Mary Gostelow drops in on Forbes Travel Guide’s luxury summit

Forbes Travel Guide, seriously the most transparent and unbiased global ratings systems for hotels – plus restaurants and spas – held its annual gathering from 17 to 19 February 2020. Entitled Verified, Forbes Travel Guide Luxury Summit, it took place for the first time in Las Vegas. 692 registered delegates gathered at ARIA Resort & Spa.

Forbes Travel Guide is headquartered in Atlanta GA, USA. It is owned by Jeffrey Arnold of life sciences investment Arnold Strategies LLC, who licenses the name from Forbes, the media giant. FTG, for short, operates in 73 countries. It currently rates hotels, restaurants and spas and CEO Filip Boyen is thinking of moving into cruises. Either on their own or in pairs, the company’s 55 inspectors always operate in strict anonymity, working to standards that are heavy on emotional intelligence. The final score is based 75% on service achievement, and 25% on facilities.

There are currently 268 Five Star properties, and there are three in Australia: Crown Towers Melbourne, Crown Towers Perth and The Darling, Sydney. Then there are Four Star properties, whose owners/operators are, says Filip Boyen, immensely proud, and they strive to do even better. ‘Recommended’, the equivalent of three-star, implies consistency and having a foot on the quality ladder. Australia has four properties rated Four Star, and six others are Recommended.

The business model is that ratings are entirely financed by Forbes Travel Guide, but properties can subsequently buy support services such as training, quality assessments, custom brand-standard development and online training with Lobster Ink, the EcoLab-owned company that originated in South Africa. Boyen says firmly that paying for training in no way influences ratings. In 2019, 22 trainers did a total of 2,000 training days, in hotels, resorts and spas and also in care homes and private clubs, and luxury retail.

The Verified programme included the importance of wellness, with, separately, CNN’s Dr Sanjay Gupta, and ESPA founder Sue Harmsworth. Sustainability guru Hervé Houdré, heading H2, superbly shared initiatives he had started both at The Willard InterContinental, Washington DC, and at InterContinental New York, Barclay, and there was a subsequent back-of-house tour to see recycling and other sustainability practices at ARIA. Make-a-Wish was the 2020 charity.

Work sessions and incessant networking culminated in Thursdays’s final gala, with typical Vegas dance acts and hilarious solo performances by Hollywood star Marisa Tomei, whose last accolade was the Gold Movie Awards’ best actress for her role in in Laboratory Conditions. The gala’s food was sensational, from individual Petrossian cans of caviar-topped parsnip panna cotta – with mother-of-pearl spoons, naturally – via buffalo filet to white Valrhona chocolate mousses with drip-feed flavours held in pipettes above each concoction. We drank Veuve-Clicquot, Yellow Label, Champagne NV; Landmark Overlook, Chardonnay, Sonoma County 2017; and Justin Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles 2017.

In between courses, Filip Boyen announced winners, all determined exclusively by FTG ratings. Hotel of the year, with 98.24% rating, was Twin Farms, in Barnard VT, USA. Restaurant of the year, achieving 99.22%, was Wynn Palace’s Sichuan Moon in Macau SAR. Spa of the year, coming in at 99.5%, was City of Dreams’ Morpheus Spa, also in Macau, and Instagram-friendly hotel of the year, Montage Los Cabos, Mexico. And then two employees of the year, chosen by Forbes Travel Guide inspectors, were announced. Merrie Freeman, from Wynn, Las Vegas, USA, and a fellow guest relations manager, Sherrita Savage, from Half Moon Bay in Jamaica, got standing ovations.

President Trump happened to be in town and the Democratic debate was taking place, but despite travel problems everyone was then transported north along The Strip for an equally memorable after-party, hosted by Wynn Las Vegas’ EVP/GM Ramesh Sadhwani. The FTG delegates were welcomed with a hand-clapping guard of honour and, after initial glasses of Dom Pérignon, it was open-bar and Cirque de Soleil.

Images featured are of Crown Melbourne – a Five-Star Forbes Travel Guide hotel

Mary Gostelow’s travelogue is

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