"What are hotel star ratings based on?" a colleague asked the other day, after staying in a 5-star hotel she wasn't particularly impressed by.
As it happens there are a few cheeky accommodation places that just give themselves the number of stars they think they deserve and hope no one will notice.
But the official ratings are done by Qualmark - an organisation set up in 1993 with the aim of giving tourists confidence about industry standards - which is jointly funded by Tourism New Zealand and the Automobile Association.
Today around 2500 tourist businesses have been assessed by Qualmark and are entitled to display the organisation's fern logo. The rating system was revamped only last year and involves a mix of specific criteria - is there a bar, can customers get breakfast on-site, do the rooms include tea and coffee-making facilities? - plus levels of service.
In the main, the ratings are based on a 5-6 hour assessment of each property by Qualmark inspectors - people "with years of real-life tourism business experience" - taking into account 160 different criteria including cleanliness, management, customer service, cultural responsibility and facilities.
And the organisation has also recently started using visits by mystery shoppers to give more emphasis to the actual customer experience.
So, going back to my colleague's question, the 5-star hotel she stayed at should have been "exceptional" and "among the best available in New Zealand".
If it failed to reach that standard then one of the Qualmark criteria is that the business has to "establish and maintain procedures for the prompt handling of complaints".
And if that isn't satisfactory then you can always go to qualmark.co.nz/feedback.php. The organisation promises: "Any concerns raised will be investigated further by Qualmark the next time the business is assessed."By Jim Eagles Email Jim