For the last two weeks I’ve been in the Falkland Islands, grading serviced and self-catering accommodation for their new accreditation scheme. In simple words: dishing out stars…one, two, three, four or five, based on a set of criteria.
Following some fairly useful discussions with hotels, lodges, guest houses and ownersof self-catering houses earlier in the year, we established a set of guidelines that we hoped would work for the Falklands, where the environment is considerably more harsh than here in the UK, and supplies of food, in fact anything, are harder to come by. Allowances had to be made.
Nevertheless, the grading had to sit well within international standards. There’s no point in developing a scheme that works in isolation to the rest of the world. A tourist booking a 4 star hotel in the Falkland Islands will expect it to be broadly in line with his or her understanding of what they would expect in a 4 star hotel in, say, Newcastle.
That was the core principal behind the establishment of this scheme – to align international visitor expectations with what they actually get when they stay in the Islands. Over-promising and under-delivering only leads to unhappy tourists who are unlikely to return, or worse still, spread the word that the destination isn’t worth visiting.
Using the scheme to encourage accommodation establishments to improve their services and facilities was only a secondary reason for the scheme, but nonetheless an important one too.
Typically, with these schemes, an inspector grading an accommodation establishment would turn up, and check in incognito, as a regular paying guest. They would undertake the inspection, and only reveal their identity at the end of their stay in order to discuss their findings and gain access to other parts of the property that they would not be able to see as a normal guest (such as other bedrooms and the kitchen).
This procedure is completely out of the question in the Falkland Islands, where most people know who is on their way before they even cross the equator, on the long airbridge flight from Brize Norton, and where the names of passengers travelling on internal flights are read out on the radio the night before! So this scheme had to be implemented in an open way.
Fortunately this worked in the Falklands. I would say without exception, no one put on a display for me. Everyone was very honest about their property, and on the whole were delighted to receive suggestions about how they could improve. And in most cases the evaluation awarded their property with a higher grade than they expected.
It’s like all data collection. Be open, tell people what you are going to use the information for and how it will help them, and you are 90% of the way there.