The exercise seemed both thorough and professional with world class expertise and local stakeholder inputs, yet there may have been room for subjectivity in the evaluation process. FORTUNE STAFF WRITER, BROOK ABDU hears claims of unfair rating as he delves into the details of standards and criteria by which hotel are awarded star ratings.
In April 2015, eight experts in hotel rating arrived in Addis Abeba from the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) to rate 136 registered hotels in the city. The rating was based on the standard prepared in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture & Tourism (MoCT) and the Ethiopian Standards Agency (ESA) in 2014.
Customised for Ethiopia and dubbed Hotels – Rating Requirements and Classification, the standard has 12 criteria and each criterion has its own score that is the sum of the specific points given to details in each one. The 12 categories are classified into two sections – accommodation and category specific standards.
In the first section exterior, bedrooms, bathrooms and public areas are given 72, 288, 164, 200, respectively, making a total of 724 points. The second section gives 285 points to the bar and dining facilities, 100 points to the kitchen, 165 to housekeeping & maintenance, 305 for general services, 340 for additional facilities, 80 points for sustainability, 110 for safety and security, and 140 for staff facility and training.
The grading result that was announced by the Ministry on August 8, 2015 in the presence of the grading bodies and the high level officials of MoCT, including the Minister, Amin Abdulkadir, revealed that only three hotels in the city had received five stars, 11 four stars, 13 three stars and 10 two stars and one, a single star.
Hotels that received five stars are Sheraton Addis Hotel, Elilly Hotel and Capital Hotel and Spa.
Of the planned 136 hotels selected for grading, only 95 were found fit for the evaluation and of this number, only 38 hotels received star grading.
Twenty-eight of the hotels did not meet the minimum eligibility test and 13 could not be graded as they did not have certificates for fire and accident facilities and food and health certifications.
But, the hotels that passed through the grading system saw gaps in the rating especially in terms of the subjectivity of the standard, in that there were points open to the personal judgement of the evaluators.
One of the 13 hotels that complained to the Ministry regarding what they saw as unfair evaluation was Intercontinental Addis Hotel.
This 10-storey hotel with 152 rooms, roof top swimming pool, restaurants, bars, night club, health club, meeting and conference rooms, a business centre, tour and travel office and foreign exchange bureau as well as souvenir shops believes that the hotel was fit to be graded five stars.
“It can be debatable to say that the hotel grading standards have been consistently applied to all of the hotels – that is why we complained about the result that we received from the Ministry,” said Zelalem Mengestu, the hotel’s human resources and public relations manager. “When we see the other hotels that were given four stars the same as ours, we doubt the consistency.”
Zelalem believes that the results the hotel received especially in the bathroom, bedrooms and additional services do not fairly represent the facilities that the hotel has.
The standard for the hotels that was jointly prepared by MoCT and the Ethiopian Standards Agency (ESA) in 2014 took two years for preparation and approval, according to Yilma Mengistu, Construction & Civil Engineering leader at the ESA. Yilma was Fundamental General Standards Preparation team leader at the time of the standard’s preparation.
The hotel rating standard reviewed experiences of European and East African standards and adapted them to the local context, he said.
For the preparation of hotel grading standard, the Ministry had recruited a South African firm called Dunera in 2012 and it developed the standard that fits the Ethiopian context, according to Tadesse Endaylalu, director of the Hotels’ Competency Directorate at the Ministry.
Before approval by the National Standardization Council (NSC) that oversees the country’s standards which are required to pass through the technical committee at the ESA, the standard had been discussed by different stakeholders in the industry including hotels, their association and the tourism sector operators.
The NSC includes Demitu Hambissa, minister of Science & Technology who is the chairman of the committee, Wondirad Mandefro, state minister for Agriculture; Wondwossen Kiflom, state minister of Education; Daniel Kitaw (PhD, Eng.) associate professor at the Addis Abeba University; Hailemeskel Teferra, state minister for Urban Development, Housing & Construction; Yehulu Denekew, director general for the Food Medicine & Healthcare Administration & Control Authority (FMHACA); Wondwossen Fisseha, director general for the National Metrology Institute; Metachew Regassa, secretary for the Addis Abeba Chamber of Commerce and Sectoral Associations; Wondu Legesse, director general for the Ethiopian Leather Industry Development institute; Assefa Mulugeta, advisor to the state minister of Trade, and Almaz Kahsay, director general for the ESA as a secretary.
“The full adoption of the European standards could have affected the hotels that are already in business if the Ethiopian context was not included,” Yilma explained, disclosing to Fortune, that “The parking of the hotels in our country would have been in question if the whole standard was brought to Ethiopia.”
With parameters of the grading being the same as that of the European standards, the Ethiopian standard differs in terms of specifications and details. Therefore, the standard was approved as the first standard of hotel rating for the country.
The size of the bedrooms and the beds, safety and security requirements, legality by having trade licence, hygiene, bar and restaurant and services that are available the whole week are standards that are adopted from the international practice, Yilma further explained.
But the subjectivity of the rating created concerns and discomfort among the rated hotels. One of these is Ambassador Hotel that was rated by the ministry but did not want to disclose the star rating they received. Their concern was also the subjectivity of the rating and that they did not have enough time to make some improvements, mainly to parking spaces.
“It is not to be tested by labs which makes it open for judgmental decisions,” Manaye Tesfaye, the marketing manager of Ambassador argued.
Standards by nature should not be subjective according to Yilma, but the standard for the hotels has some level of subjectivity which the ESA plans to improve taking comments from the Ministry and from the hotels. They will be asked to comment if they face problems in the implementation of standard.
But, for Tadesse, the grading will always have some level of subjectivity as it is for the services that the hotels provide.
“With the experience of the evaluators and their capacity, the gaps that might occur out of the subjectivity can be minimised,” said Tadesse.
The hotels that had been given three months for the preparation of the grading also say that some improvements such as expansion of parking space could not be done within this short time.
“It would have been better if the standards for hotels were known for us before the construction so that we could have considered the requirements,” said Yonas Worku Ambassador Hotel’s front office manager.
Nazra Hotel, located along the Gabon Street was among the delighted hotels that gained four stars in the rating. The manager, Negussie Awgchew, who has worked in the sector for 25 years, says the result was the fruit of his effort.
Nazra, located by the side of the Meskel Flower road, which is under construction, was graded the same as Hilton Addis, Intercontinental Addis, Radisson Blu and Jupiter Hotel.
“We worked on the alternatives that we could achieve instead of focusing on what we did not have. We did not have swimming pool but we did well on the quality of the service we offer and the equipment that we have,” said Negussie.
Similarly, Debredamo Hotel located in Haya Hulet along Haile Gebreselassie Avenue which was given four stars, even as construction of the railway in front of the hotel partly obstructed its gate.
“Considerations are based on what the hotel can provide, not the other issues that are out of the hotel’s control,” explained Negussie.
The grading considered the sum of the results for the 12 criteria and summed it up to 2,249 points that were finally changed into a percentile. Hotels that got more than 80pc were awarded five stars, those above 70pc and below 80pc got four stars, those that below 70pc and above 60pc got three stars, while those earning above 50pc and below 60pc were rated as two star hotels. Those receiving between 50pc and 30pc were rated with a single star while less than 30pc that had qualified for the entry evaluation were said to be basic.
According to the standard, the five stars convey exceptional, excellent, very good, good and acceptable standards.
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