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How a hotel earns five stars: the checklist

A guest room at the Park Hyatt New York.

Hyatt is building a five-star hotel on West 57th street in Manhattan. According to Forbes Travel Guide, there are only seven others in New York City. The hotel’s pool will feature underwater speakers with a custom soundtrack from nearby Carnegie Hall, and the hotel's bath amenities are perfumed with Tubereuse 40, a custom scent created by Le Labo. 

Hanya Yanagihara, an editor at large at Conde Nast Traveler, says there are various evaluative bodies - AAA, the Michelin Guide - that rank hotels. For a hotel to win that coveted fifth star, certain standards must be met. 

“There has to be a 24-hour reception area, and there has to be an onsite restaurant, there has to be 24-hour room service, there has to be express dry cleaning service,” she says. 

Forbes Travel Guide uses 800 standards on a checklist used to evaluate hotels. Michael Cascone, the guide’s president and COO, says 70 percent of its secret algorithm is tied to customer service.

"No one leaves a hotel and says, 'you know what? That lobby was beautiful, but the service was bad and I’m going back.'” 

Bruce Wallin, editorial director at luxury lifestyle magazine "Robb Report," which covers hotels, says five-star guests expect 400-thread count sheets and nice artwork.

He agrees that top-notch hotels need to maintain high-end facilities, or as he puts it: "It can't be fake wood and Formica."

But Wallin also points out that ranking systems can be too focused on checklist items, and as a result, might overlook the less tangible elements of a hotel. This could potentially excluding smaller, yet special, properties.

What really sets top hotels apart, he notes, is service and surprise.

“In Milan there’s a hotel where every afternoon, you get a knock on your door, and instead of housecleaning it’s a cocktail cart and they’ll make whatever drink you want, right in your room," says Wallin.

But the real surprise may be six and seven star hotels, which Yanagihara says can be found in Dubai.

"It can mean that every guest has acess to their own Bentley, or there’s a helicopter pad on the roof," she says. 

The ranking, notes Yanagihara, is not formally recognized by any governing body.


A Five-Star Rating by the numbers

Inspectors for Forbes Travel Guide’s respond with a “yes” or “no” answer to certain standards during an incognito visit to a hotel. The hundreds of yes's and no’s on the inspection report are tallied into a score that ultimately earns the hotel a "Five-Star," "Four-Star," or "Recommended" rating. Here's some more numbers behind a Five-Star rating:

800 items

The number of items on the checklist that determines star ratings.

70%

The percentage of items on the checklist that are specifically related to service quality.

To receive a Five-Star Rating:

10 minutes

The amount of time within which bags should arrive after registration.

90 minutes

The amount of time within which the staff at the pool should offer a complimentary drink on a warm day.

5 minutes

The window of time surrounding the estimated time of delivery within which room service should be delivered.

24 hours

The amount of time that both a reception desk and a restaurant must be available and open.

To receive a five-star rating, a specific welcome gift should be provided, and bathrooms should be supplied with a variety of items the guest would find useful. For example, guests at Park Hyatt New York will be offered bathroom amenities scented with Le Labo Tubereuse 40, a custom designed scent for the hotel.

About the author

Sally Herships is a regular contributor to Marketplace.

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