Actress Sharon Stone, supermodel Cindy Crawford, nightlife impresario Rande Gerber, astronaut Buzz Aldrin, fashion designer Rachel Roy, actor Dermot Mulroney, Olympian Apolo Ohno and model/actress Bianca Stamegna were among the celebrities who gathered in The Beverly Hilton’s iconic International Ballroom to recognize the award winners during Verified, The Forbes Travel Guide Luxury Summit.
Stone stole the spotlight as she introduced Forbes Travel Guide CEO Jerry Inzerillo at the black-tie Five-Star gala, which kicked off the two-day event. “That’s right — I’m an undercover hotel ambassador,” she joked to the audience of leading hospitality professionals. “So next year, treat me a little nicer. When I say amenities, you know what I mean.”
She also praised the group. “It has been such a pleasure for me to be here with you tonight, because I’ve lived on the road all my life. I know what it takes to be good at what you do, to make a hotel really swing,” Stone said. “It’s one thing for it to be good, it’s another thing for it to be beautiful, it’s another thing for all the bells and whistles to run on time. But luxury, luxury only comes when you run a hotel with love. And if you’re in this room tonight, it’s because you’re good.”
More than 700 people from 40 countries attended the exclusive summit on February 27 and 28. “To me, it was like ‘The Oscar Party for Hoteliers,’” said Peter Humig, general manager of first-time Five-Star winner Four Seasons Hotel New York Downtown. “The venue was very special, and I think it would be fantastic to make it a permanent show in L.A. The star-studded event was like nothing I have ever attended, and it certainly contributed to the overall excitement.”
There was plenty of that excitement to go around. The St. Regis Punta Mita Resort was among those that earned top honors at the event. “Receiving the Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star award is an outstanding recognition to the passion for excellence of the entire St. Regis Punta Mita Resort team,” general manager James Hughes said. “Being among the 199 hotels worldwide to have achieved this remarkable accolade is an inspiration to continue doing what we love: create personalized and memorable experiences for each and every single guest.”
Boston Harbor Hotel is a veteran Five-Star winner, but it was director of rooms Gary Sloper’s first time attending the gala. “It was an eye-opening and amazing experience, and so clearly demonstrated the Forbes expertise of rewarding and recognizing excellence in our industry and the very hard work it takes to achieve said excellence.”
Sloper said the sense of camaraderie was palpable. “Instead of being competitors — and we are a very competitive group — we became a ‘brand’ under the Forbes banner. Just seeing the pride on everyone else’s faces was the best part because we all understood how hard it is to get there.”
Learning from Leaders
The morning after the gala found the Forbes Travel Guide team opening Luxury: Challenges & Changes, The Verified Symposium. Inzerillo discussed the importance of consistent, global ratings in an era of online confusion. Then Forbes Travel Guide executives unveiled a redesigned website, forbestravelguide.com; a brand-new app (available in the App Store and Google Play Store); destinations to be rated in 2019 (including the Bahamas, Belize, Uruguay, Turkey, Vietnam, Israel, Bahrain); and a partnership with Lobster Ink to collaborate on technology-enhanced training for properties.
What followed the Forbes Travel Guide presentations was a fascinating panel discussion with industry leaders, including fashion designer and stylist Rachel Zoe; ESPA founder and luxury spa pioneer Susan Harmsworth; U.S. Travel Association president and CEO Roger Dow; CBS News travel editor Peter Greenberg; Melco Resorts & Entertainment EVP, chief officer, CSR/HR Akiko Takahashi; and hotel, restaurant and spa designer and architect Gulla Jónsdóttir.
Entertainment Tonight cohost Kevin Frazier moderated the panel, which tackled luxury topics ranging from how design can play a role in the hotel wellness experience to how to cater to different travelers (by 2020, 45 percent of global revenues will come from millennials, and soon, one-third will hail from China).
Humig said the symposium really spoke to him. “Listening to Jerry’s vision about making Verified the authority of global hotel ratings — our industry is craving for a service like Verified as our consumers are confused by the myriad of different rating agencies ranging from TripAdvisor to phony rating companies who ‘sell’ awards. In the old days, AAA filled this void in the U.S. with their Five Diamond rating. But it never made it outside the U.S.”
Verified wasn’t all business. Throughout the summit, attendees were treated to luxurious mini facials and hand massages in Natura Bissé’s calming all-white pop-up spa complete with plush Frette robes and an oversized bubble room (the company said that since the bubble pumps out nearly 100 percent pure air, treatments performed inside are more effective).
12.29, whose clients include Valentino and Nike, offered an interactive class that had participants sniffing swatches and learning how fragrances can be used to build a brand.
But the final evening’s All Star Celebration provided the most fun during the summit. As rollicking band LA Allstars performed covers of everything from Bruno Mars to Robin Thicke, party goers waited in a snaking line to pose with their awards in front of the Instagram-worthy purple- and black-rose-covered step and repeat from Luxe Bloom (it had more than 3,000 flowers), tinkered with the Moët & Chandon vending machine, sipped cocktails from Diageo and visited the retro-chic Pan Am Experience exhibit (which simulated a plane cabin and bar).
The food was a highlight as well. Forbes Travel Guide gathered California’s best chefs to make bites for the evening: Geoffrey Zakarian and Wilfrid Hocquet, Georgie, Beverly Hills; Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Richard Archuleta, Jean-Georges Beverly Hills; William Bradley, Addison Restaurant, San Diego; Samir Roonwal, The Blvd, Beverly Hills; Hilary Henderson, CUT, Beverly Hills; Kaleo Adams, The Polo Lounge, Beverly Hills; Giuseppe Manco, The Restaurant at Mr. C, Beverly Hills; Craig Strong, Studio, Laguna Beach; Hugo Bolanos, Wolfgang Puck at Hotel Bel-Air, Beverly Hills; and Derek Poirier, Valrhona.
Despite the many different summit events, nothing could beat the honor of receiving an inaugural Five-Star distinction the first night.
“It was a very special moment,” Humig recalls of receiving his Five-Star plaque on the ballroom stage. “Of course, knowing that we are in a room where the Golden Globes are handed out just contributed to it. A career highlight of mine for sure. Thirty years from now, it still will be a special moment, as there is nothing like achieving Forbes Five-Star status.”