The five-star disguise

Accommodation not quite what you expected? Jane E.  Fraser explains why.

The word "resort" conjures all sorts of lovely images . . .  which is why everyone is so keen to use it.

From luxurious beachfront properties to middle-of-the-road motels, hundreds of accommodation providers in Australia have adopted the resort moniker in an effort to appeal to consumers.

Even caravan parks are getting in on the act, in some cases adopting names that could lead them to be mistaken for a lavish, well, resort. A traveller booking on the internet could book a five-star "resort" only to discover on arrival that it is a five-star caravan park.

So when is a resort a resort? What facilities does a property need to make it a resort? Can a caravan park actually be classed as a resort? And how do consumers know what they are really booking?

There is no broadly accepted definition of a resort and there is nothing to stop an ordinary motel or caravan park from using the title. Paul Baumgartner, national manager of star ratings for AAA Tourism, which rates about 10,000 properties around Australia, agrees the title is being abused. 

"Out of all the properties in Australia that call themselves resorts, only one is actually rated as a resort," he says. However, Baumgartner concedes AAA Tourism is powerless to stop properties using the title, so long as they are not being misleading about their star rating.

Properties can be star-rated in one of 10 categories and are supposed to market themselves in accordance with their category but the rules are easily stretched. For example, an establishment can call itself a resort but choose to be rated in the hotel category, therefore having to meet lesser criteria.

The hotel qualifies for five stars, calls itself a resort and consumers are none the wiser. AAA Tourism is currently undertaking a review of several of its membership categories, including resorts, and it cannot come soon enough for some. 


A spokesman for the Australian Hotels Association, Hamish Arthur, says the AHA is "of the view that there should be significant change". "We don't want confusion in the marketplace," he says. "There are some resorts that are true resorts and some that are just using the name . . .  there are a lot of blurry lines. "We want people to have certainty about the type of property they're going to stay at."

Peter Hook, general manager of communications for the hotel giant Accor, whose brands include Novotel and Mercure, says it is important to recognise the difference between a resort and a hotel that happens to be in a typically resort-style destination.

"Just because something is in a resort destination doesn't make it a resort," Hook says. "It's those individual hotels that are in a resort area and call themselves resorts that can be misleading."

Accor uses the resort title only for properties that are on spacious land and are fully integrated, with dining, recreation and key facilities such as golf courses on site.

Another major hotel operator, Marriott, uses the term for its Gold Coast property Courtyard Surfers Paradise Resort, which has numerous facilities but limited outdoor space. A property that more obviously meets resort criteria is the Sunshine Coast's Hyatt Regency Coolum, which is set on 150 hectares and has its own 18-hole golf course and tennis courts.  Curiously, it chooses not to include "resort" in its title.

Adding to the difficulty in defining a resort is the fact that many major hotels and resorts operate outside of the AAA rating system, leaving them free to apply whatever definitions they choose. And then there are the caravan parks, which Baumgartner says are not resorts even if they have multiple swimming pools, leisure facilities and extensive gardens.

"They wouldn't even come close to qualifying for the existing resort criteria," he says. The AHA's Arthur recommends consumers do their own research when booking a resort to be sure they are getting what they expect. He says property's internet sites and consumer review websites are among the best resources and travellers should not be afraid to phone venues and ask questions.

Arthur believes that while the review of star ratings and criteria is important, it is ultimately travellers who will penalise properties that claim to be something they are not; peeved travellers will not re-book and will spread the message to others.

"We are pleased they (AAA Tourism) are doing the review but it is only one component," Arthur says. "It's the law of the consumer that's going to dictate whether a particular property is going to be successful."


'A resort is situated in spacious grounds, self-sufficient in services and facilities, providing meals and a broad range of recreational activities.  A resort should have full-time activities staff and guides, a tour activities desk and a variety of dining options on site. ' - AAA Tourism