Elite status: Top hotel lists

It’s a new year, and as routinely as Easter eggs edge out holiday tinsel on supermarket shelves, media titles race to publish annual predictions of the trends they forecast will shape the year ahead. I wonder, do any of them review how many of their prophecies came to pass by December? Soothsayers and snake oil will be the subject of another post, I think.

Hot on the heels of these trends come previews of the most anticipated hotel openings. Thankfully, though, we usually have to wait until later in the year for the most trumpeted of these calendared listicles: the myriad league tables that earn their keep with clickbait headlines such as ‘Gold List’, ‘Hot List’, ‘Readers’ Choice Awards’, ‘The Top 50’ or ‘Top 100’.

Recently, however, on Twitter I spotted that Elite Traveler, the self-styled “Private Jet Lifestyle Magazine” had got in early with its Top 100 Hotels 2018, revealing their own Elite Collection of global hotels and resorts.

Boasting an audited circulation of 98,000 and a website with 366,000 unique browsers a month, this magazine positions itself as a “curator” to the global luxury lifestyle of ultra high net worth individuals.

Now, keen readers of this blog may remember a previous entry of mine titled “Chain reaction? Condé Nast’s best hotels list”. I commented on the results of Condé Nast Traveler’s annual survey of the 50 Best Hotels in the World and, in conclusion, I questioned, “When it comes to brands, are luxury travelers now voting with their feet, or is this list just a single point of data from which no real conclusions can be drawn?”

Elite versus Condé Nast

Scrolling through this new appraisal from Elite Traveler, I thought it might be interesting to compare its results with those from Condé Nast. At the same time, Chloe Riley’s recent two-part piece, posing the question, “To brand or not to brand?”, prompted me to further analyze the Elite Collection to determine if the distribution between chains and independents showed a similar pattern to that of the Condé Nast list.

Incidentally, while Condé Nast’s 50 Best Hotels in the World comprised only 48 hotels, Elite Traveler’s Top 100 Hotels in the World includes only 99 hotels. What is it with these publishers and their inability to count to either 50 or 100, or are they extending the unlucky room 13 principle to their own list-making?

To my first question, then. What crossover is there between this latest roll call of ‘Top’ Hotels and the 48 ‘Best’, celebrated by Condé Nast Traveler in October 2017?

Six properties appear on both lists, which is four more than last year: La Reserve, Paris; Grand-Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat; Belmond Hotel Cipriani; Royal Mansour, Marrakech; La Residence, Franschhoek; and Fogo Island Inn, Newfoundland.

Unlike the Elite Collection, Condé Nast’s table is ranked, an order that’s derived from its annual reader survey. Elite Traveler provides no explanation of its methodology, although anyone familiar with the magazine will recognize many of the featured properties and brands as advertisers. There is nothing new with advertisers featuring prominently in both awards programs and league tables promoted by media companies, but it would be helpful were Elite Traveler to say more about how its ‘Top’ lists are assessed and compiled.

The Condé Nast Traveler Best hotels list appears (to me at least) to be more diverse, reaching 27 countries through its 48 hotels, compared with 32 countries for the 99 hotels cited by Elite Traveler. The hotels chosen by Condé Nast readers are generally less well known and omit some of the more ‘obvious’ destinations and properties next to those selected by Elite. Fifty percent of the Condé Nast 50 Best are located in cities versus 47% of the Elite Collection, a more or less even distribution between primarily business and leisure destinations.

Brand affiliation

The real difference emerges, however, when we categorize the Elite Collection hotels by brand affiliation. The most striking feature of the Condé Nast list was the absence of the chain brands, with only three making the top half of the table: Waldorf Astoria, Jumeirah and Four Seasons. In contrast, although the Elite Collection features an equal proportion of branded properties in total (67%), its list is dominated by monolithic chain brands (48%). Should we conclude that the ‘elite’ traveler has a greater preference for brands than the readers of Condé Nast Traveler or that ad revenue is more valuable than reader subscriptions or newsstand sales?

Either way, independent hotels account for just over one third of the properties in both lists. 


Monolithic Brand                   (48)       48.48%

Collection ‘Hard Branded’       (8)         8.09%

Collection ‘Soft Branded’        (10)       10.10%

Independent                         (33)       33.33%

Of the 25 Monolithic Brands that placed in the Elite Collection, Four Seasons leads the way with no fewer than 10 properties making the grade and with a presence in all three geographies: Americas, Europe and Rest of the World. Aman (5) came second followed by Mandarin Oriental (4). One&Only (3), Rosewood (3), The Peninsula (2) and Taj (2) were the other brands with multiple properties on the list.

I considered the Collection Brands as two types: ‘Hard Branded’, where the name of the brand is appended to that of the hotel (e.g. Belmond Hotel Cipriani) and soft branded, where the brand name is used as a subordinate means of endorsement (e.g. Dorchester Collection, The Luxury Collection).

Belmond (7) is the best performing Hard Branded Collection and Dorchester Collection (3) the best performing Soft Branded Collection. The Luxury Collection (2) and Oetker Collection (2) also feature with multiple properties.

Branding by region

The data from Elite Traveler’s Top 100 Hotels 2018 also reveals one further noteworthy comparison, and that is the difference in the type of branding employed by region.

The Rest of World, which is arguably less mature when it comes to branding, clearly favors Monolithic branding, where an explicit association between a hotel and a reputed brand provides reassurance of both origin and quality as well as offering ‘badge’ value.

With its longer history, it is no surprise that Europe is the least brand-dominated territory although there is also the highest membership of Collections in the region. This is explained by the new owners or managers of previously independent hotels, which have joined branded organizations, electing not to dilute the brand equity of a historic property (e.g. Hôtel Plaza Athénée) in favour of a monolithic brand. (Dorchester Collection, Maybourne Hotel Group, Oetker Collection and Rocco Forte Hotels are leading proponents of this approach).

There will be more similar lists published during the year and when it appears valuable, I’ll repeat this analysis so we can start to build a more robust picture of the relative appeal of branded hotels and resorts vs. independent properties and continue to monitor the changing fortunes and effectiveness of the different types of branding employed by these best of the best.