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Can a Hotel Be 5-Star Without a Pool?

A signage with Corinthian column.

Have you ever wondered how star ratings for hotels and resorts work? Growing up, I used to think that if a hotel was rated 5-star, it just had to have a swimming pool and that it was also indicative of the number of movie stars you were guaranteed to see or bump into if you booked into the hotel in question.

Anyway, that was until my high school sweetheart, Paris- whose dad was in the hotel business-lovingly set me down and explained it all.

Hotel Star Rating System

A four star hotel and a plane reflection.

Years later, I now know that hotels and resorts are usually rated by a star system, with 1-star being the lowest rating reserved for institutions with the basic minimal necessities, and 5-stars being the highest rating reserved for the most luxurious institutions in the world. What this then means is that the more the amenities, the higher the star rating. And the higher the rating, the higher the price you pay per night.

However, what you must keep in mind is that star ratings are completely subjective as there is no standard international rating system per se. Every association, tour operator, and magazine has its own star rating system for hotels and resorts.

According to Paris, the factors that determine the rating include the establishment’s amenities and activities available, the quality of the water and electricity, size and comfort of your room, food, the service you get, and much more.

The ratings also take into consideration the different living standards of the countries where the properties are located. In other words, for instance, a 5-star resort in Panama might only be 3-star in Greece, whilst a 2-star hotel in Qatar could easily be compared to a 5-star hotel in Canada. Similarly, a 3-start or even perhaps two-star in the U.S. might be considered 5-star in Nairobi, Kenya.

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With the recent rise of online travel agencies like Booking.com, TripSavvy, TripAdvisor, and Expedia, star ratings are strictly based on user reviews. For example, if 10 people review a hotel with half of them giving it 5 stars and the other half giving it 4 stars, then the hotel would be given a rating of four and a half-stars. 

Of course, those reviews are purely subjective but it’s worth noting that certain brands have a proven track record of providing world-class service regardless of which country you are in.

On the flip side of things, just because a hotel or resort is rated 2 or 3 stars, does not mean it offers bad service. It may simply be targeted at travelers on a budget who just want a place to spend the night.

Now that I hope I have somewhat clarified how the hotel star rating system works, can a hotel be 5-start without a pool? Well, after Paris had finished explaining to me how the whole hotel rating system works, I asked her about the part pools play in the whole mix. This is what she had to say…

5-Start Hotels Without Pools

To show just how much a pool determines the star rating of a hotel, let’s look at some examples of 5-star hotels and see whether they are without pools, as well as what makes them score highly without them.

According to statista.com, only 26% of global travelers consider a swimming pool an essential part of their vacation accommodation. This statistic perhaps explains why a survey by the American Hotel and Lodging Association found that an increasing number of hotels and resorts have been ridding themselves of amenities like swimming pools.

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A cursory Google search of the “best 5-star hotels” brings up some of the best hotels in the world. For instance, of the top ten best 5-star hotels in London, one of the world’s most superior travel destinations, only two mention a pool as their star attraction.

These are the Connaught Hotel, which is considered the fourth-best, and the Shangri La Hotel at The Shard, England’s sixth-best. Notably, London’s top three 5-star hotels- Mandarin Oriental, Four Seasons, and The Lanesborough.

A four star hotel with a passing red bus.

The same could be said of New York, “The Big Apple” and arguably the Financial Capital of the World. Of the City’s top ten best 5-star hotels, only three (30%) go to town to have an indoor or outdoor pool of a certain size. These are the Park Hyatt (#2), the Peninsula New York (#4), and the Mandarin Oriental New York.

Mandarin Oriental New York front gate.

The rest don’t mention the pool factor at all-even where they might have one. These are the best hotels in New York; the Four Seasons; the third best, the Lowel Hotel. Neither do the Plaza (#5), Langham Place on Fifth Avenue (#7), The Towers of the Waldorf Astoria (#8), The Regis (#9), or Gramercy Park Hotel (#10).

The Towers of the Waldorf Astoria with American flag.

The hotels above are considered 5-Star mostly because of their proximity to the world’s biggest events in sports, arts, culture, fashion, and entertainment, and ever-growing tourism characterized by luxury, heritage, and prestige-other than because they have an outdoor or indoor pool.

In other less acclaimed locales, Hotel La Fortuna in Costa Rica has no pool. Yet, based on 589 reviews, TripAdvisor.com rated it 4.0. Although it is not 5-stars, TripAdvisor’s review offers great insight into what characteristics a hotel must possess if it is to gain near 5-star status reviews without a pool. In the case of Hotel La Fortuna,

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A hotel made of wood and 2 sets of bed.

for example, service, value, cleanliness, and location have all scored highly among the guests who have submitted reviews of the hotel. The hotel garnered a lot of praise for the views but probably failed to get full marks because of the complaints about the lack of warm running water. Notably, no mention was made of it adversely affecting its rating.

That, as it may be a swimming pool, offers more than just a place to cool off from the heat. Indeed, a beautiful pool can provide amazing views and enhance a resort’s aesthetic appeal-which can lead to great reviews and aid in its stars’ quest. For example, 5-start hotels in France.

5-Star Hotels With Pools – France

Paris, France is renowned as the city of lights where love and romance ignite. Of the top ten 5-star French hotels, six (60%) of them mention having an outdoor or indoor pool as an attraction. This is the Hotel Ritz in Paris, which comes at number one.

A famous luxurious hotel with cars.

The Peninsula that’s also in Paris, which comes in at number three, the Mandarin Oriental Paris at number four, and lastly, Hotel Le Bristol at number five.

A famous 5 star hotel with park luxurious cars.

There is more to a hotel than just amenities like swimming pools. Most people rate hotels according to location, views, cleanliness, and quality of service. If the hotel is lucky enough to be near a beach or a lake, a swimming pool might even be redundant. It is my opinion that a hotel can be 5-star without a pool.

That said, however, you would be hard-pressed to find a 5-star-rated hotel without a swimming pool. Even if guests are not interested in swimming, a pool is essential for hotels, as one Hotel Front Office Operator and contributor on quora.com noted.

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They say people tend to demand discounts and may even cancel bookings when they discover that a hotel doesn’t have a pool, even in the middle of winter or if the pool was temporarily closed for maintenance. With every hotel looking for that extra edge over the competition, amenities such as swimming pools are the standard and can be the difference between a four-star rating and a five-star rating.