Forbes Travel Guide unveiled its 2016 Star Rating winners, and Asia dominates the list, with two of its cities boasting the most Five-Star hotels worldwide. While we expanded to more than 100 international destinations this year, Asian cities continued to make a strong showing, with veteran winners maintaining their prestigious ratings and new entries having impressive debuts. We give you a breakdown of the winners.
Despite the economic downturn, Macau proved that it remains a premier travel spot. Macau holds onto its title of most Five-Star hotels in a given destination, tying with Paris, a newly rated city. (Hong Kong comes in second with eight top award winners). The brand-new addition of MGM Macau brings Macau’s tally to nine Five-Star hotels, which also include Altira Macau; Banyan Tree Macau; Conrad Macao, Cotai Central; Crown Towers Macau; Encore Macau; Four Seasons Hotel Macao, Cotai Strip; Mandarin Oriental, Macau; and Wynn Macau.
“Forbes Travel Guide’s ratings confirm that the hospitality and gaming industries in Macau are heavily invested in ‘best of class’ service and quality,” says Peter Finamore, MGM China’s chief operating officer – hospitality. “This cluster of ‘best of class’ assets helps to shape Macau’s future as a global tourism destination.”
MGM also has its own plans to help make China’s version of Las Vegas even more of a tourism destination. This year, it will debut its new Tri Spa brand, expand its retail footprint, launch the first phase of food and beverage and nightlife redevelopment, and begin planning for a 2017 renovation of its guest rooms and suites. Plus, MGM Macau will share its DNA and culture with its sister property, MGM Cotai, when it opens in the beginning of 2017.
Four Seasons Hotel Hangzhou at West Lake became the first Five-Star hotel in Hangzhou, a city about two hours outside of Shanghai that’s a big tourist draw with its mesmerizing West Lake. Celebrating its fifth anniversary in 2015, Four Seasons is at the forefront of Hangzhou’s burgeoning luxury market, as Park Hyatt, MGM and Shangri-La have plans to open hotels there.
“The ratings are very important as a reflection of the quality of the experience possible in Hangzhou,” says Four Seasons general manager Alastair McAlpine. “The challenge in attaining a Five-Star rating is the simple fact that every day is a ‘restart.’ The wonderful measure of Forbes Travel Guide ensures a hotel cannot be like a vending machine and be purely functional — it demands a high level of personal, intuitive service to achieve a Five-Star rating.”
“Our team has to get that right every day, in every instant and when mistakes are made to be humble enough to accept them and see how to improve for the next time such a situation arises. This demand puts a huge pressure on the whole team every day,” McAlpine says.
Tokyo saw a pair of new properties in the Marunouchi district catapult to Five-Star status. Palace Hotel Tokyo and The Peninsula Tokyo joined previous winner Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo in earning the top honor. For The Peninsula Tokyo, a sleek, modern enclave, this accomplishment is piled on top of its existing Five-Star spa, one of only two in the city.
Palace Hotel Tokyo’s win had its own special significance for the country. “The Five-Star recognition is especially meaningful to us, particularly as the first-ever Japanese-branded hotel to receive it, because from the very beginning, we set out to be an ambassador of ‘the best of Japan’ in every aspect of both our facilities and our services,” says executive director and general manager Masaru Watanabe. “This is something that we feel we have succeeded in continuously doing, thus far — as many of our guests as well as media would attest to — so to be able to gain recognition for the brand as one that is distinctly Japanese and one which undeniably meets international luxury standards is a great achievement for us. It is both very humbling and very rewarding.”
Watanabe says that the pursuit has not been easy. “In the three-and-a-half years since we opened, we have worked tirelessly to continuously improve our standards,” he says. “We specifically focused on our service standards, meticulously comparing them one by one against Forbes Travel Guide’s rigorous benchmarks to identify where the gaps were. We were determined to better meet the needs of both our domestic and international guests, and weighing our standards against Forbes Travel Guide’s assessment went a long way in helping us bridge those gaps. We’ve also continued to invest a great deal of time and effort into language training to improve the staff’s ability to communicate with overseas travelers.”
According to Watanabe, the Five-Star affirms Japan’s own take on hospitality. “I believe what makes the experience in Japan most unique — whether at a ryokan, a resort or an urban hotel — is the omotenashi, the distinctive Japanese hospitality that has, many would say, become world renowned because of the graciousness and genuinely heartfelt service from which all hospitality is extended,” he says, “I truly believe there is something very distinctive, very special about Japanese hospitality. It’s difficult to describe, but easy to sense.”
Bangkok welcomes its second Five-Star hotel with the addition of The Peninsula Bangkok (Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok claims the other). The hotel along the Chao Phraya river also made the list with its new Four-Star The Peninsula Spa Bangkok.
According to Peninsula general manager Katja Henke, the rating carries much meaning: “It confirms and emphasizes that Bangkok is not only a vibrant city full of life, color and flavor, but also a metropolitan with world-class hospitality and service, and this will help gain confidence from high-end travelers when they are planning to visit Bangkok and trying to find accommodation.”
“Bangkok makes luxury travel unique and different,” Henke says. “From the vibrant restaurant scene to world-class luxury shopping and breathtaking spas to luxury hospitality offerings, Bangkok is more alive than ever, and it is the chameleon of Asian capital cities. Whether visitors are looking for luxury or authentic ‘back to basics’ experiences, visitors have a vast choice.”
“From Thai street food to French fine dining, from treasure hunting at Chatuchak weekend market to luxury label offerings, from sinking into the magical world of Thai spas to experiencing Thai luxury hospitality paired with Peninsula service and heritage, visitors will find themselves surrounded by everything they hoped for,” she says. “The best of Bangkok’s various offerings and components can be combined to make luxury travel possible, while authenticity and local touches make it unique.”
Forbes Travel Guide first entered Guangzhou in 2015, awarding Five-Stars to Four Seasons Hotel Guangzhou and The Ritz-Carlton, Guangzhou. This year, Mandarin Oriental, Guangzhou joins their ranks and brings along a new Four-Star spa.
What makes the new winner stand out from the rest? “People, location and design,” says general manager Clemens Hoerth. “Our legendary quality experience and Asian-inspired, unobtrusive and personalized service culture that is unique to Mandarin Oriental. Located in Tianhe, Mandarin Oriental, Guangzhou is the only hotel connected to TaiKoo Hui, South China’s most luxurious shopping complex, and designed by the award-winning Tonychi and Associates. Guests can luxuriate in our traditional Chinese courtyard concept living.”
Guests also can bask in more opulence at the newly minted Five-Star hotel later this year. Ebony, its rooftop grill, will receive an upgrade and reopen in March with a contemporary interior and a refreshed outdoor setting. Plus, it will debut Guangzhou’s first gin bar in the beginning of April.
China’s largest city is already home to a number of Five-Stars, including Four Seasons Hotel Pudong, Shanghai; Mandarin Oriental Pudong, Shanghai; The Peninsula Shanghai; and Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on the Bund. But two new entries give Shanghai even more to brag about: The Ritz-Carlton Shanghai, Pudong and Waldorf Astoria Spa Shanghai.
Opened in 2010 in the modern Pudong side of the city, the Ritz-Carlton represents the new Shanghai with its all-glass façade and updated Art Deco-inspired décor. The amenities seem endless: It offers 58th-floor Flair, the highest rooftop bar in China; a great location atop the designer IFC mall; an avant-garde Four-Star spa that provides ESPA and Valmont treatments; a lounge and jazz club; views of the neighboring Oriental Pearl TV Tower and the city from almost anywhere in the hotel. And now, it can add Five-Star service to the list.
Across the Huangpu River in the more historic Puxi section of town, Waldorf Astoria Spa Shanghai is tucked inside Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on the Bund. It’s one of only two new Five-Star spas this year (the other is The Spa at Fairmont Grand Del Mar in San Diego). The indulgent treatment rooms come equipped with their own private steam room and rain shower, heated treatment beds, marble vanities, leather couches and fresh flowers. The services change with the season, incorporating traditional Chinese therapies and modern techniques.