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100 YEARS OF AA HOTEL STAR RATINGS
As people start to think about next year’s holiday, one of the most exciting but stressful things is choosing the right hotel. The simplest way of gauging what a hotel is like and the type of hotel it is, is by looking at the star rating. It is common knowledge that a one star hotel will provide an informal, basic standard of accommodation while at a five star hotel guests will benefit from more luxurious accommodation and a range of extra facilities during their stay. However, very few of us stop to think how this system of rating hotels came about or how long it has been used. As 2012 marks the centenary of the AA Hotel Ratings scheme, it’s at least 100 years!
Good quality hotels have been recommended by the AA almost since its inception in 1905. In 1908 about 1,000 of the leading hotels in the UK worked with AA scouts to provide information for motorists on places to stay, which was then listed in the 1909 handbook.
By 1912 it was felt that a more critical approach was necessary to indicate the kind of hotel that was listed. The then AA Secretary, Stenson Cooke, had once been a wine and spirit salesman and felt that the star rating of brandy would be a familiar yardstick to apply to hotels. In his words, “a really decent, average, middle-class hotel” would merit the standard three stars. The 1912 AA Handbook carried details of the new ratings and by the 1913 AA Handbook the hotels listed carried the star ratings.
More recently, in collaboration with VisitEngland, VisitScotland and VisitWales, the AA developed Common Quality Standards for inspecting and rating accommodation on a rising scale of one to five Stars. These standards and rating categories are now applied throughout the British Isles.
The latest version of the AA Hotel Guide has details of over 2,000 establishments ranging from intimate, personally-run establishments to elegant country houses, fashionable boutique hotels, five Star rated hotels and over 600 budget hotels. In the 1913 AA Handbook there were around 1,375 hotels listed. Twenty of these hotels were rated as five star. Some still appear in the current edition.
Over the past 100 years the hotel industry has seen many changes with the advent of budget hotel chains and trendy boutique hotels. There are still some favourites that remain in the guide after all these years. The rating scheme is one of several important filters that customers use to help guide them through the wealth of hotels they now have to choose from. Our team of inspectors continue to inspect and rate hotels throughout the length and breadth of the country.
The range of Lifestyle Guides is available from all good bookstores as well as The AA Shop
For information please contact the AA Press Office on 01256 492895 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
To discover which hotels in your area were in the 1913 guide simply email Katie.email@example.com with the name of your town.
A Timeline of AA Hotel & Hospitality Services History
1905 – Automobile Association is formed by a small band of motorists with the intention of using a patrol system on main roads to warn motorists of speed traps ahead.
1908 – Due to the difficulty many motorists were having finding reasonable meals and accommodation while on the road, the AA introduces a new scheme to include “about one thousand of the leading hotels” in the next Members’ Handbook; and to indicate these appointed hotels by a newly designed sign.
1909 – Listings of appointed hotels appear in the 1909 handbook. At this stage hotels were only required to provide lunch and overnight accommodation and to show a bulletin board.
1912 – The AA decides that a more critical approach is necessary to show types of hotel listed. The AA Secretary, Stenson Cooke, adopts the star rating system used for rating brandy to classify hotels, with the middle-ranking three star classification used as the standard. Right from the start, the important principle was established that the inspector always paid for himself and accepted no favours.
1927 – Fifteen years after introducing the star rating scheme, the AA rates and inspects over 2,300 establishments in England, Scotland and Wales.
1939-1945 – AA hotel inspections are discontinued as Britain unites in the war effort.
1945 – Inspections are reinstated with a scheme jointly operated by the AA and the RAC.
1951 – The Royal Automobile Association joins the AA and the RAC in jointly appointing hotels.
1955 – Rosettes are introduced in the 1956 handbook, a subjective award system reflecting the emergence of British hotel cooking after fifteen years of rationing. A three tier system was used: one Rosette indicated a “hotel or restaurant where the cuisine is considered to be of a higher standard than is expected in an establishment within its classification”; two Rosettes indicated a hotel or restaurant “offering very much above the average food irrespective of classification”; and three Rosettes indicated a hotel or restaurant “offering outstanding food, irrespective of classification”.
1956 – The AA starts to produce listings of Camping and Caravanning sites.
1960 – The system of paying to be inspected and rated is introduced. This of course did not guarantee inclusion in the star-rating scheme – of the 826 hotels inspected for the AA Hotel scheme in that year, 408 were refused. Nevertheless, numbers continue to grow and by 1961 5,282 were appointed, having paid their annual fee of £2 2s for an inspection.
1967 – The first AA Guide to Hotels and Restaurants is published, providing detailed descriptions of each establishment. One year later, the AA introduces its restaurant inspection scheme.
1968 – The AA decides that a more discerning system, similar to hotel star ratings, is required to classify camping and caravanning sites. Four years are spent inspecting and rating AA-appointed sites, and in 1972 five pennant ratings were introduced in that year’s AA Camping & Caravanning Guide.
1971 – The first edition of the AA Budget Guide is published, introduced to list the vast range of AA-appointed farmhouses, guest houses, small hotels and inns at the lower end of the price scale that aren’t covered in the AA Guide to Hotels and Restaurants. In 1975, the guide is renamed “AA Guide to Guesthouses, Farmhouses and Inns”.
1974 – AA Hotel Services revises its classification criteria in cooperation with the British Hotel, Restaurant and Catering Association, with the introduction of red and white stars. Red stars were awarded to 43 establishments rated as being the best in their category; while white stars, which were used to denote new purpose-built motels, were later dropped from the scheme.
1979 – The AA Campsite and AA Guest House of the Year Awards are launched. Also this year, AA Hotel Services gets its first contract with a hotel group to help raise industry standards.
1990 – The AA Guide to Guesthouses, Farmhouses and Inns is renamed as “AA Inspected Bed & Breakfasts in Britain”. Also this year, the AA percentage scheme is introduced to recognise and reflect the quality of hotels within a specific star rating.
1992 – The AA Rosette scheme is revised as a five-tier rating system; and the “Hotel of the Year” award is introduced, an annual ceremony that awards hotels that are recognised as being outstanding examples in their particular market.
1994 – The “AA Landlady of the Year” event is launched. Also this year, AA Hotel Services launches a bespoke consultancy service for clients requiring special reports.
1996 – The AA’s website goes live with details and listings of all 8,700 inspected establishments. One year later, the AA Hotel Booking Service becomes available on the website, allowing browsers to select accommodation online and email the AA to make a booking.
1997 – Agreement is reached to harmonise the AA, RAC and English Tourist Board rating schemes; up to this point, inspection and quality standards for hotel appointments had varied considerably.
2004 – The Red Diamond award is introduced in the AA B&B Guide to recognise the very best establishments within the three, four and five Diamond rating levels.
2007 – Stars replace diamonds in the 2008 AA B&B Guide; and red diamonds are replaced by the Highly Commended yellow stars, awarded to the top 10% of three, four and five star rated guest accommodation. 2007 also sees a revamp of AA Hotel Services annual awards ceremonies; “AA Landlady of the Year” is expanded into the AA B&B Awards, with new award categories; and the AA Hospitality Awards, previously a luncheon event, is hosted as a black tie evening event for the first time.
2008 – AA Hotel Services celebrates its centenary year
2009 – 40th edition of the AA B&B Guide
2010 – The AA’s new Self Catering scheme is launched; and the AA releases free iPhone applications for its popular lifestyle guide range.
2011 – The mobile apps range was expanded and now available on the Android platform. Hotel Services entered the social media sphere with its twitter page and both the Awards website and theAA.com were revamped.