06/04/2016 7:05 PM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST

Star Ratings Australia On What A 5-Star Hotel Actually Means And How They're Accredited

There are fussy travellers and then there are the auditors accredited to review a hotel's official star rating.

Across the nation, there are three people whose responsibility it is to determine whether a property is worth 4 or 4.5 stars for the independent official system Star Ratings Australia -- and it's serious business.

But in the world of online ratings and 'like' buttons, what value do those five little stars hold?

Then there's the elusive sixth star, which some say Australia's ready for.

How it works

When these accreditors walk into a room, they've got an iPad loaded with 200 criteria, and it's not a simple checklist of the bed size or the number of complimentary cookies provided. A spokesman for Star Ratings Australia said they were looking for quality.

"They've all been doing this for more than 10 years, and the system used to be a simple checklist -- are there bedside tables? How big is the mirror? But now, they're looking for quality," the spokesman said.

"It's not about simply having a king-size bed. For the luxury end of the market, the question is whether the king size bed is of the highest standard and well maintained."

How to navigate the stars

What do everyday consumers know of the rating system? Star Ratings Australia has launched a new campaign with travel host Catriona Rowntree to educate people about the ratings system.

There's even a game where you can test your knowledge of the six star rating categories.

Yes, six categories. There are different star rating requirements for hotels, motels, serviced apartments, self-catered places, hosted accommodation and caravan parks. Each has their own criteria derived from a federal government-funded study through Victoria University.

How it's received

Tourism Accommodation Australia's chief executive officer, Carol Giuseppi, told The Huffington Post Australia the system was widely accepted but the industry was changing with more chains that were a known quantity for travellers.

"We support the concept of an official, professionally-managed star ratings system that is respected by both the industry and guests," Giuseppi told HuffPost Australia.

"However, since the rise and expansion of branded hotel chains in Australia, the need for an independent system has become less important because hotel groups invest significantly in developing and maintaining brand standards.

"Travellers know exactly what to expect from a Novotel, Rydges, Holiday Inn or Hilton and the chains are very rigorous in providing a guaranteed, consistent experience across the country and around the world.

"But for independent or unbranded hotels, an official star rating can be really beneficial, especially for overseas travellers, who may have little knowledge of the destination or the hotel products available."

But what about 'self rated' stars or online reviews?

Star Ratings Australia checks its official rating system with an aggregator that pulls in consumer reviews from around the world in 45 different languages.

The spokesman said "We're pretty confident that if we get the rating wrong, consumers will tell us".

As for self-rated stars, Guiseppi said it was up to the accommodation provider to be truthful.

"Hotels can choose to gain official star ratings or ‘self rate’. If they choose to self-rate we encourage owners and managers to be realistic with the rating, because with the rise of the internet and review sites, hotels that exaggerate their rating will be quickly found out," Guiseppi said.

"While online reviews can’t always be trusted as either representative or accurate, travellers are becoming smarter about reading between the lines and getting a more genuine impression of a particular property. Many hotel groups have their own extensive review systems because guest satisfaction and loyalty are at the top of their priorities."

A sky full of stars

Globally, there are several hotels that claim to be six or seven stars strong like Burj Al Arab in Dubai and Pangu Seven Star Hotel in Beijing.

Burj Al Arab is beyond five stars.

Financial and professional services firm JLL Hotels & Hospitality Group’s Julian Whiston said the Australian hotel industry was undergoing its most dramatic expansion in its history, with more than 60 hotels in the development pipeline, including several heralding themselves as six-star.

He said Ritz Carlton was talking of a six-star hotel for Melbourne and Northern Territory Chief Minister Adam Giles was calling for tenders for a six-star number in Darwin.

But is there a sixth star?

Officially, the answer is 'no', but Whiston said there was an argument for the category.

"The Australian hotel industry has evolved a vast amount in the past four decades from the days when ‘Hilton’ was a reference point for upscale hotels," Whiston said.

"Today, there are dozens of brands claiming five-star status, and a new category may be warranted to differentiate the new breed of luxury hotels -- if not six-star, then at least five-star ‘plus’.

"Australia is on the verge of its most exciting era in hotel development, and while it is unlikely that the issues regarding star systems and six-star status will be resolved in the short-term, the fact that the industry is raising its standards so significantly means that the debate can only be a healthy one for the industry’s future."