For the last 20 years, Israel hotel-goers have had no way of distinguishing between a 4-star fleabag motel and a 4-star luxury palace.

Now, the Knesset is hoping to change that by instituting a bill that would impose state-determined criteria for hotel ratings, instead of letting hotels star themselves.

The Criteria for Tourism Services (Hotels) 2012 bill was passed Tuesday and will go into effect in 2013.

The bill was submitted by the Tourism Ministry in order to promote transparency and objective information regarding the standards of hotels in Israel, according to a ministry press release.

Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov said he hopes that the ratings, which are to be based on the criteria used by the European Hotelstars standards, will help lower the costs of hotels for tourists, thus increasing the number of visitors to Israel.

The new system will serve as the sole indicator of hotel ratings in Israel. A tender will go out to select the professional body to implement the ratings.

Israel is currently enjoying a record-setting year for tourism. Last week it was reported that, so far in 2012, more than 2 million visitors have come to Israel, representing a 7% increase over 2011, and 5% more than in 2010, which was also a record year. Of the 2 million visitors arriving in 2012, approximately 1.7 million were tourists (many of the rest were business travelers), 3% more than the same period in 2011 and 7% more than the previous year.

Until 1992, Israeli hotels were required to get a rating, which was carried out by the Tourism Ministry. Since the law was cancelled, many hotels have continued to advertise a “star rating,” but without any formal basis.

Under the new bill, participation in the rating system will be voluntary, with any hotels not participating to be listed as “Unrated.”

The ministry press release explained that the Hotelstars system, which is implemented in 11 European countries, rates hotels between one and five stars, with “plus” added between stars for intermediary indications. The system uses 270 criteria to determine star rating, including guest services, hotel quality, room structure, furniture, equipment and more.

According to the press release, a public committee — consisting of representatives from the Israel Hotels Association, the Tour Operators Association, tour guides and incoming tourism operators — examined the Hotelstars criteria, and adjusted them accordingly to suit standards particular to Israel such as weather, kosher food, Shabbat, and security. The changes were sent to Hotelstars for their approval; it has granted the Tourism Ministry the rights to use the system, while indicating that ratings are performed according to the Israeli system based on the criteria indicated by Hotelstars.

The ministry estimates the cost of implementing the new bill at NIS 4 million, which includes the initial inspections costs of each participating hotel, as well as a review every three years.