Spa Ratings Systems


I recently read an article by Stephen W. Ayers on Hotel Intel.Co which questioned the relevance of the traditional hotel ratings system in today’s world. It got me thinking about Spa Ratings Systems.

When it comes to hotel ratings, some are given by government authorities, some by quasi-government tourism bodies, some by private companies and some just purely based on customer reviews. But no matter how many different assessment criteria are put in place, the final rating given will always be a bit subjective. Some things are just a matter of personal preference.

And there will always be questions asked about the integrity and impartiality of the review based on who’s paying the assessor’s salary. In theory at least, a government-funded system should be more independent. If it’s a private company providing the rating though, chances are they have other business interests in and around the industry. Think AAA in the US which sells any number of travel related products and services in addition to awarding hotel Star (or Diamond) ratings.

Spa Ratings – Failure to Launch

But when it comes to hotel spas, the whole ratings system is a concept that never really took off. Maybe this is simply because guests are making assumptions about the spa based on the standard of hotel they are in. Guests are relying on the hotel to ensure that their spa is of a level consistent with that hotel. In a 5 Star hotel, you should find a 5 Star spa, right? Makes sense. I guess we make the same assumptions when it comes to restaurants in hotels too.

Another reason Spa Ratings Systems haven’t worked, goes hand in hand with our reliance on the hotel brand. You see, not many hotel spa brands have managed to establish themselves in their own right. How many hotel spa brands can you think of that are independent of the hotel brand? Probably not that many. Mandara Spa (the company I work for) is a reasonably well known brand and is independent of the hotel brands. Still, it would be a little naïve to assume the majority of guests in the hotels where we operate the spa, have ever heard of our brand. We might be well known within the industry and perhaps even in the broader hotel industry, but to the consumers at large…?

More and Now and More Often

Ayers suggests that hotel ratings systems today are really only useful in establishing the most basic of parameters for the properties. Beyond that basic star rating, potential customers will turn to sites like TripAdvisor to get more detailed and real-time feedback on the hotel. And I think the ‘real-time’ aspect is an important one. The generalized hotel star ratings agencies might only do an inspection once or twice a year. A guest review on TripAdvisor could be as recent as today. And, of course, you could potentially have reviews from several guests, not just the opinion of one seasoned assessor.

Logically, spas would be part of the more detailed information prospective guests are turning to these review sites for. Indeed, TripAdvisor is one of the few places you can turn to for any sort of meaningful feedback on the spa in a hotel. But chances are, the spa you’re looking to visit may not be mentioned.  Lots of the hotel reviews on these sites make no mention of the spa at all. Presumably because not many of the guests have used the spa.

So why isn’t there a global review site just for spas? Well, as Jessie J says… ‘It’s all about the money, money, money’. OK, so it doesn’t take much money to put up a website these days. But it does take time and money to maintain it. TripAdvisor, for example, generated almost $1.5 billion in revenue in 2016. This is on the back of an average of nearly 400 million monthly unique visits to the site. (source: Forbes) It’s hard to imagine a spa review site getting that many hits!

Curate or Crowdsource

It’s worth noting that TripAdvisor didn’t start out with user-generated content – ie: customer reviews. Initially, the site was a curated list of hotels and reviews. The ‘Write a Review’ option was added some time after the launch of the site. It soon became what the site was best known for. Turns out customers trust reviews of fellow travelers more than those of the experts.

And there are a number of curated spa review sites around the inter-web. However, none have so far been able to achieve the sort of scale of customer-generated reviews required to claim the title of the TripAdvisor of Spas. Infact, I’d argue none have managed to scale even the curated reviews to a point where the site becomes truly valuable. Also, many of these sites require the spa to pay for a listing. As mentioned earlier, it tends to put a dent in the integrity of the review if it’s been paid for.

A rapid increase in not only the number of hotels but also the types of hotels is, according to Ayers, a key reason for the rising irrelevance of hotel ratings systems. With so many subtle variations between each type of property, the broad ratings system just can’t provide enough information anymore. Ironically, I think it’s the opposite for hotel spas. As I stated in an earlier article, I believe hotel spas have become a commodity, with little if any differentiation between each one. So, even if there was a site with a detailed review of thousands of spas, after a while, wouldn’t all the reviews start sounding the same? If so, what’s the point?

Somehow, I just don’t think we’re going to have a global Spa Ratings System any time soon.

What do you think?