AAA's Diamond Rating Go Digital
Technology has revolutionized the way hotels interact with their guests. Tech enhancements that may have once been considered a novelty are now an essential part of the guest experience and should be top of mind for hoteliers at all service levels.
Travelers’ expectations have expanded beyond just having access to devices and high-speed internet during their hotel stay to now include what AAA has deemed “connective technology.” That is, hotels’ use of leading-edge technology to connect with guests on an increasingly personalized basis, before, during and after their stay.
This shift in traveler expectations directed AAA to update its hotel Approval Requirements & Diamond Rating Guidelines, the published criteria used to assign a property’s Diamond Rating, this year.
For more than 80 years, AAA’s professional inspectors have conducted in-person property evaluations, unannounced to ensure they encounter a typical guest experience. These highly trained inspectors collectively visit more than 27,000 hotels throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean each year, giving them an unmatched ability to identify and respond to emerging hospitality trends.
The inspectors, along with AAA members and hospitality industry professionals, provide the feedback that directs periodic updates to the Diamond Rating guidelines. The criteria reflect the expectations of more than 58 million AAA members and current industry standards, which have evolved over the years as technology has become a more central part of the hotel guest experience.
Beginning in 2012, AAA started deducting points from properties that charge a fee for Wi-Fi, and recalibrated its expectation that high-speed internet be available in guest rooms at no charge. This latest update takes that a step further.
Ratings previously given for the traditional business center have been replaced by a score for connective technology, which reflects the hotel’s overall capability to connect with its guests. This includes not only the availability of free Wi-Fi and USB ports, but also robust mobile apps, interactive kiosks, mobile key technology, and the availability of digital messaging services.
Guests today want to be able to book, check-in and choose a room from a hotel’s app at a time and place that is convenient for them, right from their smartphone or tablet. While on the property, guests are using these technologies for seemingly simple requests such as ordering more pillows or in-room dining, and they expect a seamless user experience. Increasingly, guests want to use their phone as a room key to bypass hotel staff upon check-in if they choose. AAA’s inspectors also note properties that are beginning to incorporate robotic bell staff and voice-controlled guest rooms.
At the ultra-luxury level, what AAA deems Five Diamond properties, inspectors also review a hotel’s tech capabilities as part of the anonymous overnight service evaluation. Inspectors use the hotel’s digital systems during their stay, and evaluate the responsiveness, communication, presentation and staff follow-up.
While these enhancements are not an indiscriminate expectation of all properties, they are noted by inspectors and influence a property’s overall Diamond Rating. A unique element of AAA’s on-site evaluation is the opportunity for hotel management to consult with the inspector, who will pull from their extensive industry experience to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the property during the physical inspection.
Increased Focus on Tech
The increased focus on connected technology drove the biggest changes to this round of guideline revisions, but properties will also want to note a few additional changes. The Diamond Rating guidelines now reflect the proliferation of open-concept lobby designs with increased focus on gathering spaces and social seating arrangements; the popularity of shower-only bathrooms; the use of modern materials, especially for flooring; and the trickling down of high-end details—such as plush bedding, large, flat-screen televisions and sleek bathroom lighting—from upscale properties to the midscale and budget categories.
The updated guidelines reinforce AAA’s longstanding pledge to provide members with reliable travel information. Along with member feedback on the increasing importance of technology, the hospitality industry and AAA’s discerning hotel inspectors are the key to ensuring the Diamond Rating guidelines reflect current trends.
The new Diamond Rating guidelines are currently in use by AAA’s inspectors and are available to hotels on AAA.biz/Approved.