-down and cheap) grading system will be considered or is the consultation process merely going through the motions with tangible outcomes unlikely?

Backpacker operators have always been fiercely independent, pragmatic and closely connected with their young market. It is clear that not enough Aussie backpacker operators could see the value in signing up for a centralised star grading scheme. It is also apparent that star ratings were well down on the list of what guests staying in backpackers were looking for. When seeking accommodation, backpackers tend to be influenced by other backpackers' recommendations, guide books, social networks and consumer rating websites. This is interesting if we consider that today's backpacker guests are tomorrow's consumers of hotels and motels.

By relinquishing an "official" star rating program,  the Australian Backpacker sector could use the opportunity to take charge of their own destiny and set their own standards. Quality standards are more effectively delivered through strong voluntary trade associations, accommodation marketing groups reacting to social media such as online guest reviews. In the online world the consumer is increasingly dictating quality standards with real-time feedback.

Is it a coincidence that most operators in the New Zealand backpacker sector have also shunned their official accommodation star rating agency, Qualmark NZ ?

A popular rating scheme in New Zealand is the privately operated Budget Backpacker Hostels NZ Ltd (BBH) that have successfully cornered the local Backpacker sector to the detriment of Qualmark. Guests that stay at a BBH property can rate their overall experience by responding to a simple question: "On a scale of 1 to 10, how much did you enjoy staying at each of the Backpacker Hostels you've used in New Zealand?" 

Every year the responses are collated into a percentage rating to enable future guests to determine the "quality" of the experience of BBH rated accommodation.

From what we can see this system is simple, cost effective AND it works.

Maybe other accommodation groupings could learn a lot from the backpacker sector?

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