In 1979 hotelleriesuisse, the Swiss hotel owners' association, introduced the world's first hotel classification system with ratings stars.This content was published on July 11, 2006 - 16:55
It is now internationally recognised and been repeatedly used as the basis for customised classification systems around the world.
"From the beginning, the stars were held up as an example abroad," Alberto Vonaesch, one of the founding fathers of the star concept, told swissinfo.
"Austria was strongly influenced by us. But certain elements of the Swiss concept that did not lend themselves to export, such as self-assessment by hoteliers and using regional bodies as enforcement system, were jettisoned."
Vonaesch explained that while the Swiss industry associations operate on a freewill basis, the Austrians have national chambers with obligatory membership.
The German private sector, however, was interested in the
Swiss star concept. "The German Arabella group adopted the hotel association's star model as it was and paid a royalty per classification," Vonaesch said.
This was no great money-spinner but confirmation that the private hotel industry saw the merits of the Swiss rating system.
"The German chain joined the Swiss hotel association as a foreign member, allowing them to advertise that their hotels were classified according to Swiss standards," he added.
hotelleriesuisse protects its stars by registering with the Institute for Intellectual Property in Bern – only
stars combined with the association's logo are protected and meaningful.
However, disagreement over the significance of the Swiss hotel star has simmered for as long as it has been awarded.
In 2003 and 2004, Swiss media reported on the battle of the stars.
Gastrosuisse, the restaurant owners' association, said they were considering their own classification system and the national tourist office, Switzerland Tourism, set up an online platform where anyone could rate a hotel.
Gastrosuisse has said for a while that small hotel owners have a hard time fulfilling the criteria set out by
hotelleriesuisse. In response, hotelleriesuisse presented a root-and-branch revision of the star classification system to be introduced from 2007.
It includes the adoption of a quality-management system, the involvement of consumer representatives and so-called mystery checks.
With these changes, the association says it is implementing the practice of global hotel chains that have been using such a system successfully for many years, whatever country they are based in.
Hotelleriesuisse believes that two
systems would only confuse customers and would be a disservice to both them and the hotel.
In April 2006 Gastrosuisse confirmed its rival ratings system would be launched in the summer.
"We're not in principle against Gastrosuisse having its own rating system," said Christoph Juen, head of Hotelleriesuisse, at the time.
"But we will fight against the use of stars."
Christian Rey, former president of hotelleriesuisse, partly blames the uncontrolled growth of classification for the stagnation in the Swiss hotel sector: a hotel that loses a star after an inspection can leave the association and keep its star.
Most guests do not realise that the star classification only carries a guarantee when it is displayed with the association's logo.
In 1979 the first Swiss hotel guide with star-rated hotels appeared.
The Swiss hotel star is a protected brand and is only valid if the hotel is also a member of the association hotelleriesuisse.
The system was formerly based on self-assessment but now unannounced inspections are the norm.
The Swiss hotel sector has a turnover of SFr13 billion ($10 billion) annually, more than half of which is counted as foreign exports.
This includes services to foreign travellers who pay in other currencies rather than Swiss francs, although they sleep in hotels in Switzerland.
Hotel turnover is comparable to that of the watch industry.
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