The New Hotel Classification System

To the 50th anniversary of the Sri Lanka Tourism Authority, its chairman has prepared radical changes that could become revolutionary in reforming the hotel classification system, thereby giving a new leap and impetus to the rapid development of a quality" star «hotel sector of the country.

Sri Lanka Tourism Office (SLTDA) will take steps to introduce a new hotel classification system within the next few months. Chairman of the SLTDA, a veteran of the hotel business, Mr. Paddy Withana can be congratulated on the fact that he was able to drag this long, exaggerated piece of legislation to improve standards of hotels of Sri Lanka.

Existing classification system

The design of an appropriate hotel classification system is complex, as it requires a quantitative assessment of a number of intangible aspects of service and product offerings. It is not easy to identify and indicate every aspect of what a tourist is looking for in a product.

To help overcome this problem somewhat, typical hotel classification criteria consist of two components, one of which is mandatory, along with another list of other attributes and requirements that are not mandatory.

The list of mandatory elements that must be met to achieve a certain level of the star class includes health and safety standards, minimum quality standards, hotel attachments, etc.

The second set of additional elements for each particular star classification, which the hotel can strive for, varies depending on the wide range of services and products offered, from which a certain percentage must be realized in order to obtain the specified classification.

The existing classification system was archaic, and was introduced in 1968, along with the Tourism Development Law No. 14. Of course, this was very important at a time when tourism began to develop in Sri Lanka. Nevertheless, over the years, products and service offers have changed dramatically, which makes some of the requirements in the classification system, to put it mildly, simply absurd.

For example, one of the mandatory requirements for a class of stars is that the hotel must have a „suitable check-in desk with a telephone“. In the first days after the publication of the previous law, when housing units were created, it was important to have such regulation. Nevertheless, today, with the development of IT, mobile and electronic platforms, the connection with the number, the reception of guests and other services has become what we take for granted with just one click on the button with the icon. Many large hotels even have wireless devices or walkie-talkies for department heads to communicate with each other.

Even the majestic old counter, an impressive board for room keys and murals quickly become museum exhibits. Many hotels now have completely finished with the „counters“ for reception and have moved on to flexible registration in a comfortable living room or in a guest room with mobile devices, and this is rapidly becoming a new trend.

Another example is the requirement to air-conditioned cafes with specific sizes to obtain 3 stars or higher by classification. Today, the environment, energy conservation and demand for more natural conditions are the main activities, as modern tourists visit the tropics, and require spaces to sit outdoors, without artificial climate controlled premises.

Thus, it is obvious that there are also outdated values of some requirements from the old classification.

New classification system for hotels

Obsolete criteria, starting in 2009, the Tourism Association of Sri Lanka (THASL) considers it necessary to change and change the wording by modernizing the classification system.

THASL created a subcommittee and worked on it, and I had the privilege of serving on this committee, where we studied many classification systems of other countries, including Singapore, India, the US and the UK. It is important to find a balance and establish requirements in accordance with the realities of Sri Lanka and the range of products. I personally was very pleased when the committee included several aspects of the back-of-the-house requirements and requirements for environmental preservation that had never been mentioned in the old classification.

A whole new section is devoted to facilities for personnel, including changing quality staff rooms, toilets, hostels, etc. The number of such units, which should be available, is also specified, depending on the number of employees on the basis of wages.

In addition, there is a new section called „Environment, community and sustainability“. In accordance with these criteria, the hotel can get valuable points if they reuse their wastewater, solar energy for generating hot water, heating if the hotel is occupied with waste disposal, etc.

Implement the new classification system

The draft of the new classification was considered, and consultations were held jointly with the Association of Graduates of the School of Hoteliers and many other interested parties finally in 2011. For implementation, the project was officially presented to the Secretary of the Ministry of Finance, who was de facto secretary for tourism at that time. After several rounds of discussions, this project was completed by a legal project, and also translations were made, if I'm not mistaken.

However, the project was not implemented, because there were some well-founded fears that with the updated quality standards specified in the new guidelines, many existing star hotels can be classified under reduced criteria until they change their standards in order to comply with the new rules. There were fears that this would disrupt the entire hotel portfolio and the structure of building a familiar hotel classification model for Sri Lanka hotels. THASL then suggested that the new classification would be implemented with a 2-year grace period. This would allow hotels to update their facilities in order to comply with the new classification standards within 2 years, without the need to lower their status. All new projects had to be approved and had to comply with the new classification system.

Unfortunately, for unknown reasons, this scheme was not implemented, and new classification criteria were gathering dust on the shelf for many years.

However, careful lobbying with the new authorities was successful, and very soon these new criteria should see the light.


It is also important that the SLTDA classification system determines the strong brand value and legitimacy to ensure that all hotels will strive and their own designs will be classified. Currently, the classification is not mandatory, and according to the SLTDA statistical report in 2014, of the 334 hotels that are registered with the SLTDA, 167 are not classified yet, and do not have a formal star classification.

Of course, the classification will become mandatory and will be the ultimate goal. But it would be much better if the hotels began to see that finding „under the mark“ with the stellar classification of SLTDA increases the value of the products and it is necessary to strive to do it on their own.

(Author Sripal Maththapala was associated with Sri Lanka Tourism Authority for more than 25 years, and was a member of the hotel classification committee from 2011 to 2013, as well as the President of Association of Hoteliers of Sri Lanka in 2009-2010).

Prepared by, based on the materials of

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