Chain reaction? Condé Nast’s best hotels list

It seems we can’t get enough of leagues and league tables. The British Premier League is back in full swing and Condé Nast Traveler recently revealed its annual survey of the 50 Best Hotels in the World, which were voted for by more than 7,000 of its trusted travellers in its Readers’ Choice Awards 2017. Now in its 30th year, according to the publisher, this survey reflects the opinion of millions of ratings and more than 100,000 comments posted online between 1 April and 1 July 2017.

Aside from the odd fact that this league of 50 comprises actually only 48 hotels, the results are interesting for a number of more insightful reasons. By CNT’s own admission the Top 50 Hotels is “a mixed bag, interesting and far from predictable”. I thought so, too, and my team performed a simple analysis of the results to see what might be contributing to these peculiarities.

Condé Nast Traveler is a publication and brand positioned at the top of the travel market, although its media pack does describe the magazine as “the global citizen’s bible and muse” so we should not be surprised, therefore, that only four of the 48 hotels voted as the ‘best’ sit outside the luxury segment.

Precisely 50% of the 48 properties are located in cities. Of these, I would estimate that 10 are mainly visited by business travellers while the rest demonstrate a stronger leisure appeal.

Thirteen are beach or island resorts, with Greece outperforming all other destinations as home to no fewer than five hotels from the 48. A further 11 properties are situated in nature, by lakesides or in the country, producing a more or less even split between coastal and non-coastal leisure locations.

However, the most striking observation is the relatively low number of chains represented on this list. For these purposes, I’m defining a chain as brand with at least 10 properties that are open today.

By this standard, there are only 12 chain brands represented on the list and only three of these appear in the top 20 – the Waldorf Astorias in Amsterdam (10) and Dubai Palm Jumeirah (19) and the Grand-Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat, a Four Seasons Hotel (20), which is I think the only remaining Four Seasons hotel where the brand flag flies subordinate to the property name.

Only Taj (three hotels) and Waldorf Astoria (two hotels) are present with more than a single property while the remaining chain brands appear in significantly lower positions on the list: Sofitel (29), Langham (30), Shangri-La (35), The Ritz-Carlton (41), St. Regis (45), Raffles (46) and Kimpton (48).

The majority of the 50 Best Hotels in the World are either independent (17) or managed under a soft collection brand (7). Even here, only two large, chain collection brands are represented: The Luxury Collection (17 and 37) and Belmond (21).

At a time when the major groups are both consolidating at a corporate level and continuing to announce new brands, not all of which are sub-luxury millennial offerings (e.g. news of a potential new luxury offering from IHG’s CFO Paul Edgecliff Johnson last week), it’s notable that consumer preference seems to be indicating something of a chain reaction.

When it comes to brands, are luxury travellers now voting with their feet, or is this list just a single point of data from which no real conclusions can be drawn? On that last point, it’s worth noting that there’s been a significant recent shift in the voter demographic in this survey where the average median age has fallen from readers in their late 60s to late 30s.

As ever, I welcome your thoughts.