When Hollywood finished celebrating its biggest night, the 91st Oscars, on February 24 in Los Angeles, the stars didn’t dissipate. They only slightly realigned from the Academy Awards’ Dolby Theatre home a few miles over to The Beverly Hilton as Forbes Travel Guide honored its own stars with Verified, The Forbes Travel Guide Luxury Summit on February 26 and 27.
The Beverly Hilton, the longtime host of the Golden Globes and legendary Grammy parties, rose to the occasion for the second year in a row to help Forbes Travel Guide honor the world’s most luxurious hotels, restaurants and spas. The eminently photogenic International Ballroom was as stellar a venue as you could expect for the awards dinner, though the summit took over other spaces in the Four-Star hotel for various exhibits and activities.
Verified’s Wellness Studio offered manicures from Dazzle Dry, massages with Gharieni, mini facials courtesy of Natura Bissé and virtual-reality experiences provided by Sharecare Windows (a sister company of Forbes Travel Guide). The Nespresso Lounge turned out vanilla espressos, of course, but the space also served Sunraysia Five Star juices and Torn Ranch snacks. And just outside of the hotel, a customized Airstream demonstrated how well Lutron’s intuitive lighting system could work with Mode:Green’s integrated technology in a fun exhibit with art and Luxe Bloom roses.
When all of the presenting and pampering concluded, it was time to celebrate. Festivities started with Forbes Travel Guide CEO Filip Boyen hosting the Moët & Chandon-sponsored Five-Star Awards Reception in the stunning Wilshire Garden for the year’s biggest winners.
That was followed by the Chairman’s Welcome Reception, an event general managers and owners used as a sort of reunion to catch up with old friends in between bites of hors d’oeuvres, posing for photos holding a Star-Rated plaque and bewildered stares at Moët’s personalized bottling machine in action.
“The Verified Luxury Summit can be summed up as the Oscars of the hotel industry,” said Bob van den Oord, managing director of The Langham London, which made its Five-Star debut this year. “The summit provided the perfect opportunity to network with old and new acquaintances and to share life experiences within this elite club.”
More sipping and sampling were to be had at the awards dinner. Verified’s signature event was kicked off by Italian tenor Vittorio Grigolo’s rousing voice. Host Brooke Shields never broke into song, but she more than made up for it with well-timed jokes (Shields declared she would be a better Forbes Travel Guide inspector than last year’s host, Sharon Stone, because she wouldn’t steal the hotel amenities) and vivid storytelling about her youth and years of travel (she accumulated so many hotel toiletries during her career as a young model that her mom gave them away to trick-or-treaters during Halloween).
With DJ Tony Okungbowa (best know for being The Ellen Show’s first resident DJ) supplying the night’s soundtrack, the two kept the event moving along at a wonderful pace for an audience that included industry heavyweights (Christian Clerc, president, worldwide hotel operations for Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts), first-time winners (Five-Star Rosewood San Miguel de Allende’s Alfredo Renteria) and Hollywood stars (Oscar winners Marisa Tomei and Marcia Gay Harden, as well as Dermot Mulroney).
But even these marquee names had to pause once The Peninsula Hotels, the first brand to ever earn Five-Star awards for each of its properties, took to the stage to have all 10 general managers recognized for their brilliant work. The tremendous achievement was rightfully honored with a standing ovation.
Melco Resorts & Entertainment CEO Lawrence Ho also captivated the audience with a personal account of the origins of his newest Macau property, the mesmerizing Morpheus. He left the attendees with some advice: “Design things that have never been done before and dream big.”
Boyen bounced back and forth onto the stage with his own tales of his hospitality roots. All the while, The Beverly Hilton culinary team served impressive plates of rainbow marble potato and grass-fed filet mignon that were paired perfectly with J. LOHR, Justin, DAOU and Hope Family Wines, all of which hail from California’s underrated Paso Robles region.
Once dinner concluded, guests followed their ears across the hotel to the Afterglow, a lavish party filled with Okungbowa’s pulsating tunes, more libations and a magnificent spread of late-night bites. Revelers are probably still deciding what they enjoyed most at the soiree — their colleagues’ dance moves, the incredibly smooth finish of the Johnnie Walker Black Label being passed around or the popular macaroni-and-cheese bar.
The next morning started with even more deliciousness, this time in the form of banana and strawberry toasts, wild honeys and more traditional dishes cooked up on the terrace adjacent to the Nespresso Lounge.
Inside the International Ballroom, guests hungry for more information found just that at the symposium. Moderated by Hotel Impossible’s Anthony Melchiorri, the panel of industry disruptors — author Chip Conley (formerly of Airbnb), 12:29’s Dawn Goldworm, CLEAR’s Ken Cornick, Celebrity Cruises’ Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, Nespresso’s Guillaume Le Cunff and journalist Peter Greenberg — brought diverse voices to a discussion on the future of luxury hospitality.
But high-end hotels aren’t Forbes Travel Guide’s lone focus. The company also takes pride in partnering with worthy non-profit organizations. This year’s beneficiary, Best Friends Animal Society, was chosen for its ongoing quest to ensure that all abandoned pets find a home. One of the group’s biggest champions, actress Amanda Seyfried, spoke to attendees about the important roles that Best Friends and her four-legged bestie, Finn, play in her life.
Once the symposium concluded, Verified guests made their way back out to the Wilshire Garden for a farewell lunch that was thoughtfully arranged by neighboring Five-Star Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills. But in grand Forbes Travel Guide fashion, the meal was far from an afterthought. There was a Ketel One bloody mary bar that had ingredients ranging from celery stalks to bacon strips. A beef tenderloin station routinely had lines of 15 to 20 patrons. And you couldn’t miss a sushi and raw seafood table that was beautifully set near a living wall.
Verified organizers said they hope guests will fondly recall the food, fun and information-rich forums from this year’s event.
“What better way to be exposed to new ideas than spending 48 hours with -plus seasoned hoteliers who all share the same mutual insights?” van den Oord asked.
Of course, if he and his cohorts think the 2019 installment of hospitality’s biggest night was special, they’re going to love seeing what the stars have lined up for next year.