You want a unique, upscale hotel experience next time you travel. Searching online, you find the words “luxury,” “boutique,” or any number of “stars” thrown around. But these labels can deceive. Instead, look for 7 features that signify a truly fine hotel or resort.
Travel writer Karen Tina Harrison, who runs luxurytravel.about.com, says the word “luxury” has been degraded in the travel industry because it’s overused and misused. And you shouldn’t judge quality based on marketing language — or by expensive room rates, for that matter. Based in part on a couple of Harrison’s lists (including this one for which she interviewed noted hospitality consultant Eric Weiss) of what she associates with a top quality hotel/resorts, here are some key indicators of a place you’ll love, come back to, and recommend:
1. Simple Booking
Whether you book a hotel online, on the phone, or through a travel agent, it should be a simple process. It should be easy to contact a knowledgeable, helpful person if you have questions, changes to your initial booking, or special requests. Anything else is a red flag.
2. Fast, Friendly First Contact
When you first pull up to a hotel entrance or walk into the lobby, your initial encounter tells you plenty about the type of place you’re staying. Harrison says, “A guest’s first contact with the hotel is the valet, doorman, and bellman. These staffers must communicate welcome, in words, smiles, and body language. They should be happy to serve guests, and not angling for a tip.”
Check-in should be smooth and fast, of course, and you should also expect a couple of basic courtesies:
-The check-in staff shouldn’t use your full name or room number out loud: It’s a matter of privacy and security.
-Your luggage should be delivered to your room within 10 minutes. That’s just Hotel Service 101.
3. A Genuinely Cheerful, Helpful, Knowledgeable Staff
There’s a fundamental difference between fake cheerfulness and genuine warmth. Great hotels hire people with intuitive qualities: observant, empathetic, kind, and funny. Harrison describes them as people “who quietly make guests feel comfortable and important.”
One way good employees accomplish this feat is knowing enough about the facility and the town you’re in, so they don’t have to hand you off to someone else when you have a basic question.
4. Distinctive, Well-Appointed Guest Rooms That Are Exactly What You’ve Asked for
One way the better hotels and resorts distinguish themselves from low- and mid-range chains is with distinctive accents and amenities that help you experience the local flavor. Harrison says she looks for “refined goods and services that show true taste and respect.”
This includes high-quality bath and beauty products, and a sampling of local treats like snacks and other goodies. Also expect ample drawer and closet space, a safe; puffy hangers, free bottled water, robes and slippers, and an iPod dock.
Pay attention to whether you’ve been assigned to exactly the kind of room you’ve requested, including:
* Room category or level
* Room location: floor, view, proximity to elevators, etc.
* Special classifications: e.g., pet-friendly, disability accommodations
* The type of bed you requested
5. On-Site Services That Delight
The guest rooms are critical to a superior hotel experience, of course, but what really sets great hotels apart is the range and quality of services that make your stay a special experience — without needing to upgrade to “club-level.” Harrison’s list of these services includes:
24-hour fitness center
The facility should include at least a range of basic equipment: a StairMaster, a treadmill, a stationary bike, free weights, and floor mats.
A social lobby
Look for an area away from the drafty entrance, with couches and wifi. Bar service for the social lobby is nice, too.
You should be put in touch with reliable providers for babysitting, petsitting, dog-walking, etc., before or after you arrive for your stay.
A concierge deserving of the title doesn’t push guests toward tourist traps. This should be someone you can rely on for spot-on recommendations, and help getting where you need to go in comfort and on time.
And the basic services:
* Unpacking and packing
* Room service
6. A Variety of Excellent Food and Drink
Even if you’re planning on having most of your meals outside the hotel, a solid reputation for on-site restaurants is a good indicator of a hotel’s overall quality. Look for a hotel that offers a variety of options in addition to room service, including fine dining, casual or pub-style dining, a grab-and-go shop and/or a premium coffee shop. It’s a good sign when locals frequent the hotel’s restaurants and bars.
Harrison says finer hotel restaurants should have some organic choices on the menu, with ingredients sourced from local producers. Vegan and vegetarian options are also a must today, and the hotel chef should be able to accommodate people who can’t eat dairy, gluten. etc.
7. Quick Resolution of Problems
This is where the best hotels really shine. The first staff member you report a problem to should own it and see to it personally that the situation is resolved — or that you are connected directly with someone who can resolve it.
Hotels that respond best to difficulties usually have a resident manager or a GM-level boss available at all times. And “available” doesn’t mean hiding in an office.
At The Edgewater, for example, you’ll most often find Senior Vice President/COO Amy Supple out among the guests.
“When you engage with a guest who’s having some difficulty, you need to do more than just hand them off to another employee as fast as possible,” Amy says. “You need to listen, show that you understand the situation, and prove you’re going to do what it takes to make things right.”
In the end, “luxury” is in the eye of the beholder. Decide what’s most important to your comfort and enjoyment, and ask specific questions about potential accommodations until you’re promised what you want — and don’t be shy about making sure the promises are kept.