The rating process explained, new trends in luxury travel and changes your property can make to elevate the guest experience
Congratulations on your new role as President of Ratings for Forbes Travel Guide. Can you tell us what your role involves?
Thank you very much; it’s certainly very exciting to have this opportunity to continue to drive greater awareness of our Star Rating system, both for the consumers and in our support of the industry. Specifically, my role is responsible for steering the continued growth and evolution of the Star Rating system. Primarily, this includes the standards we use to determine those ratings, the destinations we wish to be present in to support global tourism and strengthening the connections this very special group of recipients and like-minded brands have when coming together as a community.
How are the ratings evaluated? What is the process?
We have grown our Star Rating coverage from being a North American-based system to a global one in the past several years. And while we announce our Star Awards annually, getting to that point is a daily focus for us. The process is led exclusively by Ratings and encompasses multiple touchpoints that reflect our commitment to integrity; in the same way, we have multiple steps during the evaluation itself, such as ensuring the evaluators remain incognito during their visit.
We start by focusing on the destinations we cover and research the best properties in those places to commit to the schedule each year. The inspection is then scheduled externally of our division, so even in Ratings we do not know when an evaluation is specifically occurring — we do not manipulate the timing, and neither can a property. The incognito inspector will collect answers to the standards and submit them with a yes/no answer and supporting text and images. The inspector does not personally determine the Star Rating and does not even find out the rating earned until the public does. Rather, the algorithm we use computes a composite score, and that score determines the award earned.
Hotels can gain entry onto our list as a Recommended property once they achieve a score of 70% or higher, with Five-Star hotels requiring a score of 88% or higher. We always welcome properties to raise their interest to us in being considered for an evaluation, but we do not visit any properties that do not offer the minimum criteria, such as evening service, automatic daily housekeeping and full-service food and beverage services.
Have you noticed a shift in luxury in the last couple of years?
Definitely, and exponentially so because of the pandemic, though key shifts were occurring well before, and we watch those occurrences to decipher if they are passing trends that age quickly or an expectation that is here to stay and changes the way people travel and want to experience their hotel/meal/spa/cruise. For instance, an increase in multi-generational travel was occurring several years ago. Hotels built room types and designed experiences to accommodate, and in turn, we knew that more and more the focus on time and unique memories had a higher luxury value. As a result, while we already had standards to determine how staff members personalized their interactions with the guests, we placed a higher value on the standards that mattered most – which included being gracious, intuitive, and personalizing service. Properties that do that exceptionally well consistently naturally rise higher in our system.
More recently, we developed our wellness standards for hotels in response to guests’ heightened awareness of their mental health and wellbeing. We knew this was such an important focus that is continuing to gain strength we even made it its own classification, which is our way of defining the “umbrella” touchpoints for our standards that guests hold most important to their experience and future decision-making.
What trends do you see in the luxury travel space?
Aside from wellbeing and mindfulness, which we expect to see grow significantly in hospitality, there is a renewed focus on sustainability. The ability to be environmentally responsible when traveling and making it part of your decision-making process when selecting where to stay or dine is becoming more mainstream. During the pandemic, many hotels and brands had to pause their efforts to align with health mandates and/or guest needs that conflicted with steps to say, reduce single-use plastics. However, as brands like La Bottega and Jalin provide more high-quality solutions that assist hotels in selecting sustainable products and even uniforms, this, in turn, is shifting the definition of luxury for our standards, too. We introduced our own set of sustainability standards two years ago, and achieving these requirements is now part of the overall Star Rating algorithm for hotels.
What are the top three changes hotels can make to enhance the luxury experience?
I. Embrace a balance of high-touch service with high-tech functions that work together to enhance the guest experience.
II. Consider the overall well-being of the guest and staff when designing and selecting furniture, fixtures, and equipment.
III. Not so much a change but always remember to continually revisit the guest experience. Even if something has worked well for years, as trends evolve, so does how the guest experiences their stay.
Picture Credit: Çırağan Palace Kempinski Istanbul