Forbes Travel Guide’s Executive Vice President of Standards & Ratings, Amanda Frasier, talks about what sets a Five-Star hospitality experience apart from the rest.
Forbes Travel Guide (FTG) is the global authority on luxury hospitality. Since its beginnings as Mobil Travel Guide in 1958, FTG has grown to operate in 72 countries, and its coveted annual Star Rating system has become the gold standard against which all luxury travel is measured. FTG’s professional inspectors travel incognito to assess hotels, restaurants, and spas based on 900 objective standards that determine the ratings.
As Forbes Travel Guide’s Executive Vice President of Standards & Ratings, Amanda Frasier oversees all global expansion plans and is in charge of maintaining the overall integrity of the evaluation process. Ms. Frasier serves as chairman of the Forbes Travel Guide Standards Advisory Committee and directs the continual refinement of Forbes Travel Guide’s service and facility standards. She also spearheads the production of the Forbes Travel Guide Luxury Summit, which serves as the official annual celebration of the Star Award winners.
Earning FTG’s Five-Star award is probably the dream of every hospitality leader. So, we spoke with Ms. Frasier about what sets a Five-Star hospitality experience apart from the rest, and how Forbes Travel Guide’s standards and ratings have changed over the past couple of years.
Tell us about your career and how you came to be in this role.
I was bitten by the travel bug as a teenager, while on a family holiday to Greece. I fell in love with the experience and thought to myself that somehow, some way, I wanted to work in the travel industry.
I did a travel and tourism course in school, but I realized quickly that college was not for me. I wanted to get out there. So, I got a job as a housekeeper in a small country house hotel in England. And, once I was in, there was no going back. I didn’t want to do anything else. I worked in several hotels and held various different jobs, moving up through the front office.
Then, in 2005, Mobil Travel Guide, (what Forbes Travel Guide was called at the time) was embarking on its consulting business, which we’re well known for today. The hotel where I was working received this literature, and I thought it was phenomenal that this business, which was well known for star rating properties, and that had been very opaque about their system, was becoming transparent to help support hotels, restaurants, and spas through their journey of service improvement. I wanted to be a part of that. So, I wrote in asking for a job and was fortunate to be offered a position. I started as an incognito inspector, worked my way through the company, and now I oversee standards and ratings. I’ve been with Forbes Travel Guide for nearly 16 years.
What does your job entail?
My key responsibility is to uphold the integrity of our business, to make sure that the way the standards are written and applied, and the whole process from A through Z, is executed with the highest level of integrity.
Can you talk about the elements necessary for attaining Forbes Travel Guide stars?
I think there are three key elements for a hotel to earn a star award or to rise to the top. One is hiring practices. If you are committed to delivering a particular experience and you want your staff to embody that, you have to look for those qualities when you’re hiring.
Seventy-five percent of our award is focused on service and how the staff make the guest feel; what they say, what they do, how they make things feel personal and unique, if they are gracious and intuitive. Unlike processes and procedures, those are qualities you can’t necessarily teach. They are kind of in you or they’re not. So, looking for the qualities that you want in the experience when hiring is a really important part.
The second key differentiator in properties that rise to the top is that everyone is on the same page, communicating, and working together, including the staff, the owners, and the managers.
The third element is consistency. The best hotels in the world have very little difference in all the data points that we assess. It’s not just that a guest can stay at a particular hotel and the experience feels similar and very equivalent in terms of service levels from trip to trip, whether you go every year or every five years, but also that, over the course of a few days, when our inspectors visit, everything is consistent within itself.
How have things changed since 2020?
In 2020, we actually declared that we were going to stop our star rating process, but we didn’t stop 100% because there were still destinations open and thriving in 2020. They’d been working hard, they were busy, they were ready to be evaluated. So, we ended up having a very light announcement at the end of 2020. Now, we’re back on the road again in full force.
During the pandemic we saw a lot of hotels figuring out how to combine health and safety regulations with still trying to give the best experience possible. And, that was clearly a struggle.
Some elements dropped off. Graciousness and service did drop off a bit. It was still very strong at the Five-Star level, but it did go down. Cleanliness also dropped off, which was surprising to us because of all the regulations around it. But, we’re starting to see all those performance points climb back up to almost pre pandemic levels, which is very encouraging.
We made a lot of concessions during the pandemic, and now that I think we’re seeing the end, there are not going to be any more concessions. But we have made changes. For example, most hotels and spas stopped offering buffet service, and we removed that requirement as a concession; if you’re not doing it because of health regulations, you’re not going to get penalized for it. We’re now bringing that back because that’s an enhancement to the guest experience, but rewriting the requirement with some modifications that better suit how people think about communal buffets now.
Are you focusing on new or different things for 2022?
Definitely. Just before the pandemic hit, a big focus for us was launching sustainability standards. We paused releasing them because it wasn’t the right time to start evaluating people’s performance against reduction of single use plastics when everything had to be individually wrapped and there were millions of masks and miniature bottles of hand sanitizer in circulation.
We did release a set of sustainability standards for hotels in 2021, and these will be made official in 2022, meaning they’ll be part of the scoring. We have also created a separate set of sustainability standards for spas and restaurants that will officially become part of the star award system in 2023.
Does having a spa or wellness experience in a hotel improve your Star Rating?
Yes. But it’s not just about having a spa and checking the wellness box. For us, it’s important that a property embraces enhancing guest wellbeing across its hotel areas: the restaurant, the spa, the activities, the scent of the space, and the sleep experience, for example. Sleep is a big factor in our rating, everything from the quality of the bed to convenient ways to black out the light from your room, so that you can completely have a restful night’s sleep.
What makes a great guest experience?
Sometimes the most simple things are what makes the best experience. Yes, it’s lovely to offer champagne and flowers, and acknowledge birthdays, and it’s important to make sure guests have everything at their fingertips. But, sometimes you have to think small to be the most impressive. I think the best guest experiences are the ones that are genuine and naturally intuitive, where you get the sense that the staff have listened to you and have understood what you need and responded accordingly. It’s that nice balance between a conversation and hard work.
Can you share a story about a time you were wildly impressed?
I can, and you’ll probably think, “Oh my gosh, well, that’s so simple.” Because it is. I was staying in a hotel and had left a gratuity for my housekeeping attendant, because I always do, and then I left my room. When I came back later in the afternoon, there was a note from the housekeeper that said, “Ms. Frasier, thank you for the blessings. Have a lovely day.” The fact that somebody that worked for the hotel had taken the time to write that and to share that mutual kind of respect and acknowledgement was something that has stuck with me.
Nobody had necessarily told that young man or young woman to do that, but they wanted to do it. That to me was an impressive element that spoke volumes about that hotel’s culture and the staff. The things that stick with me the most are always the things that are unexpected and that come from the heart.
We’ve released a list of the spa & wellness trends we’ll be watching next year. Click here to download the Handbook: Seven wellness trends for 2022