The Burj Al Arab’s seven-star myth

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So is the Burj Al Arab really a seven-star hotel? Short answer, no, there is no such thing as an official seven-star rating. The Burj Al Arab is formally known as a “five-star deluxe hotel” on the standard rating system. And we should point out that Jumeirah themselves have never claimed that the hotel has been awarded a full two extra stars above the normal top rating, thus making it two stars better than the next best hotel anywhere in the world. That would just be silly.

So where did the seven star myth come from? Not the hotel itself. It is believed that an over-excited journalist from Britain on a pre-opening press trip a throwaway line of hyperbole in her report that claimed that the hotel is so luxurious it must be a seven-star, and the myth snowballed. It also fitted in neatly with the prevailing (overseas) narrative of Dubai increasingly being a place of opulence and their new developments being the biggest or the best. VIP was usurped by VVIP and platinum memberships were offered when gold was no longer good enough, and so on.

The top rating is five stars and to claim any more is like Spinal Tap’s claim that their amps go to eleven. There was a time, however, when the addition of the fifth star was scoffed at and even now the whole rating system is a pretty murky process.

Different countries have different systems (sometimes more than one rating system in the same country) and this isn’t something that has a global standard, although sites like world hotel rating.com are currently trying to establish a unified rating system. A group called HOTREC, comprising 13 European countries, has also created a “harmonized hotel classification” model in an effort to tackle varying standards, but even there the idea of two groups trying to create a “standardised” system is conflicting.

Even here in Dubai, hotels receive their rating from the hotel classification department at the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing. It raises the question over whether it’s fair that a department of the government should oversee hotel ratings, many of which are owned by that same government.

The manager at a top-class London hotel told Esquire — on the condition of anonymity — that the hotel grading system in general is “utter nonsense”. The problem, he said, is that the list of criteria to reach each of the star ratings is little more than a tick sheet, albeit with around 500 factors to consider. For example, one criterion for being considered five-star is fresh flowers being present in guest rooms, but there’s a huge difference between a big ornate display of orchids and a bunch of daffodils. The presence of either would technically tick the box and in theory you could fulfill all the required five-star criteria yet be hugely inferior to the hotel next door that offers all the same things but at a much higher quality and standard.

The Forbes Travel Guide gave just six London hotels a five-star rating (including the one our insider works at) but that means that fantastic hotels like The Ritz, The Langham, The Berkeley, and Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park are “only” four star. Are they really 20 percent inferior to the five-star-rated Al Bustan Rotana in Garhoud?

It’s also difficult to maintain a consistent roll-call of criteria, as modern demands change. For example, Wi-Fi in the room is a relatively recent expectation and what we expect as standard has changed over the years, so what constitutes luxury now has altered accordingly. When Savoy Hotel in London opened 1889 it was boasting about features such as electric lifts, “speaking tubes” to link each floor, and fully plumbed bathrooms.

Now though, in the era of Internet, crowd sourcing is often the most reliable way to judge somewhere. When hundreds of people on sites like TripAdvisor say a place is overpriced and terrible then it doesn’t matter what the official book says. And if a one-star hotel gets nothing but praise from 90 percent of the people commenting? There’s your consensus of rating right there.

For Esquire Magazine

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