Being Second Best – A Starry Story
Where do you prefer to stay when you are travelling? In three, four, or five-star hotels? That is a question of money, you will probably answer. Or rather who is going to pay for it? But even if you can only afford a three-star hotel, you will probably go anyway if the purpose of the trip is sufficiently important to you.
If the price had not been adjusted according to the number of stars, now where would you stay? You would be in doubt and demand to be informed what the stars were then covering as you have been brought up to presume that quality is closely connected with price.
You have now come to Denmark and you want to visit some museums. Which ones should you choose? The stars are offering to help you because there are museums with everything from zero to five stars at the main entrance. Funny thing, several of the five-star museums have free entrance whereas some of the internationally famous museums have less or no stars – and are even charging you for an admission ticket; because in this field price is not adjusted according to the number of stars and the sign at the entrance gives you no explanation of the number of stars.
In Denmark we are presently introducing a quality classification system for museums and other tourist attractions.
This means that after years of state-subsidized elucidation work we are now trying to see if we can get museums and other tourist attractions to pay for being compared and classified.
The idea is first and foremost that it should be informative to visitors. In addition, it should also be a tool to improve the attractions – i.e. a management tool. Does it work? Well, we shall see.
Seen from the outside there are some obvious difficulties as indicated in the introduction of this comment: The number of stars (i.e. quality) and the price are not coherent, and only a few museums are included in the system so far. We are yet to teach the public what the stars stand for, e.g. that you may very well stand in one of the world’s finest special collections of something interesting at a three-star museum because it has not got texts in three foreign languages, a separate room for breastfeeding mothers, and a degree of satisfaction exceeding 97 % in its last users’ satisfaction survey. Or you may have been beguiled into a five-star museum which may be well-equipped with sanitation, eating facilities, foreign languages, and satisfied visitors, but is actually lacking collections of really international super class.
This imperfection may very well be the death of the classification system. Who will voluntarily pay to be slated in comparison with their colleagues (read: competitors) in the national culture market when others may simply abstain from participating? In this way, the result may very well be that you find the museums that are really worth seeing among those with NO stars at all.
A lot of this could be brought right if part of the evaluation was handled by an international expert panel, i.e. the part that is needed to get the fifth and last star, “the international star”.
However, as a management tool the system is brilliant. It is the first time that Danish museums have developed a benchmarking system and I can warmly recommend it. The parameters, according to which the museum is being evaluated, are fully accessible before a possible evaluation which means that you have the possibility to set up a number of targets before subjecting the museum to the classification. After thorough preparation and subsequent assessment together with the expert panel that is going to evaluate the museum, you receive prioritized scores within so many essential functions of the museum that there is a solid basis for comparison internally as well as externally.
And if you are lucky not to achieve all five stars at once, well, then you have a very tangible target to work towards during the time up to the next classification. You can take my word for it: We got four stars!
Read more about the classification system.