Paris Hotels: How to reduce your risk of selecting the wrong hotel
Travel forums are goldmines of information—that is, if you care to review the postings of enchanted and disgruntled travellers coming back from abroad, and the many questions soon-to-be-vacationers ask in the hope a friendly and savvy soul will advise them wisely.
Pop! goes the worthy question
Among the postings which keep coming back, one stands out in its many variations:
‘What does a 3-star rating really mean in Paris?’
‘I just cannot comprehend how this dump got its 3-star rating!’
‘I was expecting much more from a 3-star Paris hotel.’
‘I had picked this hotel because it was a 3-star, but…’
There is indeed a resounding absence of solid information in regards to the meaning of ‘hotel stars’ in France, and well-known travel websites. This vacuum was calling for a full reply.
The meaning of stars in the US
Let me clear something right away. There is absolutely zero relationship whatsoever between the number of stars commercial travel sites award to hotels, and the hotel rating system in use in France.
Commercial travel sites don’t take their cues from the French system, and the latter does not bother with the former’s ratings.
The core business of commercial travel sites is to sell you hotel rooms, flight tickets, car rentals, and cruise packages. They purport to guide your choice by awarding stars to their products.
Whether these sites’ star ratings are free from any mercantile bias is debatable. When you book a room on a commercial travel site, a significant portion of your money goes to the travel site which presents the hotel. On certain well-known travel sites, the hotel can pay as much as 50% of your booking to the site operator. (I will soon publish a report on the topic on my website.)
So in my humble opinion, the objectivity of the number of stars awarded by commercial travel websites to any hotel is a matter of debate.
To make matters worse, each travel website uses its own private rating method. It is practically impossible to compare the ratings given by two websites to the same hotel. Just like comparing apples and oranges.Consumer Report published an interesting article on this problem in their November 05 issue.
In other words, the number of stars awarded by commercial travel sites is not a fully reliable yardstick for selecting a hotel.
The meaning of stars in France
The French hotel rating system works on a completely different set of rules.
- It is a standardized system: meaning, all hotels across France are categorized on the basis of a unique system. A 3-star in Paris will have to comply with almost the same criteria as a 3-star in the countryside. Comparability is 98% ensured.
- The rating system was not born out of mercantile purposes: it was framed by the French lawmakers. This means that no hotel can be ‘upgraded’ a star or two because it pays a fatter booking commission to a website operator. Under the law a hotel qualifies for a specific star category, and not for the next one up. Period.
- Lastly, and this is the most important factor, the French rating system does not measure quality. It measures quantities. Quality is partly a matter of opinion. Quantities are measurable, verifiable, quantifiable.
The French hotel rating system uses a total set a 22 criteria and sub-criteria to measure the presence or absence of certain features in the hotel, and the square footage devoted to various spaces.
Based on these objective measurements, the hotel is given its stars by the authorities.
The owners may of course remodel their hotel, and apply for an upgrade. The review process will be based on the same criteria as before, and the re-rating will be decided on the basis of compliance with the same objective measurements.
What are the 22 criteria?
Covering each of the 22 criteria would just take too much space here. I wrote a full article on the topic you can download at www.paris-eiffel-tower-news.com/editorials/hotel-rating.htm.
But here is a list of the main criteria measured:
- Room sizes and numbers
- Room soundproofing
- Heating and air-conditioning
- Design of bathroom facilities
- Phone system
- Electrical equipment
Each requirement differs from one star category to the other, and the law sometimes provides for ‘tolerances’ when a single criterion cannot be 100% complied with.
Quality vs. Quantities
Though the French rating system is based on objective, measurable criteria, this does not mean travellers’ expectations will be fulfilled automatically.
First, there are keen differences in perception between populations. One of the most common example of such a problem relates to room and bed sizes. American travellers are used to larger rooms and beds than the average room and bed sizes offered by Paris hotels. This ‘size gap’ originates in history and genetics: space is scarcer in Paris than in Boston or Chicago, and French people tend to have smaller bodies than American people.
Moreover, the French rating system does not measure service quality, a major issue with travellers. Though a hotel can fully comply with the 3-star criteria, the cleanliness of its bathrooms may not be fully satisfactory. The receptionist may have a bad attitude problem. The hotel management may be slow to fix a plumbing problem in a room. All such issues may compound each other to inflict a revolting experience to a hotel guest.
Because the French system does not measure the quality of service over time, it may be chancy to base your choice of hotel solely on the french star rating.
The safer bet
To afford the best chances to pick the right hotel in Paris I would recommend you to take 4 steps:
- have a basic understanding of the French rating criteria (see above link to download them),
- check the guests’ reviews on http://www.explorotel.com/topview/, and
- visit the hotel’s own website,
- do not hesitate to e-mail your questions to the hotel owners
For those of you who are not familiar with the service provided by Travelocity, thousands of travellers use this website to write reviews on the hotels they stayed at. As always with such an open forum, you will find both extreme judgments and moderate opinions.
My advice: if a hotel fetches 4 or 5 acceptable-to-good reviews and a couple of very bad ones, put the latter on account of a bad hair day. I don’t know of any hotel which satisfies 100% of its guests throughout the year. Favor moderate reviews with some flesh on the bones: they will usually give you a useful picture of what to expect from the hotel, good and less good.
Visiting the hotel’s own website (make sure it is the hotel’s own) will allow you to view the rooms and bathrooms, and form a better idea of what you can expect. I insist on visiting the hotel’s own website because it is usually the website where you will find the largest number of photos. Commercial travel websites usually skimp on photos.
Lastly, e-mailing your questions to the hotel owners may or may not get you an answer. This usually depends on the proficiency of the receptionist in your language. People at the front desk may shy away from responding by email, just because they don’t feel comfortable writing in a foreign language. Naturally, receiving informative answers to your questions is a good sign that the hotel cares, and that its personnel strives to serve their prospective guests well.