By Kaye Estoista-Koo
It’s a wonderful thing to stay in a thrice-awarded five-star property which has earned that distinction three years in a row. But when that five-star rating is given by Forbes Travel Guide (FTG), those Five-Stars become their weight in gold.
Recently, Marco Polo Ortigas Manila was awarded its third FiveStar rating from the FTG. As the only purveyor of luxury hotels, spas, and restaurants, the FTG rightfully takes pride in being the only independent and global rating system of those establishments. Their Five-Star rating is the most coveted rating, given only to outstanding and iconic properties with virtually flawless service and amazing facilities.
And with the Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star, those five golden stars are as real and luxurious as it gets. Here, we highlight why such a distinction matters and how you can start experiencing the difference the next time you spot those Five-Stars.
First, it is important to note that this respected rating system verifies luxury, pays full price, and stays anonymously—at the cost that such a rating cannot be bought, ever. Yet so many properties and establishments the world overclaim to be a Five-Star property. How then do you distinguish Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star properties from those that simply say they are five-star properties, especially on the hotel booking apps and websites we find online?
This is where the real deal matters and can be felt the moment you enter the space right outside the hotel.
Filip Boyen, CEO of Forbes Travel Guide, who was recently in the country for his first visit to the Philippines, remarks, “Seventy-five percent needs to be based on the service aspect because that’s what makes the difference. In your experience, if you stay in a hotel that is beautiful, but has terrible service, will you go back?”
EXCELLENCE IS HUMAN CONNECTION
Luxury travelers come to expect a certain level of architecture, hardware, and service. And for a property to reach the echelons of a Five-Star rating, experience and emotion are keys for the luxury traveler.
Boyen adds, “The modern luxury traveler and the affluent traveler are much more interested in emotional experiences and memories than they are in the physical aspect. We feel that every top hotel that we inspect has already fantastic hardware.”
As he so succinctly worded it, from the moment you alight your vehicle in the hotel lobby to when you enter the doors and step into the elevator (or lift, if you are in that kind of country), the Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star experience should be palpable. So even if you stay in the hotel where the hardware is not the best but the service is out of this world, you go back, Boyen says.
Good service trumps a lot of things. He adds, “A big trend that’s changing now is that people want to be modern travelers connected with the communities. 20 years ago, if a client would go to the concierge and would like to eat outside, the concierge would do everything possible to keep that client a prisoner in the hotel.” Today, concierge services are in the know and should be able to recommend well, with a good concierge knowing the 20 top restaurants in the city and their menus.
“Don’t forget, when the client comes home, he will say, ‘My God! That hotel was really special. They really helped me discover the destination, connecting with the local community.’
And it’s important they know the secret little places in that destination and especially personalities because people want to be connected with interesting people, artists, writers,” he shares.
The moment you alight your vehicle in the hotel lobby to when you enter the doors and step into the elevator, the Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star experience should be palpable.
EXCELLENCE IS THE LITTLE THINGS
At Marco Polo Ortigas Manila, from the moment the attendants see you alight from the car and proceed to enter the lobby, experience is top of mind, general manager Frank Reichenbach says. The housekeeping staff and the restaurant staff will know what to check and attend to—including if, for example, a drink has been delivered within three minutes from the request, this is something the concierge, guest services, and housekeeping are all aware of.
He says they follow strict guidelines per category and makes sure everyone abides by them.
Each FTG inspector pays for their stay, a minimum of two nights on the first visit and with possible extension or repeat visits. Absolutely nothing is sponsored, as Boyen declares that a Forbes rating cannot be purchased or sponsored, no matter how hard an establishment lobbies for it.
EXCELLENCE IS CONSISTENCY
FTG prides itself on having 56 inspectors who, as identified by FTG through social media and other data from travel guides, visit the top hotels per area in each region or country.
Boyen reveals, “This year, we’re going into Mauritius for the first time. We let the hotels know that we’re coming and then we rate them in the next eight to nine months. The inspectors are paid by us and we book like a normal customer. We pay our bills, we pay for the room, we pay for the food and beverage, the spa, and the hotel doesn’t even know that they’ve been inspected.”
The mystery shopper experience keeps everyone on their toes. At Marco Polo Ortigas Manila, they strive for and try to live by a certain level of consistency all year round.
And to maintain a Five-Star rating, the standards have to all be met when an inspector comes by again. A hotel that has been awarded a Five-Star in 2019 could drop down to Four Star, also awarded by the FTG in the next inspection cycles.
Boyen stresses this point, “The most important thing about Forbes Travel Guide, you cannot buy a rating. You have to earn the rating and it is not easy because we have 900 standards, 75 percent based on service, on the emotional aspect of your stay. In other words, how does this hotel make me feel as a client?”
Boyen explains that when a hotel gets a low score, they go on performance notification, “Get your act together. And they can get their star rating removed and go down to Four Stars. To get Five-Stars, you need to hit 90 percent of the standards.” Reichenbach remarks that even if you want to prepare for the arrival of FTG inspectors, it would be next to impossible. “You never know when and how.”
While FTG inspectors usually stay a minimum of two nights, they extend and sometimes even come back, Reichenbach remarks that even if you want to prepare for the arrival of FTG inspectors, it would be next to impossible. “You never know when and how.”
While FTG inspectors usually stay a minimum of two nights, they extend and sometimes even come back, Reichenbach shares. “After the first time, some come back a second time just to see if it’s a fluke.”
Marco Polo, now with Five-Star ratings from FTG for the past three years, is not one to rest on its laurels. They continue to push the luxury travel experience further, looking for ways to improve, enhance, and stay consistent.
Boyen remarks that getting a coveted and elusive Five-Stars not once but three times in a row is quite rare, “That’s amazing. Not very often, because we make it harder every year. We have to evolve, like how the expectations of the luxury clients are evolving. We need to follow that in our standards.”
Because standards today are very different than they were 20 years ago, to score that three years in a row is very difficult. They will be adding more standards over the next cycles, like sustainability standards and integration of technology in the rooms and hotel experience. For example, if it takes a client three days to figure out how to operate a state-of-theart entertainment system, that is a negative. Boyen remarks, “For us, technology needs to work right.”
Reichenbach says that every day, they use a checklist based on the standards in the FTG so that everyone from top management to staff level is operating on those standards.
“The Philippines has a lot of potential for the future. What I look at first is the mentality of the people and here they are incredibly service minded. At this hotel, you see the expression on their faces and the pride and the joy. They are fired up, completely committed to do the Forbes way,” the FTG CEO says.
EXCELLENCE IS A WAY OF LIFE
The city with the most number of top hotels has just changed from Paris to London, followed by New York.
Forbes Travel Guide will be adding destinations in the Indian Ocean like the Maldives and then French Polynesia in places like Bora Bora. They are also expanding to Africa, especially with the surge in safaris and interest in Botswana and Kruger Park. They will also be checking more of the Middle East.
For Asia, he adds that there is room for expansion as they will be rating Cambodia for the first time and places like Vietnam and Burma which have so much potential.
In any area, FTG stays in touch with tourism organizations and gives new hotels time to settle down before FTG even considers rating them. Boyen says, “It takes about three to four years to get to Five-Star standard minimum. But here in Marco Polo, this becomes a way of life.”