Conference Calls for Systematic Approach to Classification

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) have 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 the governments. The Conference held from 26-27 April in St. Petersburg, Russia and was attended by 210 participants from 22 countries. The Conference was opened by the WTO Secretary-General Francesco Frangialli, Deputy Minister of Economic Development and Trade of Russian Federation Vladimir Strzhalkovsky and the IH&RA Chief Executive Officer Alain-Philippe Feutré, co-chaired by Mr. Henryk Handszuh, WTO Chief of Quality and Ms. Natela Shengeliya, Chief of the Russian Tourism Department.

“Governments need to review and update regulatory measures and incentives to promote investments in the sector in the face of ongoing liberalization and expectations that such investments contribute to sustainable development and poverty alleviation and meet consumers’ demand for competitive, safe and quality services,” said the WTO Secretary-General Mr. Francesco Frangialli in his opening address.

The Conference dealt with such important issues for the hotel industry today as the desirability of classification schemes, mechanisms to attract investments, the importance and training of human resources and the role of hotel chains.

Russian representative for classification discussions Ms. Margarita Nemolyaeva said “the current lack of coherence among the variety of existing national hotel classifications is responsible for consumer complaints in her country, adding that there was an urgent need for a solid, objective and universally acceptable referent in this area”.

It was observed during the event that a common international understanding on hotel classification could be helpful in multilateral trade negotiations.

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The WTO and IH&RA (a WTO Affiliate Member) should devise a methodology and tools for setting up hotel classifications schemes which could be recommended to countries, delegates concluded. This methodology should include:

- provisions for respect of cultural diversity and differences in a systematic manner;

- references to basic norms which could be recognized as minimum standards of universal application irrespective of cultural differences, which are vital to all human beings and consumers and correspond to ethics and the satisfaction of their basic needs;

- mechanisms of consultations and cooperation between the public and private sector;

- consultations with consumers to which effect the provisions of the United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection should be used, particularly by devising consumer surveys and soliciting consumer response;

- provisions regarding consumer redress;

- a request for the universal use of common terminology in the hotel industry and respective classifications by adapting and developing standard EN ISO 18513-2000 for this purpose;

- provisions on classification audits and relationship between classification and licenses to operate;

- provisions on additional elements which may be determined through international consultation in order to make this instrument comprehensive and transparent.

“The Conference did not pretend to seek enactment or even to impose an international hotel classification scheme, but 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” said co-chairman Mr. Handszuh. “New hotel classification referents could be used voluntarily in different countries, taking into account the local practices and conditions.” According to WTO, public-private partnership is crucial in the development of these endeavours.

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 favour 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.

This part of the discussion at the Conference was based on a recent joint WTO-IH&RA project, a status report and study on hotel classification. This study shows that there is a diversity of situations world-wide; 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.

WTO and IH&RA therefore concluded that “it would be advisable to devise a methodology providing those countries wishing to set up a national or regional classification scheme with the necessary tools to do so”, and that “cultural differences between countries in terms of service and facilities according to destinations, regions and purpose of travel” should be taken into consideration in this exercise.

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 per cent of a total of 16 million rooms world-wide are now controlled by a dozen leading chains. Major chains often consider that their brands themselves provide appropriate standards, making redundant any classification.

The participants appealed to national and local governments and to the hospitality industry to closely cooperate in advancing the various issues discussed at the Conference in St. Petersburg.
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