Five-flower hotel rating system is left to wither
Mr. Ting, a 42-year-old Vietnamese editor at a broadcasting station, came to Korea on June 22 to do a three-week training program at a domestic TV station. Before leaving home, he picked a hotel in Gangseo District, southwestern Seoul, via a Web site because it was “top-ranked,” with the added benefit of being close to the broadcasting station. Also, the prices were reasonable considering it had such a good rating.
But Ting was immediately disappointed when he arrived.
“For a top-ranked hotel, the guest rooms were too small, and it was hard to breathe because of the smell of cigarette smoke in the room.”
The hotel was established in 1989 and received a first-rate classification in 2002. But it hasn’t been reviewed since. Ting said, “If the quality of the hotel doesn’t meet the standards of the ranking, the government should step in.”
Korea’s hotel rating system uses the rose of Sharon, or mugunghwa, which is the national flower. An establishment can get one to five flowers. Officials grade hotels out of a possible 700 points on things like the lobby, rooms, restaurants, management, parking, safety and telecommunications facilities. Domestic hotels are supposed to be rated every three years by the Korea Hotel Association.
Last month, at a hotel lobby in Jongno District, central Seoul, a woman in her 40s was frowning into her laptop.
The woman, who identified herself as a Bolivian government official, said, “The Internet connection in the room was so slow, it was impossible to do my work so I came down to the lobby.” She added, “This hotel claims to be a first-rank place, but that seems like a stretch.”
The hotel was designated in 2003 as a second-rank establishment, getting three flowers. But that was the last time the hotel was checked, meaning it hasn’t been officially reviewed in a decade.
Even worse, at the entrance was a sign falsely indicating that it had received a four-flower rating. Between June 24 and 28, the JoongAng Ilbo inspected 24 hotels in Seoul and Suwon, Gyeonggi. Of those, 17 hadn’t been reviewed in over three years. Two hotels had never been inspected.
Under the Tourism Promotion Act, new hotels must be rated within 60 days of opening and are up for a re-evaluation every three years.
But according to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, 344 of 683 tourist hotels registered throughout Korea, over half, haven’t followed such procedures.
Some 177 hotels have no classification at all, and 167 haven’t received an evaluation in more than three years.
“Under the current Tourism Promotion Act, there’s a clause calling for a re-evaluation of hotels but no punishments are outlined,” said Kim Seong-eun, a tourism official with the Culture Ministry.
Thus some hotels, like the one in Jongno District where the Bolivian official was staying, post more flowers than they actually receive.
A manager at that hotel surnamed Kwak said, “We changed it last spring because travel agencies brought in lots of Chinese tourists and a second-rank rating wasn’t good enough.”
When the JoongAng Ilbo returned the following day, it had taken down the incorrect placard and put up one with the correct three-flower ranking.
Oh Ik-geun, a hotel management professor at Keimyung University, said, “For a hotel not to go through the ranking re-evaluation process is like driving with an expired license, or even none at all. There has to be effective measures adopted, such as shutting down those who don’t comply, to regain the credibility of the hotel industry.”
In its first tourism expansion meeting last week, the President Park Geun-hye government stated it plans to conduct incognito hotel inspections starting next year.
BY MIN KYUNG-WON, SHIN HYE-WON [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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