How to get a Forbes Five-Star Rating for your spa

The treehouse treatment room at Spa Botanico, Dorado Beach, a Ritz Carlton Reserve

Forbes Travel Guide is the global authority on luxury travel, and earning a Forbes Five Star rating for your spa ranks you among the most prestigious in the world. It’s like winning the Best Actress Oscar, but for a spa.

Both hotels and spas may receive four or five-star ratings. Some of the criteria for hotel ratings is explained here. How does one go about achieving the highest ratings for a spa? We asked Forbes’ Senior Vice President of ratings, Amanda Frasier, to share some insights. This is what we learned.

Always be prepared

First, as you likely know, Forbes inspectors are actual spies, sneakily travelling incognito, getting massages and pedicures and collecting information, then reporting back with their ratings on the service and facilities based on a proprietary system. (Not a bad life.) So, any one of your guests may be an inspector. And they are looking for the best service in the world – literally. So, there’s no room for bad days.

According to Frasier, who I talked with via email, the system algorithm is heavily weighted toward service; 75% service to 25% facility, to be precise. (I believe, based on this Tweet that was sent out in March, that this must be a new development.) And she explains that, “While having a beautiful facility is absolutely necessary, spas that go above and beyond when it comes to service rise naturally in our system.”

There are more than 200 service and facility standards in Forbes’ spa evaluation. All spas are assessed against the same standards, and the final composite score determines the star rating. Spas achieving 82% or higher are awarded Four-Star status while spas that achieve 92% or higher are awarded Five-Star status.

Imagine yourself in your guest’s place – always

Frasier says, “Our standards are all carefully constructed to assess the spa experience from the guest’s point of view, and while we do look at some important technical steps, it’s very much an ‘experiential’ approach. We measure multiple behaviors throughout the spa visit, such as acts of graciousness and signs of guest comfort. When executed well, in a natural and intuitive manner, there is the ability to elevate the overall guest experience – and therefore the score.”

Personalize the experience as elegantly as possible, and be detail oriented

We’ve talked before about how personalization is the key to customer experience, and it’s also one of the keys to a Forbes rating.

Frasier says, “We look to see what each spa is doing to not only set itself apart from the competition, but how they create unique, personalized service moments for each guest based on their specific needs or guest profile.

“It’s always memorable when staff introduce some unexpected element that helps to enhance the overall experience. We have seen spas inviting guests to make their own scrubs upon arrival to the spa, which is then incorporated into the treatment and then packaged and gifted as a take-home keepsake. It is all in the execution of course but when these high touch points are layered naturally on top of a beautiful facility and a technically well executed and effective treatment, it can combine to deliver some of the most memorable spa moments.”

You can’t fake caring, so don’t try

Asked how a spa could fall short and miss out on Forbes stars, Frasier said, “When service becomes robotic, or feels like a check list, the guest notices this and it detracts from their level of comfort. Our evaluators are meticulously trained to notice the subtle differences between genuine interest and service that is forced and scripted. This, along with facilities that show signs of deterioration or are generally not well cared for are the biggest areas that can negatively impact scores and overall guest experience.”

Be creative and innovative, stay on top of advancements

I asked Frasier if technological innovation plays a role in Forbes rating and her reply was a definitive “Yes, very much so.”

She went on to say, “We see spas innovating with technology all the time. Sometimes, the technology is very much behind the scenes and the guest is unaware their experience is being positively affected with its use. Other times, the technology is there for the guest to use and play with – on the most simple end it may be the provision of noise cancelling headphones in the relaxation lounges, the use of tablet technology as part of registration – or the latest treatment equipment that gives the ability to offer the more innovative wellness based treatments.”

Check out the latest recipients of Five Forbes Stars: Spa Botanico at Dorado Beach, a Ritz Carlton Reserve, and the Spa at the Ritz Carlton, Shanghai, Pudong

Spa Executive magazine is published by Book4Time, the world’s most innovative spa, salon, wellness, and activity management software. Learn more at


  1. Very informative and true as experienced. I hope to share for my team’s added magical touches!
    thank u!
    Asmara Spa

  2. I worked for a 5 star rated spa and let me tell you they are as fake as you can get. The reason I left was because the employees especially the so called 5 star expert would go into the phone center and complain about customers. I couldn’t believe they achieved 5 star rating status. I guess even the spies can be fooled.

  3. Loved the article and shared tips with the team. Also as a consultant found the article useful for spa onwers to begin to understand what standards are required for their establishments.

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