Arnie WeissmannI recently saw a guest list for an industry event where some attendees were tagged as VIP. More were listed as MIP. I knew, of course, that VIP stands for Very Important Person but wondered if the others were Merely Important People.

But, no, it turns out that MIP stands for Most Important Person and is actually a higher designation than VIP. That there were more MIPs than VIPs speaks to a serious form of inflation that needs to be addressed: Star inflation.

Its not that everyones a star -- these days, everyones three stars, if not three stars-plus (a description a cruise-line exec recently used to describe one of his ships).

When most of us grew up, the ultimate in lodging was a four-star property. Some hotels have now begun to describe themselves as six stars, and I recently heard a hotelier claim seven. I have no doubt well see 10 stars in my lifetime, but for now, six seems to have gained acceptance as the upper limit by a significant number of hoteliers.

Those who believe that we live in a six-star universe would likely agree that, for example, New Yorks Waldorf-Astoria should belong in that designation.

The problem with star inflation, however, is that the addition of extra stars is not necessarily a reflection of improvement. Is the Waldorf, as a six-star hotel, 50% better than when it had only four stars?

I know a thing or two about the difficulty of classifying hotels. For a period, I was head of a group of publications that included Star Service and the Official Hotel Guide (OHG).

The former, which provides critical reviews of hotels (, assigned a maximum of four stars to properties but over the years added a Superstar designation to indicate a truly exceptional property.

OHG had an unbiased, 10-level classification system that ran from tourist class to superior deluxe. (While OHG no longer exists, these ratings now have been incorporated into Hotel and Travel Index and Official Hotel Guide Worldwide.)

In addition, the same parent company published the OAG Business Travel Planner, which, using a computer algorithm, assigned hotels one to five crowns. (Its now an online service at

I cant tell you how many hours were spent discussing ways to try to bring specific criteria to the ratings. The problem was that we always found an exception to every rule we tried to create. Should a Star Service four-star property or OHG superior deluxe hotel, for instance, be required to have a swimming pool?

If so, the Waldorf -- and virtually every other great hotel in New York -- would be excluded from the top designations. There were too many apples mixed in with the oranges for any comparisons to be meaningful.

There are two basic underlying causes of star inflation. The first is the rise of mass affluence and concurrent growth of mass-market properties that may not be opulent but contain enough elements of luxury to lay claim to being a luxury experience. This, not surprisingly, led to the creation of the adjective ultraluxury, which really designates complete luxury. Im not sure where it can go from here -- hyperluxury?

The second problem is lack of consistency in ratings, compounded by the fact that the majority of ratings are self-assigned, or assigned by a stupefying range of self-credentialed authorities.

Ratings are by nature subjective, but in this era of ubiquitous luxury, my preference would be to see something along the lines of Michelin restaurant ratings come into play for hotels.

Michelin has, to my knowledge, never been tempted to assign more than three stars as its top designation. To receive one star results in a celebration, issuance of a press release and, for the chef, job security, a contract to write a cookbook ... and instant status as an MIP.

In this instance, a star is born, not inflated.


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