It’s awards season: the Golden Globes, the BAFTAs, the Oscars and now the Hotel Mogels. What began as a fun little exercise last year in sharing some of the key insights from my yearly travels is now even more relevant this year as I’ve continued to traverse the globe and have stayed at 45 exquisite properties.
And so, I’m happy to present to you the second annual Hotel of the Year Awards. As always, the goal is not merely to congratulate these fine establishments, but to provide inspiration and instruction for other hoteliers to emulate. Even though this is a biased list as it pertains only to my own journey, each property was nonetheless memorable for one reason or another and, when you have slept in so many different beds year-in year-out, you start to notice the patterns for what works and what doesn’t.
This year’s winners are all well-deserved, and my hope for you is to focus on why they won and what you can apply to your own place of work and to your own personal development.
Best Renovation Award: Every hotel must update their guestrooms on a regular basis – that’s a given as well as a headache! The Boston Harbor Hotel has proven to be exceptional in this regard. Along with an excellent interior design remodeling, the updated rooms included two 55” TV monitors, LED lighting and free-to-use iPads with all of the expected apps as well as the most popular e-magazines. Even with all of these technological additions, the property maintained its sense of tradition with hardcover books on the coffee table and easy-to-operate in-room controls.
Best Housekeeping Award: If you’ve ever taken a gander at TripAdvisor, then you know the critical importance of housekeeping. For the second year in a row, this one goes to the Halukelani in Honolulu where perfection knows no bounds with spotless cleaning, extra-large bathroom amenities and fantastically plush, high-thread-count towels. In the guestroom, the hotel has paid attention to even the smallest details, coiling each power cord neatly in a plastic clip. Each night, a different turndown item appeared on my pillow, with fresh fruit plastic-covered and positioned on an adjacent table, ready for morning consumption. Water bottles were rapidly replenished with no growl-inducing price tags in sight. Somehow, the evening’s housekeepers surreptitiously synchronized to our schedule and never interrupted our pre-dinner preparations.
Best Overall Service: When checking in to the Montage Beverly Hills, I distressingly remarked that I had 30 minutes to return my rental car – my mistake for only getting a one-day rental then deciding to tour the vastness of Los Angeles prior to heading to the hotel. In any case, the car valet immediately volunteered to drive the rental about six blocks away to the nearest dealership and walk back. This is one phenomenal instance of an associate going above and beyond, but then there are the little touches. For example, I left my laptop on the desk but not plugged into the charger, and when I returned it was plugged in. Next, my always-amazing wife and travel partner purchased some linens from a neighborhood store and wanted to get a second set in a different color. She called the concierge and they were delivered by FedEx to our home in Toronto within a few days. The only explanation for such pervasive commitment to service is a culture of consummate success.
Best Hotel Breakfast: On the same level as impeccable housekeeping, I consider F&B to be integral to a hotel’s success because, well, everyone eats. As such, the restaurant awards have been parsed into three with one for each course. As it concerns the morning meal, I have been to many hotel buffets before and nothing compares to the St. Regis Princeville Resort in Hawaii for both selection and service. Despite this being a buffet (menu service is also available), there were multiple staff members available to assist with further descriptions and customization. Fruit juice offerings were anything but ‘orange and grapefruit’ to say the least. Baked goods were fresh and innovative. The coffee was local as well as highly addictive. On top of all the delights offered by the food, the view of the mountains across Hanalei Bay was nothing short of breathtaking and made the breakfast truly unforgettable.
Best Hotel Lunch: If you want a leisurely boozy lunch with incredible surroundings, Auberge du Soleil in Rutherford, California fits the bill perfectly. We arrived on a rainy day – a rarity in Napa Valley – and ate in the bar as the mountain-view patio, sadly, was closed. Should this be the case on your visit, take solace in the fact that you are amongst the most professional servers and chefs in the industry. The wine selection provided over a dozen by-the-glass favorites, all of them local and all of them fantastic as well as reasonably priced. While the menu selection was traditional, each dish was crafted to absolute perfection, thus expertly reaffirming the adage ‘if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it’.
Best Hotel Dinner: The new restaurant at the Montage Beverly Hills, Georgie provides a rare combination of place, service and product with a bold, nouveau-LA selection of appetizers and entrées. There are probably a dozen worthy restaurants within a five-minute walk of Georgie, so competition is tough to say the least. Georgie’s success is a testament to not only great culinary offerings, but also getting all the auxiliary variables correct – designer-inspired uniforms, excellent menu art direction, lavish décor and lighting to set the mood, service, and pricing that does not intimidate nor render the location as special-occasion-only. It is a complex formula to balance all these factors, and clearly Georgie has mastered them all.
Best Hotel for Families: The Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort sets a new bar for how to focus on younger guests. Every aspect of the property has been designed with children in mind, yet also completely tasteful so that parents do not feel disenfranchised. The reception area has a touch-screen TV monitor mounted a few inches above the floor to encourage toddlers to interact and explore the property. Their PB&G Restaurant is positioned for ‘fun meals’, and does not disappoint with seven charmingly delicious options on the kids’ menu. Most notable of all, however, the resorts’ five pools are differentiated by the age of the ‘splashers’, with one set aside for folks like me who just want to relax without any kids around.
Best Resort: The winner this year is Montage Kapalua Bay in Maui, Hawaii. This resort’s exceptionally spacious suites are part of a larger residential complex. In terms of ‘sense of arrival’, the traditionally authentic Hawaiian welcome was reinforced by local cultural explanations so that guest education was also a factor. Service was in keeping with Montage level of quality. And even though the property was sold out, I rarely saw any other guests! Sunday morning at Cane & Canoe, Montage Kapalua Bay’s signature dining spot, started with the servers wheeling out a full cart of Bloody Marys while also affording imbibers the option of selecting from dozens of hot sauces, vodkas and other components to build the cocktail to each guest’s own specifications.
Best Small Hotel: With under 30 rooms and suites, the Fogo Island Inn located in Newfoundland, Canada is near-impossible to get to, necessitating a flight to Gander, one hour by car, a 30-minute ferry and another 20-minute drive. When I was there in May, the rain didn’t let up for three days and the temperature hovered around freezing. This did not matter in the end, though. Architecturally, the property is pure genius. My floor-to-ceiling guestroom windows made the icebergs appear to be crashing into the foundation below. There was no television, but I didn’t miss it as I spent my evenings cuddled in front of a pot-belly stove after gormandizing on a delectable, all-you-dare-to-eat meal. Each morning, a carpenter’s box was presented outside my door, filled with a thermos of coffee and hot baked goods. Complimentary homemade snacks and drink service further enhanced each evening’s communal movie showing. Next, a local musician performed every night while at dinner while the bar served drinks with ice chipped directly off of glaciers that had made their way into the bay. With brilliant F&B and the friendliest service you will find on this continent – albeit with the highest prices for any property in the country – put this hotel on your bucket list.
And the Hotel Mogel Hotel of the Year for 2016 is: The Meritage Resort & Spa in Napa, California. You may find this choice odd, given that this is not a Forbes five-star or AAA five-diamond entry. Meritage happens to be a 322-room property with 50,000 square feet of meeting space that thrives in a mainstream, multi-segment environment, and competing for corporate groups, weddings, local IBTs as well as the predictable leisure travelers. Checking in at 2am due to flight delays, the service was nevertheless what you would expect from an ultra-luxury hotel as they responded with a dinner brought up to my room even though the kitchen was closed. Somehow, the concierge knew about my situation from the night before and asked me if I needed to delay our dinner reservations. Meritage comes with a resort fee but this provides a great offset in the form of a complimentary bottle of wine. In terms of sense of place, the hilly land behind the resort is covered in vineyards. A doorway cut into the hill reveals a wine tasting room, meeting room and the spa. When I was there, several group functions were underway, and yet I did not feel as if I was in a ‘group house’ due to the cavernous layout. Meritage thus provides a powerful lesson for all hoteliers – mid-priced properties can compete and deliver exceptional service quality!
(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, published in Hotels Magazine on Friday, February 24, 2017)