Thursday, March 5, 2009

What Are the Objective Standards Used to Award a Five Star Rating?

Some people are of the opinion that challenging Regent Seven Seas Cruises "Six Star Luxury" claim is, well,biased toward Seabourn or some other line. They even feel that such a challenge is an unfair or cruel attack on them, personally, or their happiness. To the contrary, the star rating system was originally established an an "objective" standard which has been exploited by many entities over the years.

Regent cheerleaders, "Hold on to your hats. This is going to be a bumpy ride!" When you are finished reading this purely and independently objective piece you are going to resent all that "Six Star Luxury" marketing hype that has been placed...with a very big smile...before you.

The Mobile Travel Guide (MTG) site states exactly the concern that I have stated: "For travelers who use the Internet to plan trips, hotel ratings have become seriously suspect. All major travel Web sites offer ratings that appear to help consumers find hotels that meets their requirements. In reality these ratings are intended to help sell hotel rooms, not to provide a consumer unbiased, information that they can trust. Comparisons of Web sites' ratings reveal wild fluctuations that can only be described as confusing (at best) or misleading (at worst). For online travelers, be careful which ratings you trust!"

MTG goes on to quote an independent source as stating, "Travel websites are rife with complaints from travelers who feel they are misled about the quality of a hotel. Frequently ratings conflict to the point of being nonsense ... Mobil Travel Guide is the gold standard in the United States." ... The Wall Street Journal, January 2004 56% of all leisure travelers agree that "hotel guide ratings such as those provided by Mobil Travel Guide and AAA are important when selecting hotel accommodations." - YPB&R/Yankelovich Partners, 2004 National Leisure Travel Monitor

MTG uses unannounced in person visits to the various hotels and uses an objective checklist from which its ultimate rating arises. There is an inspection of the physical plant (for cleanliness, physical condition and location). Service is measured in a second incognito visit by 500 different measures over a period of days "interacting with staff, having a drink at the bar, ordering room service, visiting the spa and taking advantage of other services that a standard guest would encounter.­ "

Measured items include such things a such as graciousness, efficiency and luxury, staff appearance, behavior and skill level as well as food quality, housekeeping and concierge services, etc. Most of the standards are absolute,such as luggage being delivered within 10 minutes (yes/no). Inspectors also detail their thoughts as part of the inspection.

So what are the some of the expectations of a Mobile Five Star rating (quoting directly from MTG, bolded by me for emphasis):

"Exceptionally distinctive luxury environment offering consistently superlative, personalized service and the ultimate in amenities, make these hotels and inns the best in the U.S. and Canada. Attention to detail and the anticipation of every need are evident throughout this exclusive group of hotels. These hotels are remarkable in every aspect from the plush and elegant guest room design to the unforgettable culinary experiences."

- Staff is extremely well spoken, polite and clear, avoids slang and phrase-fragments.
- Staff is extremely well informed about requirements within their department.
- Overall service is flawless from initial reservation call to departure service.
- Guests are offered an escort to their rooms unless they specifically decline.
- If pool service is available, guests are proactively greeted and escorted to their chairs, and set-up assistance is provided or offered.

- If pool service is available, during a 90 minute period and in warm conditions, some sort of complimentary refreshment is offered (for example, mineral water, fresh fruit, water spritz).

In the Restaurant, specifically:

- Service is warm, gracious and anticipatory and committed to providing the guest with a fantastic dining experience
- Pace of meal is never noticed by guest; there are no awkward delays or rushed events
- Food presentations are perfectly executed with evident care given to each individual item on each plate
- Food is flawless, a delightful and interesting experience

(If you want more detail, you can review quite a bit of the MTG standards online.)

Now, is Seabourn "Five Star"? Yes. Is it "perfect"? No. There will always be a slip-up or miss, but Seabourn consistently hits the Five Star criteria. Could it be considered Four Star + because the triplets do not have true balconies? Actually I don't think so, because it is but one criteria and a suite with a full marble bath weights much heavier. (As, the new Seabourn Odyssey is almost all balcony, so that will soon become less of an issue for those that actually want a balcony.)

Is Silversea "Five Star"? Is SeaDream? If they are not Five Star (and they may well be), they are most certainly 4 Star+ (using the same criteria). Why? Am I biased toward Seabourn? No. SeaDream has cabins; not suites (forget about balconies) and other limitations in its physical plant, while its service and cuisine is excellent. Silversea has the physical plant, but it has had some acknowledged slippage in service and cuisine and now charges for more of its specialty restaurants. Fair comment?

Regent, however, simply cannot compare to these lines. You are not greeted with Molton Brown, Bulgari, Hermes, etc. amenities. The staff is not flawless and, as some have recently observed, are overtly disgruntled. Extended waits in the dining room and less than inspired cuisine is commonplace. These are facts, not opinion. And the standards are what they are: Objective.

Having now read the foregoing, and my immediately prior posts about Regent, is there any "objective" standard by which one can claim I am biased? All I have done, and will always do for my clients, is call it as I see it...and this is not even close to being open for legitimate argument.

Now, does anyone really believe Regent Seven Seas Cruises is "Six Star Luxury"...or even "Five Star"?