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Forbes Travel Guides’ 5-star favourites

BY Piers Schmidt

A couple of years ago, we were tasked by Taj Hotels Palaces Resorts Safaris to create the brag ad shown above to celebrate the elevation of The Pierre, a Taj Hotel, into the elite echelon of Forbes 5-star hotels. We produced a fun homage to Philippe Halsman, making celebrities of five stars handpicked from the New York hotel’s team by capturing them jumping for joy at the news in the famous checker-tiled lobby.

At the time, I was struck by how much the award meant not only to the Taj head office team in Mumbai but to the fine ensemble of performers at The Pierre itself. A Forbes 5-star rating seems to an accolade with real currency – within the industry at least.

Last week, the 2018 Star Award winners from the esteemed Forbes Travel Guide were announced. Under the leadership of the irrepressible Jerry Inzerillo since 2014, Forbes pitches itself as the “only independent, global rating system for luxury hotels, restaurants and spas” and asserts that its anonymous inspectors pay their own way to “verify luxury” based on some 900 objective criteria over a minimum two-night stay. Like TripAdvisor, the Forbes scoring system relies on a “proprietary algorithm” although we are told that this one weighs service at 75% and the facility quality at 25%. Their standards emphasise graciousness, thoughtfulness and personalised service.

As promised in my last post, “Elite status: Top hotel lists”, and following my first look at luxury hotel rankings posted in October, “Chain reaction? Condé Nast’s best hotels list”, I’m continuing to analyse the major lists as they appear during 2018.

On the basis that the Forbes ranking is one to which the head office and general management community really do aspire, I was interested to compare the distribution between chains and independents in Forbes’ 60th annual list of the world’s best hotels with those published by Condé Nast Traveler and Elite Traveler.

Forbes’ list

The 2018 list of 5-star hotels encompasses 199 properties and includes 27 new 5-star hotels and yet there is minimal crossover in properties between Forbes’ roll call of the ‘World’s Best’, the ‘Top’ Hotels of Elite Traveler and the 48 ‘Best’, garlanded by Condé Nast Traveler in October 2017. In fact, only four properties feature on all three lists: La Réserve, Paris, Grand-Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat, Belmond Hotel Cipriani and Royal Mansour, Marrakech.

Forbes Travel Guide now operates in 50 countries and although 24 countries play host to the 199 5-star hotels, no fewer than 83 (42%) are to be found in the U.S., which is not surprising given the origin and centre of gravity for the Forbes brand in its home market. The next-most-represented countries are China with 34 properties (17%), France with 11 (5.5%) and the United Kingdom and Italy with 10 each (5%).

Once again, the real difference emerges, however, when we categorise the Forbes World’s Best hotels by brand affiliation. A striking feature of the Condé Nast list was the absence of the chain brands with only three making the top half of the table: Waldorf Astoria, Jumeirah and Four Seasons. In contrast with both the Condé Nast and Elite Traveler lists, in which branded hotels accounted for approximately two-thirds of the properties, the Forbes list is much more brand heavy (78%).

Type of branding (Forbes Travel Guide 2018) 

Monolithic brand (121)                        60.80%

Collection “hard branded” (9)               4.52%

Collection “soft branded” (26)              13.07%

Independent (43)                                21.61%

Forbes say that “independent hotels made a strong showing” and although 43 properties is a good number in absolute terms, they account for less than 22% of their list compared to approximately one third of both the previous lists that I’ve analysed.

Best-performing monolithic/hard collection brands (number of hotels)

Four Seasons              33

Mandarin Oriental       18

Ritz-Carlton                11

The Peninsula             9

St. Regis                      6

Rosewood                   5

Trump                         5

Of the 31 different monolithic brands that placed in the Forbes World’s Best, once again Four Seasons is the clear winner with no fewer than 33 properties achieving 5-star status. That’s 30% of its entire global portfolio and, according to Four Seasons’ own press release to celebrate the achievement, “with this recognition, Four Seasons has received the most 5-star ratings awarded to a hotel brand in a single year in the list’s 60-year history.”

If it’s tempting to correlate its success with Mr. Inzerillo’s early career at Four Seasons, I note that none of the One&Only Resorts achieve a 5-star rating, despite Mr. Inzerillo’s long association with Kerzner International, although three do receive 4 stars.

Another notable brand omission from the 5-star category is Aman, although nine of its hotels and resorts receive a 4-star rating.

In the 5-star league table of brands, Mandarin Oriental (18) comes second followed by The Ritz-Carlton (11), The Peninsula (9) and St. Regis (6) rounding out the top five positions.

It’s interesting to question what explains this dominance of the legacy luxury brands? Is it a function of demand or supply? Does the Forbes reader/consumer just prefer branded hotels and the Forbes Travel Guide is merely reflecting this or are strong brands simply more prevalent in the North American and China markets, which between them account for nearly 60% of the hotels listed?

As last time, I considered the collection brands as two types: hard branded, where the name of the brand is appended to that of the hotel (e.g. Belmond Hotel Cipriani) and soft branded, where the brand name is used as a subordinate means of endorsement (e.g. Dorchester Collection and The Luxury Collection).

Belmond (4) is the best-performing hard-branded collection and Dorchester Collection (8) by far the best-performing soft-branded collection. Indeed, measured by the proportion of their portfolio to gain 5-star status, Dorchester Collection is the best-performing brand overall with eight of its nine hotels being awarded the elite grade. The Hotel Principle di Savoia is the property that misses out although it does achieve a 4-star rating. Dorchester Collection’s consistency levels put even the mighty Four Seasons in the shade and are truly impressive notwithstanding the smaller size of its portfolio.

So far, we’ve seen three different methods of compiling a ‘Best’ or ‘Top’ ranking: reader survey (Condé Nast), editorial decision (Elite Traveler) and inspection of standards (Forbes). Although there are certain similarities in the general pattern of the results, there are a multitude of nuanced differences, which continue to ensure that the vexed question of measuring and reporting on quality and brand reputation remains an inexact science or  – to quote an old proverb – that “one man’s meat is another man’s poison.”

This article was first published by HOTELSMag on 28 February 2018




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