Northern Ireland

NI Tourist Board defends overhaul of accommodation star grading

The NI Tourist Board has defended an overhaul of the star grading system for accommodation in which customers are unaware where they stay may be over-rated.

Inspectors from Visit Scotland are visiting up to 2,500 self-catering venues, with the owner of one saying he was told "stock in Northern Ireland has too high a star rating".

But venues which are downgraded can keep their old rating for 2012, potentially the biggest year ever for tourism in Northern Ireland.

The tourist board said customers were not being informed because "you have to give operators time to react".

The process has been criticised by Adrian Huston, whose self-catering farmhouse near Portrush was inspected recently for the first time, by an assessor from Scotland.

It was given a three-star rating, but he had hoped for five stars after months of work set against guidelines provided by the tourist board.

Image caption Adrian Huston has criticised the process

"The inspector said five-star is for world class accommodation. She was expecting plasma TVs and expensive artworks.

"None of these was mentioned by the tourist board and we felt thoroughly confused and frustrated," said Mr Huston.

He said he was told that only one in 200 self-catering properties in Scotland was rated five star.

According to tourist board figures, one in every 10 is five star in Northern Ireland.

"I've been told that a senior person in the tourist board said the stock offer in Northern Ireland has too high a rating so the Scottish tourism people have been brought in to review it."

The tourist board's old rating system has been operating since 1992, but it is now working with Visit Scotland because they were the first in the world to introduce a "quality scheme".

It is voluntary, but a property with a star rating improves its marketability.

It gets a better profile on the tourist board's website and can be used to help determine price.

Image caption Heather Coyle said they wanted to make the system better

Heather Coyle, the tourist board's quality and standards manager, said the self-catering market may not be prepared for the new assessment regime "but that is not to say we do not have a fantastic product".

"The industry came to us and asked for this because it wanted a better system," she said.

"When an assessment is done and it comes out lower, we are telling the operator there is cause for concern."

But the establishment is allowed to maintain and advertise its higher rating for a further year.

Ms Coyle said potential customers were not made aware because "we were told by Scotland you have to give operators time to react".

She added: "People say 'are we bringing this in because we were not good?'

"We are good, we just want to make ourselves better and tell others we are a quality destination."

You can see more on this story on BBC Newsline on Wednesday at 18:30 BST.