What’s in a five-star hotel? And do you want such digs?

Written by admin on September 21, 2009 – 4:50 pm -

In these days, where many people are watching their pennies, are über deluxe five-star hotels become memories of the past? You know, elegantly decorated hotels with a staff available 24-hours-a-day to satisfy every whim?

Well, yes and no. Would you pay for such service? As the famed financier JP Morgan said, “If you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it.” He was probably right.

Let’s face it – there will always be the very rich and famous (or wannabees) who aren’t going to go without. They’re probably just not us. Or if they are, it’s because we’re getting special deals.

Many hotels are offering promotions to keep their room occupancy nights high since they don’t want to let the employees go during these challenging economic times, when unlimited expense account travel is down and even well-to-do tourists are being increasingly cautious.

Other hotels are cutting services, which some hoteliers say is the way to go. Others feel there’s no turning back when the financial crisis is over.

But why does a hotel merit a five-stars and what how are hotels classified?  The global rating system is supposed to be consistent.  In reality, five-star hotels in Paris and New York City are inevitably jazzier and offer more service than hotels in Tunisia. In parts of Asia, hotels are often more sybaritic, as well as service-oriented, because the service personnel’s salaries are substantially less.

What’s the definition of a five-star hotel?  According to Hervé Novelli, Secretary of State for French Tourism, five-star hotels should have most of the same services as the revered Meurice Hotel in Paris:

A multi-lingual concierge staff that can perform miracles and access tickets for events and reservations at restaurants that are ‘impossible’ to come by.
- A gourmet restaurant
- A bar with food service.
- Room Service – 24 hours a day
- A spa or health club
- Laundry and dry-cleaning facilities
- Air-conditioning, individually controlled
- Rooms for non-smokers and ones that are handicapped accessible and equipped

Technology in all Rooms

- Multi-channel TV (LCD and plasma screens)
- High-speed Internet access
- DVD and CD players
- Video and music on demand
- Multi-line telephones
- Dual-voltage power supply
- iPod radio-alarm-clock

Business and Entertaining

- Fully equipped Business corner with Internet access
- Fax machines/ printers in the room on request
- Wi-Fi access in public areas- Private dining room
- Ballroom and banqueting suites

Additional Amenities

- Car or Limousine service services
- Babysitting on request
- Courier services

It goes without saying, bathrooms should be worthy of being featured in “Architectural Digest” and all linens should be perfect, including robes. There should be complimentary bottled water, lavish bathroom amenities, evening turn-down service and a well-stocked mini-bar.

The above services don’t come cheap. But many hotels essentially offer much or many of the same ones.

How do you choose between one hotel and another? Some people may prefer high-tech modern décor opposed to traditional (and often opulent) silk, satins fabrics exuding a more formal look and feel.

The Meurice Hotel has 200 years of tradition and service to differentiate it from this year’s high-rise hotel a block away. There are plenty of five-star hotels that are wonderful but may not be as charming or elegant. It’s up to clients to decide what’s right for them and what they select is very subjective.

Which brings me to my questions. Even if you’re not planning to spend big bucks (Euros or Yen) on a room, what essentials do you require? How do your decisions differ if you’re on business versus pleasure? Do you take advantage of a hotel’s facilities (e.g. a fitness center) or do you just like knowing one is available in case you’re motivated?

When do you decide to splurge on a hotel? If you’re traveling on business and are staying in a big city, how much latitude do you have in deciding where to reserve? If your company has a corporate travel department, do they make housing decisions without your input?

And last but not least: When you’ve check into a hotel that has promised the sun, stars and the moon and find that it’s not delivering what it promised, do you complain? Do you ask to change rooms? Do you check out?

Please post what a five-star hotel experience signifies to you – and whether or not you’re willing to pay for it and when? If you are, which hotels are the ones to which you love to return?

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Hold On: How Many Stars and Why Can’t I Smoke?

Written by admin on August 21, 2009 – 1:58 pm -

Hervé Novelli, Secretary of State for French Tourism, recently announced that France is embarking on a new hotel classification program. “Palace” or four-star “Luxe” hotels will be a memory of the past, and France will join the five-star gang.

Why the change?  France is the only country not to use the five-star evaluation method so this is being done to conform to the globally used rating system. The current rating code, adopted in the 1960s will be reviewed and revised to reflect tourists’ needs and offer more standardized criteria.

But there is more than one catch. The criteria for awarding stars are inconsistent from one country to another and even within the same country. A five-star hotel in Tunisia is rarely comparable to one in Paris or in the U.S.  Hervé Novelli is aware of this problem and says the decree relating to hotel reform will be published in the Official Journal at the end of 2009; for a hotel to merit five stars, there is a long list—298 in all—of points of compliance.

Hotels of great charm will be more difficult to pinpoint since this is mostly technical list of criteria opposed to noting a hotel’s taste and charm or whether or not it’s lush and lavish. “There doesn’t appear to be any differentiation among five-star properties,” states Katherine Johnstone, Media Relations Manager of the New York Office of ATOUT FRANCE (the France Tourism Development Agency).
Novelli explained that the world’s leading hotels offer guests a high level of personalized service, concierges, valet parking, and a multi-lingual staff. They’re very luxurious and equipped with the latest high-tech gadgetry (LCD screens, Wi-Fi, etc). Additional services, such as restaurants with stellar chefs, spas, fitness centers and more are also considered part and parcel of top-end luxury properties.

There is certainly some good sense here, but now Le Meurice and the Marriott – Champs Elysées have the same rating. When queried about how people will differentiate between the two hotels, a spokesperson for the Meurice replied, “The difference between Le Meurice and the Marriott CE is 200 years of history.”

We could put it a bit differently—and, don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with the Marriott.  We’re just talking apples and oranges and very different taste. Some people might prefer the Marriott to the Meurice, but I happen to prefer the Meurice and wish I could live and die there.  And that goes to the core of the problem.  Granted: it is difficult to rate or quantify taste and charm, but we appreciate them (or not) and often are willing to pay for them (or not)—and there is no question that they make a difference in our experience of staying in this hotel rather than that one.  How does any rating system account for the differences?

The other change is a question of habit, not taste—at least not in the literal sense. For smokers there is a big problem. Don’t think you can retreat to your room and puff on a cigarette.  The smoking ban in all public places (including restaurants and cafés) has been law since Jan 1, 2008.

Smokers brought in that New Year knowing that at the stroke of midnight, they’d be forced to change their habits. As an act of kindness to the addicted, the deadline was extended to 2 a.m. January 1. But that was it.

Much to everyone’s surprise, the French didn’t strike although they did gripe and griped loudly to the point that the restaurant association was able to delay the smoking ban in cafés and restos from 2007 to 2008.  As a result it’s not unusual to see smokers huddled together taking a cigarette break in doorways. Many cafés have extended their terraces because they’re considered exterior space, and awning companies and space-heater suppliers have never done brisker business.  If there’s only a narrow sidewalk, expect to see a few tables and chairs butt up against the façade of many restaurants.  If the restaurant is adjoining a business that closes early for the night, weather permitting, you’ll see tables migrating down in front of them, and it’s not because everyone is dying to eat al fresco.

But back to hotels. Even though large hotels may have some designated smoking rooms, many smaller hotels are completely non-smoking, and an increasing number will be going that route.  Soon Paris may be like Boston where smoking inside any hotel room is forbidden.

In Paris, if someone wants to smoke, more than likely they’ll have to go outside or smoke on their terrace. In an informal survey, people responded that they have zero tolerance or sympathy for smokers and feel they should be fined and made to pay for a complete cleaning of the room.  Opening up the Air-Wick bottle doesn’t mask the odor.

Even the smokers said they didn’t want to stay in smoking rooms. It’s one thing to smoke— it’s another to have all of your clothes and hair permeated by cigarette smells.

Last night at dinner, a group came in after we’d arrived at the restaurant.  The first thing one of the women did was take a good sniff and say with visible distain, “Who’s been smoking?’  There was a smoker sitting at our table, but he certainly hadn’t smoked inside of the restaurant and thought the woman was being a loudmouth pain.

For that matter, the dinner was so good, he didn’t even take a smoke break.  C’est la vie. Anyone who doesn’t want to be an outcast is going to have to move to China where smoking is the rage. Thank goodness I kicked the habit, and reformed smokers are the worst when it comes to being sanctimonious and smelling cigarette smoke when smokers pass them on the sidewalk.

But it’s a fact of life.  We have moved from a society where everyone, it seemed, smoked to one where smokers are a depraved minority.  And, at the same time we have moved into a society that wants to quantify charm—and simply can’t do it.  I have no idea if this is progress, if I am being nostalgic, or simply if there’s no stopping the world, no matter where and how it goes.

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Posted in Paris |