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WTO Suggests International Hotel Classification System

The World Conference on New Trends and Measures in the Hotel Industry, jointly organized by the World Tourism Organization (WTO) and the International Hotel and Restaurants Association (IH&RA), last month suggested a cautious, albeit systematic approach to hotel classification at world level with a view to reconciling the legitimate demands and concerns of consumers and industry with the obligations of governments.

The delegates said they did not pretend to seek enactment or even to impose an international hotel classification scheme, but said a mentioned document could represent a reasonable measure devised by the major stakeholders in addressing the complex nature of tourism and the demands of consumers and industry.

New hotel classification referents, they said, could be used voluntarily in different countries, taking into account the local practices and conditions, and public-private partnership is crucial in the development of these endeavors.

The existing approaches to hotel classification issues are rooted in the various cultural and administrative traditions. Some of them, inspired by Roman Law, provide for government intervention and public classification systems aimed at informing and protecting the consumer.

It should be noted, though, that such public systems are, as in Spain, increasingly decentralized in favor of regional authorities. On the other hand, models more widely accepted in Anglo-Saxon and Nordic countries provide for either consumer protection through justice, the same as in Germany, or through voluntary certification mechanisms, as in the United Kingdom.

A recent study on hotel classification shows that there is a diversity of situations worldwide; that while consumers seek transparency and protection of their rights to truthful information which classifications should carry, the industry requires a fair framework for free competition which classifications should not blur.

The picture has become even more complicated due to the expansion of global and national hotel chains. This growing trend in the industry is reflected by the fact that over 20 percent of a total of 16 million rooms worldwide are now controlled by a dozen leading chains. Major chains often consider that their brands themselves provide appropriate standards, making redundant any classification.

The conference, which was attended by 210 participants from 22 countries, dealt with the desirability of classification schemes, mechanisms to attract investments, the importance and training of human resources and the role of hotel chains. It was observed during the event that a common international understanding on hotel classification could be helpful in multilateral trade negotiations.

Conference delegates said the WTO and its affiliate member IH&RA should devise a methodology and tools for setting up hotel classifications schemes that could be recommended to countries.

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