How many international “competitions” are there to select the world’s, the continent’s, or a certain region’s or country’s, best hotel? How many owners and managers happily send their best-looking employees, in their fanciest outfits, to these so-called award ceremonies around the world to promote their “wins?”

If we take a closer look at the, perhaps, most significant of these competitions, an incredible array of awards is revealed. For Europe alone, there are 147 awards listed in various categories, divided by 56 European countries, most with several categories each. And within each category, there are five to eight nominated hotels, resorts, conference hotels, or car rental companies, and so on. Many times we find owners who have put up several nominees from their group, since you are free to submit as many nominees as you like, as long as you’re willing to pay the entrance fee for each of them.

Someone has called this the hotel industry’s equivalent of the film industry’s Academy Awards. Nothing could be further from the truth. Obviously, a lot of marketing and politics do go into winning many an Oscar, but you can’t just buy yourself a nomination, and at the end of the day, you really do need to win the vote of the members of the Academy. But here, you can simply pay your way into the competition and then secure enough extra votes to win your category.

In this competition, the entry fee is either €466 or €582, but the organisers claim that the fee also buys you digital exposure worth €349 (presumably consisting mainly of people being exposed to your logo and info while voting). And obviously, they don’t reveal who, or even how many, are actually voting, except to clarify that votes are weighted differently, depending on who’s doing the voting.

Clearly, something like this won’t change just because it’s questioned in a column in Meetings International, but it would be interesting to learn just how much money they earn from registration fees for this competition. Even the most cursory math suggests that it’s certainly not small potatoes. And it’s worth noting that these types of competitions appear to grow each year. But are you really the best of the best when you win? Highly doubtful.

How good is your hotel or resort really? It’s a fairly simple equation. Just check the last line of your annual report. If you’re making a profit, you’re a good company. If you’re making a big profit, you’re probably an even better one. And if you have 30 per cent or more left on the bottom line, then winning a pay-to-enter competition simply shouldn’t be of any consequence to you.

Everyone simply can’t be the best, that’s just unreasonable. And when just about anyone could just buy and orchestrate a win for themselves, then the “win” simply loses its meaning. Even if your winning smile should be lined with golden teeth at the awards ceremony, purchased success never tastes as sweet. Even if you really are the very best in your field, surely a win in a mock competition like this still leaves a bit of a bad taste in your mouth?

Your actual customers have highly relevant opinions and feelings about your company and your staff’s work. Faraway voters, who may have never even set foot in your establishment, don’t. But unfortunately, it’s possible to influence people to believe in your excellence without them actually knowing anything about it.

There’s a lot of so-called washing going on throughout the business event industry: greenwashing, sportswashing, social corporate washing, and legacy washing. Non-specifically, there is also bluewashing, brownwashing, whitewashing, rainbowwashing, and security washing. Now, we can add award washing to the list.

You are never better than your actual customers say you are. And as long as they keep returning, you have every reason to feel like a winner. Seeing customers become regulars, that’s your reward. As an extra boon, it’s also the foundation of a profitable business. Achieving that, is what should be your goal, rather than basking in the make-believe glory of an award you’ve more or less picked off an award store shelf. Instead of award washing, just clean up your act.