With complaints that some five-star hotels don't quite meet the expected standards, the team unravels exactly what determines how many stars a hotel deserves.
Browse content similar to Episode 6. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!
We asked you who has left you
feeling ripped off when it comes to your holidays
and you came back with a catalogue of travel disasters.
When we got to the hotel it wasn't to standard.
We felt totally ripped off.
And we paid to move somewhere else.
It happens all the time that somebody else has paid less
for the holiday that I paid more for.
So whether it's a deliberate rip off,
a simple mistake or a catch in the small print,
we'll find out why you're out of pocket and what you can do about it.
Your stories, your money.
This is Rip Off Britain.
Hello, and huge thanks for joining us once again on Rip Off Britain.
We're totally delighted to have your company where as ever,
we're investigating more of the stories that you've asked us to look into on your behalf.
Now, the only difference is - and you may have noticed it,
is that in this series,
we're doing it in glorious sunshine as we're focusing on everything
to do with holidays and travel.
And as I'm sure most of you will agree,
a key part of any holiday is where you're staying, so today,
it's hotels that we're putting under the spotlight,
as you'll see in more ways than one.
Now, I have to admit that for me,
as long as a place has been properly cleaned and the sheets are lovely and fresh, then, on the whole,
I'm pretty happy but we've been doing some tests to see
just how clean your average hotel room really is.
And I think we're going to be in for a few surprises, aren't we, Julia?
Possibly even shocks.
Just wait till you see what we found.
And perhaps most surprisingly,
it seems whether you've paid ?35 or ?140 for your room,
cleanliness isn't guaranteed, and in case you're wondering,
all our tests were in hotels in the UK.
Coming up - as our test results are checked in a lab,
how clean is your hotel room?
Bacteria are invisible to the naked eye
and so some things may look clean when they're not.
And what determines how many stars a hotel deserves?
Why you could be heading for disappointment if the ratings don't mean what you expect.
Five-star, for me, meant luxury.
Beautiful food, excellent service, be treated like an absolute queen.
Now, whether the hotel you choose to stay in is simply a place to lay
your head at the end of the day, or is a key part of your trip,
one thing you're going to expect as a given, is that at least it's clean.
I know I certainly do and that's the same whether it's a budget option
or indeed a five-star hotel.
But I'm afraid just because a room looks spotless,
it doesn't mean that it's been thoroughly cleaned.
There may be all sorts of things that the naked eye can't see and, in fact,
the signs of previous occupants may unfortunately still be there.
So, if you've ever wondered what secrets your hotel room might be hiding,
we've done some tests to see what not just former guests have left,
but, more importantly, what the cleaners might have left behind.
Now, we all want to stay in a room that's scrupulously clean.
But there are over 700,000 individual hotel rooms in the UK.
And there could be more than you realise
lurking in even the ones that look spotless.
Delia Cannings is something of a cleaning guru.
What we have been doing this morning
is looking at the impact of acid descalers on toilets.
She trains people how to clean hotel rooms
to the highest possible standard.
And as someone who really knows,
she says the industry as a whole doesn't always get it right.
Sometimes, there is a priority of cleaning for presentation
as opposed to cleaning for hygiene.
We want you to walk in and we want you to be wowed and it looks lovely,
it looks wonderful, it smells wonderful.
Is it clean? The expectation of the guest is that they're staying in a
clean environment and will leave that environment as healthy
as they walked in.
But as we'll see, there's more to cleanliness than meets the eye
and Delia has concerns that
sometimes the working conditions of hotel cleaners
can make it difficult for them to
always do the job as thoroughly as they would like.
It has been known, in some organisations,
for the people doing the cleaning to be paid by the room,
as opposed to by the hour.
Now, that is a real issue and it is being addressed.
It's the exception, rather than the rule, but it happens.
And, of course, if you've got people who are having to do more rooms
to make a reasonable living,
then the attention to detail is going to be lacking and, sadly,
the standard will suffer.
Recent reports into the treatment of cleaning staff in the hotel industry
found that some hotels do still
enforce strict targets for how many rooms
must be cleaned during a set timeframe.
And one study found that a branch of a well-known chain even withheld
some pay if cleaners didn't clean enough rooms
during their five-hour shift.
Of course, many hotels have standards that staff must work to -
for example, both the AA and Visit England have guidance laying out
what they expect from their members.
But guidance like this can sometimes understandably
place emphasis on the visual appearance of a room. For example,
part of the AA's guidance says that rooms of all star ratings should be
cleaned daily and be looking clean and smelling fresh.
However, microbiologist Dr Margarita Gomez Escalada
from Leeds Beckett University
says that when it comes to cleanliness,
looks can sometimes be deceiving.
I think visual checks, in the most part,
are a good way to check levels of cleanliness,
particularly looking for dust
that indicates things have not been cleaned well enough.
However, I think, in some places, particularly high-traffic places,
visual checks may not go far enough.
One thing we need to remember is that bacteria are invisible to
the naked eye and so, some things may look clean when they're not.
The question is, are all hotels living up to these exacting standards or could some of them
be harbouring those dirty secrets?
Well, with the help of Dr Escalada,
we conducted an investigation of our own,
testing a range of hotels on the cleanliness and hygiene standards.
First, she trained members of the Rip Off Britain team.
So, for the swabbing, over the flat surface, you need the template,
you need some swabs.
They're being taught the intricacies of collecting swab samples
for analysis at her university lab.
Our aim is to look more closely at apparently spotless hotel rooms
and find out just how clean they really are.
The areas of the hotel that we're going to swab are the light switch,
the bathroom door handle, a glass, the desk,
the remote control and the bedspread.
The reason we've chosen these to swab is because
these are high-traffic items,
meaning that we're most likely to be in contact with them when we
go into a hotel room.
So, the team sets off on its mission to test five hotel rooms,
ranging from a basic budget option
through to the top-of-the-tree five-star.
But how many will pass our undercover cleaning test?
Well, later in the programme,
we'll be back at the lab to see exactly what we found.
A touch of luxury, outstanding customer service,
the best of the best -
booking into a five-star hotel really does, I suppose,
conjure up different messages for all of us.
But on the whole, I think we agree
that we'll usually be willing to shell out
just that little bit of extra money
to stay somewhere that is extra special.
Unfortunately, however, you very often tell us that
the five-star establishment that you had thought you had checked into
turned out to be far from the stellar experience
that you were expecting.
Now, that's partly because with no set standard
either in the UK or abroad for that matter,
determining what exactly deserves to be called a five-star
or, indeed, any number of stars is not as simple as you might think.
Because that five-star experience generally costs more,
I think we all assume we'll be getting nothing but the best
and a superlative experience
is exactly what Alison Jones and her fiance Michael
were looking for when they booked in to
the Hilton Hurghada resort in Egypt.
After seeing it advertised on Teletext Holidays
as a five-star all inclusive resort,
they paid ?1,578 for a two-week trip.
We were looking for a special holiday
and we saw the Hilton, five-star,
and we thought, "Wow, it's going to be amazing. Absolutely amazing."
We were so looking forward to it.
We were so excited.
To have that sort of holiday is a once-in-a-lifetime for me.
And those five stars meant a lot to Alison.
Five-star was...for me, meant luxury.
Beautiful food, beautiful surroundings, excellent service,
top-of-the-range, all inclusive, be treated like an absolute queen.
But Alison feels there was quite a gap between what she expected
and what she got and, from the photos she took, it does seem that,
at least, some parts of the hotel had seen better days.
It was pokey, dirty,
old-fashioned, needed painting.
I was really, really disappointed.
The "wealth of premium amenities" described on the Hilton website
didn't live up to Alison and Michael's expectations
and even their room -
billed as "having stunning views of the Red Sea"
and "the perfect place to unwind" - they felt was a let-down.
It was not what I expected at all.
It was dark, small - so we complained.
And then they moved us to another room a few blocks up.
When we arrived there, it was bigger,
it was a better view, better balcony, um...
..but, again, it was dirty, it was dingy.
The couple complained and moved rooms a second time
but they weren't happy with that one either
and asked to change rooms yet again.
In my eyes, they didn't do enough to change things.
They left us moving rooms three times in three days.
I don't expect that at the Hilton on my holiday,
to unpack and pack three times.
But when they also had serious concerns over the cleanliness
of the pool area, the restaurant toilets, and there was a leak in one of their rooms,
it felt to the couple that this was more like a three or even two-star
experience than the five-star one they'd so looked forward to.
So they had a meeting with the hotel's manager
to voice their complaints.
We said to them, "Five-star means luxury.
"It means the best quality, the best service."
He said that's what he provides.
Keen to prove that,
the manager waived their bar bill
and offered them a free meal to make up for their disappointment.
But though this gesture did go some way to appeasing the couple,
they couldn't help feeling this was the sort of service
that they'd expected all along.
The last meal that we had, the one which they cooked specially for us,
they brought out this beautiful fish - stunning.
I expected that every single day.
Well, we put that to the company with which the couple had booked -
Teletext Holidays -
which said that though sorry the experience
"didn't meet with expectations",
as the couple hadn't raised concerns with the company at the time,
it had been "unable to assist".
It went on to explain that the star ratings it displays are based
on suppliers' own ratings.
We also contacted Hilton Worldwide
which told us it was "extremely sorry"
the couple hadn't enjoyed their holiday
but "the hotel responded promptly and appropriately"
to the issues raised.
Taking "immediate steps" such as upgrading their room
and providing additional dining options.
It said it's "stepped up inspections"
following Alison's comments about cleanliness and hygiene,
which - though it takes extremely seriously -
doesn't reflect the typical experience of either this resort
or of those across the Hilton portfolio.
But it added that it, too, relies on local tourism authorities to give
their own star ratings and in this case, the Hilton Hurghada resort
was "rated five-star by the Egyptian Ministry of tourism".
But it's clear from both those responses
that what constitutes five-star in one country
may not necessarily make that grade somewhere else.
In fact, Teletext Holidays does allude to that
in the small print of its website where it says...
And with each country, hotel chain,
and holiday company likely to have its own individual criteria
for deciding if a hotel merits one or five stars,
it's not easy to get a consistent idea of what ANY of those ratings
Which is why there's now a campaign by the umbrella association
for the European hospitality industry
calling for a single and comparable hotel classification system.
But so far, some of the most popular holiday destinations -
France, Italy, and Spain, for example, have yet to sign up.
Here in the UK, while there's no one single authority that sets
and awards star ratings,
there are various well-known bodies that, again,
use their own measures to rate and rank hotels.
Kirsty Lloyd-Dukes is from the AA, which sets out clearly
what a hotel has to do to earn five of its stars.
There are six different areas that we look at -
service, hospitality, bedrooms, bathrooms, cleanliness, and food.
And we look at a blend of the facilities - so, for example,
how many beds does it have, what is the quality of the bedding,
what's the quality of the pillows like,
what are fittings like in the bathroom
but we also look at the experience you have in the hotel.
If you go up to a five-star, wow!
I mean, you're going to be looking
for excellence in every single level of service there.
So, if you're a first-time guest,
we'd expect you to be taken to your room,
we'd expect to see a turndown service and really courteous welcome
throughout, with all your needs looked after.
But there can be huge differences in how hotel ratings are worked out
across the globe.
The AA rating is UK only.
And unfortunately there is no one international standard for star ratings,
so I think it'd be really difficult
to have one global standardisation of hotels.
I think that's because the way of living is very different in
different countries, so your culture, your way of life,
how you do things and, also, your standard of living
can really vary between one country and another country.
But fundamentally, the same principles should be the same wherever you travel.
You should expect to have that really excellent level
of service and facilities in a five-star hotel anywhere.
Well, Alison would agree with that and she believes travel agents
should be clearer about the inconsistencies
in star rating systems
so that holiday-makers don't expect something they may not get.
I think travel providers should make people aware
about the differences in five stars...accommodations.
I think that not everybody realises that the starring system out there
is different from ours.
But I did expect a five-star system in place for the Hilton hotel.
Earlier in the programme, we heard about the battle all hotels face to
keep themselves scrupulously clean,
and that means clean not just in a way that you can see,
but that stands up to even closer scrutiny.
But that's a tall order with hundreds, sometimes even thousands
of people passing through every day and not much of a break in between.
There's no doubt that cleaning staff can be rushed off their feet
trying to get rooms ready for the next guest.
So, what does that rapid turnaround mean for how thoroughly
each room scrubs up?
Well, in typical Rip Off Britain style,
we've done some tests of our own to find out.
You'll recall we set out to take a snapshot of what might be lurking
in even the most spotless-looking rooms,
sending swab samples to a lab to answer one simple question.
How clean is your hotel room?
The key is to be consistent.
Medical microbiologist Margarita Gomez Escalada received 60 swabs
from our crack team of testers,
who sampled six high-traffic spots for bacteria.
The light switch, bathroom door handle, a glass, the desk,
the remote control and the bedspread.
Our mission, to find out if splashing out more cash for a place
to get your head down means you'll get a cleaner room.
Margarita's experiment is designed to be a straightforward process from
hotel room to petri dish, giving an accurate picture
of every site tested.
The swabbing process is a very simple, very effective process.
It involves using a sterile swab,
picking up the bacteria on the surface.
Then, the swabs are taken back to the lab.
Determining the numbers of bacteria that you find on surfaces
is very important, because it gives you a really good indication
of the level of cleanliness of a surface.
We took swabs at a random sample of five hotels in the same town,
each of which had a different star rating, from the equivalent of
a one-star up to a five-star establishment.
First up, our budget hotel.
Many of the most familiar booking sites and rating schemes don't refer
to one-star hotels any more, simply calling them budget options instead.
The one we chose was a small independent on the edge of town,
with rooms advertised from ?38 a night.
So, what did Margarita make of
the cleanliness at our bargain-basement establishment?
So, for this hotel, things like the light switch,
the door handle in the bathroom, the glass in the bathroom,
since they have such low level of bacteria,
show that they have been cleaned.
She did, however, find a few bugs elsewhere.
But, on the other hand, we found some more on the desk
and the bed cover.
And the one that was the highest was the remote control,
which was this plate.
But on the whole, for Margarita, this hotel comes out rather well.
Overall, this hotel is pretty clean.
Such low numbers indicates good levels of cleanliness.
So, let's move on to the next rung up, a two-star rated hotel
advertising rooms from ?93.
The door handle or on the light switch, there was nothing.
And then there was just low levels in the rest, really.
And, whilst bacteria were found in slightly more significant levels
on the bedspread, overall, again, it was a positive result,
according to our experts.
Next, a hotel rated by all the big-name, online booking sites
as a three-star.
Part of a chain, it advertised rooms from a very reasonable ?41 a night.
This hotel fared much less favourably in the lab.
Margarita found high levels of bacteria on the bedspread -
and worse was to come.
And that's the remote control, here,
which is really difficult to estimate even how many there was.
Margarita's measuring how many colonies of bacteria
there are on each sample.
Maybe 1,000 or even above.
The higher the number, the dirtier the tested surface was,
and Margarita would say anything over 150 is unacceptable.
We were measuring for the presence of bacteria,
not identifying what they were, so these could be any kind,
from germs that are harmless to ones that might make you really ill.
Either way, they're evidence that somewhere
hasn't been cleaned properly.
This is - which is even worse - is the light switch,
and there are so many bacterial colonies on this plate
that they have formed a film over the agar,
and it's so very high that it's impossible to estimate.
The high levels of bacteria indicate, for sure,
that these areas have not been cleaned.
Next, we pushed the boat out and booked a four-star,
town-centre hotel with rooms advertised from about ?107 a night.
But what did that buy us in terms of hygiene?
Well, apart from the door handle,
all the other areas we tested in this hotel
had high levels of bacteria that Margarita found worrying.
And there was one particular sample that looked quite innocent...
This is the swab...
..but actually yielded results that worried her
more than anything so far.
The level of bacteria we found in the glass - too high.
In fact, the number of bacteria that Margarita grew from the four-star
hotel's glass tumbler in the bathroom was off the scale.
And for Margarita, that's significant.
The fact that there's so high levels of bacteria in the glass
is concerning, actually.
Because you use the glass to consume water and thus you're potentially
ingesting the bacteria on the glass.
And that could potentially make you sick,
because it's really high numbers.
And that could be very serious for some of us, in particular.
This is of concern because, particularly for risk groups -
the very old, the very young, those with low immunity -
coming into contact with this level of bacteria
could be potentially dangerous.
You often hear people question the cleanliness of hotel room glasses,
and, while we didn't find that a problem across the board,
it certainly seems this hotel's four-star rating
hadn't bought us the highest standards.
a five-star hotel where rooms costing from ?188 a night
would take the top spot in our secret cleaning competition?
It was the last set of samples Margarita received from us
and they definitely stood out - but not in a good way.
The last hotel, from all the hotels that we sampled,
is the dirtiest across the board.
Almost all the samples here had either high
or very high levels of bacteria.
Two of them in particular,
with the first a spot no guest is likely to be able to avoid.
The bathroom door handle, the levels are pretty high and it stands out.
And what about the bedspread on our five-star, luxurious, king-size bed?
The bed was by far the worst.
There is no way to count that.
The covering blanket on the five-star bed was the only bedspread
in our overall test where the count was off Margarita's scale.
Margarita says there could be all sorts of explanation for such high
levels of bacteria.
There are bacteria that live in the environment
that could be brought in, so muddy boots could be some of that.
But also, our skin is covered in bacteria.
We shed skin cells all the time, so it could be some of that, too.
With the results of our last hotel in,
we did some final number-crunching to rank our hotels not in order of
their star-rating, but by the levels of bacteria instead.
First, the cleanest room was the two-star hotel.
Followed by the one-star,
which you might have imagined wouldn't have fared so well.
They certainly didn't come out with a totally clean bill of health,
but overall, these two were the most hygienic of the ones we visited.
In third place was the four-star.
That was the one with the dirty glass that Margarita was worried
could even make you ill.
Next to last was the three-star, with high levels of bacteria
on almost every surface we tested in the room.
But the worst results and the highest level of bacteria in
our snapshot sample came from that five-star hotel which, of course,
was also, by some distance, the most expensive hotel room of the lot.
Our experiments definitely showed that star ratings have no relation
with levels of cleanliness, for sure.
I mean, this is very important to say, this is a snapshot.
This is one sample of one hotel on a particular day,
but it's really quite interesting.
Of course, we're exposed to bacteria every day and it doesn't necessarily
mean it's dangerous.
In fact, Margarita also checked for faecal coliforms -
that's the bugs associated with poo to you and me -
and she didn't find anything significant.
And as it's those bacteria which are more likely to make you poorly,
that's definitely good news.
But what we did find does indicate that some areas of these hotel rooms
have been missed during cleaning.
And while, of course, we only took samples at a small number of
randomly chosen hotels, it's more than likely that similar levels of
bacteria, invisible to the naked eye, could be found in other hotels,
too, at home and abroad.
And it's clear that staying somewhere with a higher star-rating
is no guarantee that you'll end up with a cleaner room.
So, what's to be done if you're a hygiene-conscious type
who doesn't like the idea of being exposed to what the guest before
has left behind?
I think it's a case of being mindful and being aware that it's
maybe not as clean as you would have in your own house.
So, maybe not lie on the throw, on the bed cover,
because it may not be very clean, and do simple things,
like rinse the glass and rinse the mug before you use them.
And, like always, wash your hands.
If you've got a story you'd like us to investigate,
we now have even more ways to get in touch.
You can join in the conversation on our Facebook page.
Just look for BBC Rip Off Britain.
As well as the most up-to-date news,
you'll also find exclusive behind-the-scenes clips and pictures
from the show.
Or you can log onto our website, bbc.co.uk/ripoffbritain,
where there's plenty of advice and fact sheets full of tips on how
to avoid getting ripped off.
If you'd like to send us an e-mail, then our address is...
Or if you want to send us a letter, then our new address is...
Well, I must say, I am still genuinely gobsmacked with what we
found in those hotels that we tested and while you could say,
"Well, it's just a case of what you can't see won't do you any harm,"
but, to me, it seems very, very sloppy and it rather suggests that
it might be time for the whole industry to try and clean up its act
as far as the cleanliness of hotels is concerned.
And you know, one way of doing that just might be to tie it into a
universal standard for star ratings,
something that it really does seem is sorely needed to be absolutely
certain that when you book and then pay for a hotel,
you can be confident that it will be up to the standard that you expect.
Well, let us know your thoughts on the stories we've looked at today
and, indeed, on anything else you'd like us to investigate,
not just holidays.
We've lots of programmes coming up and even if it's not your case
we feature, we do read every e-mail and letter that you send
and each one of them, in fact,
helps us decide which subjects we're going to cover.
For now, though, thank you very much for joining us.
We'll see you again very soon, but from us, it's goodbye.
Angela Rippon, Gloria Hunniford and Julia Somerville continue the series of holiday investigations by examining the cleanliness of British hotel rooms. As lab tests prove there is a lot more to hotel hygiene than meets the eye, will booking into a more expensive hotel guarantee you'll end up with a cleaner room?
Also, with complaints that some five-star hotels don't quite meet the high standard you'd expect, the team unravels what exactly determines how many stars a hotel deserves.