New AAA hotel ratings to figure in resort and Wi-Fi fees

(July 31, 2012) ORLANDO, Fla. — The voice of the consumer just got louder during the only comprehensive North American hotel inspections and ratings performed by experts. AAA has updated its Approval Requirements & Diamond Rating Guidelines for lodgings, the blueprint for assigning ratings of One to Five AAA Diamonds following successful on-site inspections at more than 30,000 hotels throughout North America.

The new guidelines incorporate member expectations regarding hotel fees, recognize emerging shifts in design trends and reflect a more personalized approach to enhancing guest comfort and satisfaction.

"Traveler expectations and travel industry capabilities continue to evolve," said Michael Petrone, director AAA Tourism Information Development. The new guidelines address changes that have occurred since the last update in 2007. With input from AAA's full-time hotel inspectors, AAA members and industry professionals, the updated guidelines reflect current AAA member expectations and travel trends.

"The biggest changes reflected in this update were prompted by AAA member feedback," said Petrone. "In a time when travelers are challenged to manage costs amid changing gasoline prices and airline add-ons, members are fed up with hidden hotel costs. For example, charges are sometimes assessed for an in-room safe, on-site fitness center or pool — whether the guest uses them or not. Members want all-inclusive, published room rates with no surprises at checkout.

"Additionally, today's family often travels with four or five electronic devices and can face dramatic increases in accommodation costs when properties charge daily Wi-Fi usage fees. The growing expectation is for in-room Internet access that is both high-speed and free," added Petrone.

Now, as part of the travel information collection process, properties charging resort and Wi-Fi fees will receive points off their evaluation score, which could impact their overall rating. To facilitate member decision making, AAA's digital and printed hotel listings will indicate if a resort fee is charged, and Wi-Fi reporting will shift from on-site availability to in-room availability and fees.

Another changing trend is increased focus on property exclusivity. The new guidelines continue to emphasize guest comfort and satisfaction while recognizing greater flexibility and differentiation in how hotels achieve this goal. For example, while improved bedding may have similarities across properties, approaches to enhanced décor may be wide ranging.

Hotels may incorporate self-serve, playful or artistic elements such as check-in kiosks, interactive touch screens, digital signage, mood lighting or fragrances in social areas. At the higher rating levels, service standards have been updated to include a more creative approach to the personalized guest experience.

AAA inspectors have also noted growing member expectations for more amenities at lower rating levels, particularly in regard to technology. Examples include flat-screen televisions, portable device docking stations and jack packs that allow transmission of digital information on TVs.

Other preferences growing in prevalence include sustainable design features, products and eco-friendly services. Relevant changes for each market segment are noted in the revised guidelines and will be reflected in the on-site evaluation report inspectors provide to all properties.

The AAA Diamond Rating Guidelines are updated as industry standards and member demand dictate and will continue to be a mirror of the most recent hospitality trends. View the new AAA Approval Requirements & Diamond Rating Guidelines for lodgings, available to properties on the website.

AAA's professional inspectors get an in-depth, inside view of every AAA Approved property. They strive to avoid any treatment or services not extended to every guest to experience properties the same way members do, supplementing this view with a broad knowledge of the larger marketplace. "This comprehensive, real-time expertise sets AAA's hotel ratings apart from any other source," said Petrone.

"Because AAA inspectors are fully immersed in the industry, across all segments and markets, on a daily basis, they're in an ideal position to observe industry trends as they emerge. Seen in isolation, for example, vivid design colors, open room designs that incorporate the bathroom or an infusion of natural lighting may appear unique; seen across multiple segments or geographic areas, these attributes may well be trends that prompt the next guidelines update," explains Petrone.

Since 2007, other design trends noted by the inspectors and reflected in the revised guidelines include open and active lobby areas, dramatic headboards, wood and laminate flooring options and the increased use of glass, marble and stone. Amenities incorporate sustainable and allergy-free products and expanded fitness options. Technology trends include easy-to-use alarm clocks, single-use coffee makers and power stations for gadgets and devices.