A woman in a bikini looking over the sea from a Greek hotel swimming pool.

5 stars or 3 keys? How Michelin is shaking up the world of hotel marketing

Michelin is making a move that could result in the biggest shake up of hotel marketing in recent times.

Known as the authority on where to eat, Michelin has unveiled its new rating system and this time it will be applied to hotels. For years, there has been a certain amount of ambiguity about what can be expected from hotels through the star system, so this revamp is well overdue and Michelin has the track record to make it work.

In order for marketers to take advantage of the new standard, they must embrace Michelin Keys. Based on anonymous visits, the number of keys awarded to a property will be independently decided, giving travel agents and other bookers a clear idea of what they can expect from their stay.

Too many stars

The problem with the current star rating method that we’re all used to is that it’s not in fact a single system. There are multiple organisations that give out stars – from the AA to On The Beach – and they all have different criteria, leading to ambiguity over what to expect from a three-star rated hotel.

This issue is exacerbated further with the likes of Booking.com inviting hotels to submit their own star ratings without any verification process in place at all. The result is some hotels can be marketed as having a different number of stars on various platforms.

The greatest example of this is the Burj Al Arab announcing itself as the world’s first seven-star hotel. A great piece of marketing, yes, but one that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny when the highest rating is officially five stars.

Such a situation isn’t useful for anyone involved, as it leads to hotels not living up to customer expectations. Marketers should embrace the new standard as a way to be transparent, running campaigns that demonstrate how they represent the best option to be expected within a star rating.

Only Michelin can make this work

So, we’ve established that a new standardised system is needed, but there’s a reason why it hasn’t worked before. After all, it’s not the first time interested parties have tried to bring some order to the situation.

In 2006, many of the UK’s tourism bodies adopted Common Quality Standards to use the same scale to award star ratings, but the system remains opt-in, with hotels having to pay to be assessed. Three years later, 20 countries signed up to the Hotelstars scheme, but it is still far from universal.

Michelin is a big player in the ratings world for restaurants and can transfer this kudos to hotels. Launching a new standard with the backing of the prestigious Michelin Guide has the power to overhaul the industry and turbopower hospitality marketing in a way that has never been seen before.

The introduction of a true standard

In a similar way to its gastronomic rating system, Michelin stars, the new standard will bestow one, two or three Michelin keys on hotels offering the most remarkable stays. They will be able to set themselves apart with their ratings reflecting outstanding concepts and levels of service, as well as distinct personalities or style.

The first phase of the Michelin keys process has already been rolled out, with 189 hotels in France having been assessed and their ratings made public. The USA, Spain and Italy are set to have their Michelin keys-rated hotels announced in the coming weeks, with other destinations across the world then following suit.

Marketing your hotel using the new keys system

Rebranding using a new concept when a time-honoured version is no longer fit for purpose can seem risky, but travel marketing must innovate to reflect the changing landscape it represents. Hotels should be keen to see the new standard come into force, allowing a more transparent set of expectations for visitors.

Hotels featuring Michelin-starred restaurants will need to ensure their accommodation offering is on par with the standard exhibited in their eateries. Michelin has made it clear that decisions about the two standards will be made independently of each other. Establishments that can secure both a star and a key rating will no doubt become must-visit locations.

One thing’s for sure, the 24 hotels that have so far been awarded three Michelin keys can legitimately count themselves among the best hotels in France. Just as chefs have come to chase those elusive Michelin stars, keys look set to be the accolade of choice in the hotel world, with all the marketing potential they bring with them.