Minggu, 22 Februari 2009

How Hotels are Rated

The key to great hotel service is the arrival sequence, and it begins beneath the covered driveway known as the porte-cochere.

On a recent, unannounced annual inspection, The Associated Press accompanied an AAA inspector into the Hilton Grand Vacation Club on the Las Vegas Strip, most recently ranked as a three-diamond hotel.

The green Subaru wagon arrived on a not-busy Tuesday afternoon and the visitors already were out of the vehicle before three valet workers moved to assist them.

"I see the valets, and they're just sort of chitchatting," said the inspector, who asked not to be identified so she could perform occasional anonymous stays. "This could be a four. Did I get four-diamond service on arrival? No."

Inside a room, assistant executive housekeeper Gerardo Chavez-Mendoza nervously looked on as the inspector ran her hands over the granite countertops and then into the coffee maker, with the drama of a mother inspecting her teenage son's room.

"You're not going to like this," she said, pulling out a wet, used coffee bag.

"Wonderful," Chavez-Mendoza said, visibly upset.

North America's most popular guidebooks -- Mobil and AAA -- rank up to three levels on their respective star or diamond charts with in-person, unannounced inspections. A rank of four or the highest, five, requires an incognito stay.

As a result, property managers encourage their employees to be on the ball -- all the time.

"After the first six months, they really realized there's no point in trying to find out who the shopper is," said the Venetian's Dimond.

Cleanliness, safety and reliability are the base standards for obtaining a listing in the guides and the lowest one star or diamond rating. From there, standards diverge slightly.

Mobil requires onsite restaurants for a two, while AAA does not. At a Mobil three, the bathroom is expected to have "hygienic soap, shampoo and four other bath amenities"; while AAA expects "two large bars of soap or equivalent; one bottled item; attractively presented" and other amenities at the front desk.

At the four and five levels, rooms are expected to feature such touches as accent pillows, artistic interiors, insulated ice buckets, bathrobes and often brand-name bath goods. Warm, sincere greetings, often by name, are expected in every interaction.

Some properties attempt to go beyond the requirements, aiming for the wow factor that amazes guests and secret shoppers.

At Bellagio, a five-diamond, four-star property, flowers are shipped in from around the world to fill the 13,500 square-foot conservatory near the lobby, which is changed out five times a year.

"We go out and search for the Christmas tree that we need three, four months in advance. We fly flowers in from Holland," president Randy Morton said. "That's a Bellagio diamond, I guess you'd call it."

At the highest levels of service, Mobil rates only 37 hotels and 16 restaurants as five-star in North America; while AAA gives its top designation to 100 hotels and 60 restaurants in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. Michelin, known more as a restaurant guide, gave its top three stars to 68 restaurants in 22 countries, but it's unclear how many hotels got the top honor of five red pavilions.

Because of differing standards, it's difficult to say which rankings are more exacting. Some operators said Mobil's targets are tougher than AAA's to meet, since they cover more areas of service, such as at poolside or in the casino. Michelin, operating in North America since 2005, is a more unknown quantity on the hotel side.

Whatever the standard, more Las Vegas resort developers are getting in on the upscale act with billion-dollar developments.

Las Vegas Sands' $2.6 billion Palazzo is set to open its doors by the end of the year, while Wynn's $2.2 billion Encore property opens in early 2009. The $2.8 billion Fontainebleau, along with MGM Mirage's $7.8 billion CityCenter are to open later that year. Boyd Gaming Corp.'s $4.4 billion complex, Echelon, is scheduled to open in 2010 and developer Elad IDB plans to spend more than $5 billion to open The Plaza hotel and casino on the Strip in 2011.

When Wynn won his coveted Mobil five stars last year, he said he spent millions advertising it, not only to flaunt the distinction, but to egg on his competitors.

"Since I made a fuss about our five stars, that will inspire other people in town to be jealous and to upgrade," Wynn said. "The more that Las Vegas is perceived to be a really high-class destination, the bigger the market gets. That's a good thing for all of us."


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