UK tourist authorities are to withdraw their support for the long-standing hotel star rating system, claiming user reviews are a better indicator of quality.
The coalition government says it will publish a wide-ranging tourism policy paper in February in which it will propose ending the existing system of one-to-five stars for hotels.
Officials say websites such as TripAdvisor are better at providing a benchmark on the quality and range of services a hotel can offer consumers, rather than the existing system where hotels are evaluated privately by experts and the appropriate star is awarded.
With the end of the official star rating system, hotels will be free and also advised to choose a standard of their own (some hotels already promote using a TripAdvisor score) or establish a system of their own, using consumer data and opinions.
The government says it will stop trying to "corral" hotels into joining an official rating scheme provided by the state's tourism authorities.
"The Government will encourage any rating schemes or customer websites which improve the quality of information which visitors can use to choose the right holiday for them, so they make informed choices rather than discovering problems when it’s too late.
"We will also encourage every scheme to provide specialist information on travel, accommodation and attractions which is accessible to visitors with disabilities, and which is sustainably ‘green’ as well."
There is no suggestion at all that TripAdvisor will be promoted by tourism boards as the de facto rating scheme to use - it is being highlighted by officials purely as an example of an established user review system, albeit one with issues of its own and not exactly the universal support of the hotel industry.
But the scrapping of the existing star rating system is likely to be a controversial move in some quarters, with some probably suggesting a government-sanctioned system actually gives a hotel some kind of official backing rather than what consummers have opined on websites.
The UK government does not see it that way:
"In the end, of course, it is for individual businesses to make up their own minds what ratings systems they sign up with. The important thing for us to try to support both the industry (through deregulation and removing administrative burdens etc) and the customer (through the provision of relevant, accurate and up-to-date information to help inform their holiday choices)."
The policy paper to be released next month (also covering issues as wide as tourist visa regulations and airports) replaces an existing position being considered by VisitEngland before the last UK general election.
In March 2010, VisitEngland said it was considering a combination of user generated content and official star ratings for hotels.