Having avoided Visit Scotland like the plaque after hearing so much negative things about them I decided in 2012 to get help and advertise through them and get my property graded.... Oh what a mistake that was! It has cost me £1000's in unnecessary changes. I would avoid using Visit Scotland's quality assurance at all costs. It may come across as if they are impartial but this is not the case, quite frankly it still comes down to whether the person grading your cottage likes certain things or not.
In our case we had Kirsty Rawle come from Visit Scotland to grade Stac Polly and Locholly, here is her email response:
Sorry for the delay in getting back to you, it has been a busy week. Thank you for taking the time to show me round it was interesting to see your development. We discussed what the requirements would be for a 5 star award and at present the area that is lacking and requiring some upgrading is the bedrooms. A substantial amount of investment has already gone into building the properties. In order to achieve a 5 star award the quality of the property has to be outstanding throughout; I have made some suggestions below.
I was having a look at a few good examples of a 5 star bedroom. A suggestion is www.skyeboatlodge.co.uk
We discussed upgrading the decor with the addition of some high quality original artwork. The window blinds are effective however you may wish to consider dressing the windows with voiles / curtains etc which would improve the overall look particularly in the rooms that have views of the dog kennel.
In aiming for a high score for bed linen I would suggest at least a 600 thread count. We discussed providing cushions and high quality throws to dress the beds. I would suggest that you provide excellent quality feather duvets and keep the existing duvets as a back up for guests with allergies.
The bed side lighting is of a modest quality and would suggest that it is upgraded with some excellent quality and tall bed side lamps or perhaps wall mounted lights where appropriate. Dressing table lamps would also be encouraged to give additional task lighting. The overhead lights could also be improved with perhaps some additional spot lights downstairs or a multiple overhead fitment which may be controllable with dimmers.
The master bedroom does not have a dressing table as such and would suggest that some thought is put into having a dedicated area where guests can sit to dry hair, put on make-up / contact lenses etc in comfort.
The master en-suite would benefit from a integral mirror with lights to give task lighting above the basin. As discussed there is a new light fitting due to be installed into the main bathroom which will give directional light into the shower area.
We discussed the issue with accepting pets and white walls. We agreed that in the longer term you would look to put some form of oak panelling to dado height which would help to protect the walls. The staircase is very patchy and will need re-painted. A nest of tables is to be added to the upstairs lounge for guests comfort.
It is good to hear that you have arranged for a welcome pack to be delivered which will include some local produce.
I hope this helps, if you have any queries please get in touch. I am out of the office most of next week but should be able to respond at the end of the week.
I pointed out that there are other cottages in the area that had reached 5 star with half of the facilities that we offer and certainly not the same level of comfort. There was no mention of all the positive things that far out weight the negatives ones. Additionally reading her reply its a very personal opinion, her suggested improvements would have just made our two cottages look very similar to all the other self catering properties that we are trying not to look like, with wood paneling and dado rails. However we did as Kirsty suggested and invested in new linen (even though the linen was 800 thread already) and pictures and a few other aspects, but when she came back again she still did not like our cottage.
Kirsty also made reference to my site how I had written if our cottages were rated then they would probably get 5 star. I don't think they liked that which is more likely why they did not give me 5 star.
The AA rated my property last week and said it is definitely 5 Star, they said after looking at the cottage as a whole it definitely met the criteria!
I would save your money and go with The AA, they seem much more impartial and willing to help. At the end of the day our customer reviews and responses on facebook are our best adverts and more importantly impartial. http://www.facebook.com/luxuryselfcateringscotland/posts/496541153727596