The good news for American travelers seeking luxury is that there are more high-end hotels around the world than ever before. The bad news is that not every expensive, glitzy new hotel is a luxury property.
There has been a huge worldwide hospitality building boom for the past decade, in established hotel markets like New York, London and Paris, as well as red hot emerging destinations such as Morocco, China and Southeast Asia. As chains expand in numbers and geography, keeping up their standards of quality becomes a challenge, and only the best international luxury hotel brands have succeeded at delivering the consistency of excellence that luxury travelers expect. Toronto-based Four Seasons is a great example of a brand that put so much time in over the years developing very detailed standards, practices and training that it has been able to grow fairly quickly while retaining its reputation for excellence.
At the same time, the growth of luxury travel has brought about the global expansion of once regional brands less well-known to American travelers. For example, almost thirty years ago, boutique operator Aman Resorts & Hotels started on Thailand’s holiday island of Phuket. It is only in the past decade or so that the name has become familiar to U.S. travelers. Today Aman operates in about 20 countries, with two U.S. resorts, and more in the Caribbean, Europe and Africa. Similarly, after a century of preeminence in India, Taj Hotels has gone global, with important hotels in the U.S. and Europe.
So what makes these ten brands so good? There are a couple of factors. First is a consistency of quality, service and experience across all their properties. They are not cookie cutter, but they each have a brand wide commonality customers can rely on, from Peninsula’s high-touch, very full-service and exclusively urban hotel model to Belmond’s focus on historically and naturally significant one-of-a-kind buildings and settings.
Secondly, these are all brands big enough and spread out enough to matter to the frequent traveler. There are some very good micro-chains or groups with a handful of hotels, but for luxury travelers to keep them first of mind they have to be accessible. For instance, India’s Leela is a fantastic brand but does not operate outside the country, greatly limiting the number of travelers who will consider it.
Thirdly, while consistently excellent, each of these brands has one or more spectacular flagship–type properties. Ritz-Carlton’s three new uber-luxury Reserve resorts come to mind, as does the Four Seasons George V in Paris, the Hong Kong Peninsula, Fairmont’s Savoy in London, Park Hyatt’s groundbreaking Tokyo hotel which was the showcase for the film Lost in Translation and the model for a new generation of high-rise urban properties, and Rosewood’s superlative Las Ventanas al Paraiso in Los Cabos, North America’s finest beach resort.
Finally, these brands are never asleep at the switch and are consistently improving. Among the eighteen new 5-star rankings awarded to existing hotels worldwide this year, Rosewood snagged three, Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton and Mandarin each earned two, and Park Hyatt added one to its portfolio.