If John Autelitano, general manager at Sydney’s The Darling, seemed a bit star struck at Forbes Travel Guide Star Awards gala on March 1, it was for good reason — legendary hotelier Steve Wynn, Ritz-Carlton founder Horst Schulze, internationally renowned chef Daniel Boulud and other icons of the hospitality industry were sitting just a few tables over from him.
Autelitano was among such an illustrious crowd because The Darling was the proud recipient of a Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star distinction, making it one of only two Aussie properties — Crown Towers Melbourne being the other — to receive the esteemed top designation in the country’s first year of being rated.
“It was very emotional,” says Autelitano, about the recognition. “[It was] the culmination of all the hard work, love, dedication, sacrifice, mentoring and daily lessons learnt by me and all those I learnt from along the way. This honor has been a goal of mine for many years, and to share it with the very focused, talented and caring team at The Darling made it all the sweeter. I am so proud of them and our brand.”
In a sense, the Forbes Travel Guide gala was a sort of coming-out party for Australia. In addition to the two aforementioned hotel triumphs, a host of other Four-Star winners (Park Hyatt Melbourne; The Langham, Sydney; and Park Hyatt Sydney) and Recommended hotels (Grand Hyatt Melbourne; The Langham, Melbourne; InterContinental Sydney; and Shangri-La Hotel, Sydney) were also named.
“This just reiterates to my wonderful team all the hard work and effort they put in each and every day,” says Park Hyatt Sydney general manager Marc von Arnim. “We have a wonderful team of associates that focus all their energy and efforts into ensuring our guests feel cared for and leave with wonderful memories of Park Hyatt Sydney and our beautiful harbor city.”
Most people certainly know Sydney for its iconic opera house. Melbourne is beloved for being the home of the Australian Open tennis tournament. But with Forbes Travel Guide’s inaugural ratings in the region, the country so readily identified with bouncy marsupials and barrier reefs shows that it has breathtaking hotels in bustling metropolises, too.
“Melbourne is gaining more visibility thanks to the city’s extraordinary restaurants, bars and cafés,” says Tara Bishop, public relations director for The Langham, Melbourne. “Following the second World War, there was an influx of talented and passionate Greek and Italian immigrants who helped to shape Melbourne’s culinary landscape. Add in a open-minded society who is sports-, fashion-, theater- and arts-focused and you have a recipe for a city that’s full of history, events, festivals and many outdoor areas.”
Sydney, a world-class city that showed off its global chops while hosting the 2000 Summer Olympics, has kept its name near the top of many travelers’ bucket lists thanks to an influx of great restaurants, a slew of impressive art galleries and, of course, great hotels. The city will add the Sofitel Sydney Darling Harbour to the roster in late 2017. The Ritz-Carlton, Sydney is expected in 2020.
Not to be outdone, InterContinental Perth City Centre will debut near the end of 2017 while W Melbourne is tentatively scheduled to open its doors in 2020.
Suffice it to say, Forbes Travel Guide inspectors will be busy in Australia for the foreseeable future.
Before Forbes Travel Guide even entered the Aussie market, the country had an independent hospitality ratings operation in place. Star Ratings Australia, founded in the 1950s, was a respected system that used more than 200 criteria for its property ratings. SRA ceased operations in February 2017. Forbes Travel Guide will fill that void by inspecting hotels, restaurants and spas against more than 800 objective standards.
“Up until now,” Autelitano says, “we have only had a domestic rating system, which is largely self-regulated. Tourism is Australia’s largest services export and the industry is growing strongly. The demand for world-class hotels, restaurants, etcetera is rising, and now we have a globally recognized benchmark for excellence.”
Though not necessarily reflected in the scoring tabulation, onsite experiences are as important to hotel guests as anything else — especially in Australia. “Creating special and unique experiences is what we do best,” von Arnim says.
This would certainly explain why, when you check into Park Hyatt Sydney, you’ll notice that your room and public spaces are adorned by art from local talents such as painter Tim Johnson and photographer Robert Billington.
Or when you stop by Crown Towers Melbourne’s Mr. Hive Kitchen & Bar, just about every item on the menu, from the dry-aged Gippsland beef to the Pocketwatch sauvignon blanc, has an Aussie angle to it.
And how when you require some spa time during your Shangri-La Hotel Sydney stay, you notice the Crystalus Body Massage, a wholly localized experience that incorporates Australian healing stones and the essence of area plants to help in the rejuvenating process.
“Travelers in the luxury segment are very discerning and have extremely high expectations,” von Arnim says. “It is our goal to ensure that we exceed these expectations by training our team and ensuring that we are delivering authentic hospitality.”
As the 2017 ratings clearly show, Down Under is more than up to the challenge. If it keeps this kind of pace, who knows, within the next five years, Forbes Travel Guide might be having its Star Awards gala in Sydney or Melbourne.
We can only imagine what kinds of things will be going through Autelitano’s head that night.