What started as a fun article tied into the biggest awards night of the year – the Oscars – is now in its third iteration as I continue to travel the globe and discover our incredibly irresistible world of hospitality with its infinite interpretations and regional nuances.
Given a personal move that limited my travel – in actuality, the perfunctory empty-nester downsizing from house to condominium – 2017 saw only 30 properties visited versus the usual 50 in each of the preceding two years. Nevertheless, there were plenty to choose from.
While I’m excited to honor the following properties, bootlicking is not the purpose of these awards. Rather, I present these hotels because they offer exemplary lessons for you that can be applied to your own little slice of hospitality, wherever that may be.
Best Meeting Space: In the early part of my business career, the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth in Montreal, Quebec, was my ‘go to’ hotel in this city. A recent renovation recommitted this property to hospitality leadership in Montreal with a reinvigorated focus on the capturing the meetings market. This meetings and events space encompasses several floors and is anything but traditional with rooms designed to evoke the creative and interactive zenith from its attendees. I particularly liked the Dr. Strangelove conference room, which amusingly replicated the ‘war room’ of the namesake movie.
Best Concierge: Arrive in a new city and you’ll be thankful to have a concierge like those at the Four Seasons Marunouchi in Tokyo. Not only did the concierge team offer assistance with traditional responsibilities such as tours and restaurant reservations, but they also helped me when ending up in a tight spot, which in this case happened to be a late-night, Michelin-starred restaurant that did not accept credit cards, to the tune of close to US$1000!
Most Surprising Chain Property: While touring Japan, I also happened upon the Sheraton Grand Hiroshima. After a night’s stay, all I could say is, “Is this really a Sheraton?” Every aspect of the property defied my image of this chain’s legacy, from evocative lobby art to the comfortable and tranquil guestrooms with quintessential Japanese elements. The food and beverage was superb with its diverse array of local and Western menus while the real clincher was a service staff that went out of their way to help.
Best Restaurant Offerings: Few properties in the world can compare in size and stature to the Aria Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, while fewer still have shown as much commitment to cuisine. With more than a dozen fine dining establishments plus an equal number of more informal eateries, Aria provides so many choices that a week’s stay is hardly enough! Travel the world of cuisine without leaving the confines of the resort; that’s the strategy, and it’s paying off as you won’t want to stay anywhere else on the Strip. Even better, they actively use their CRM to provide waitstaff with additional information so that they can personalize and enhance F&B recommendations for every subsequent meal.
Most Innovative F&B: Look hard at a map and you’ll never find this place. The Inn at Bay Fortune in Prince Edward Island is on the furthest eastern shore of Canada’s smallest province. But it is well worth the journey! During summer, they offer an evening meal called The Feast. Comprising a series of four incredible outdoor food stations followed by a seven-course meal, their executive chef exploits the best local farms and fisheries, both of which are aplenty in this barely populated part of the world. Local craft beers and Canadian wines as well as suitable pairing recommendations are then deployed to complete this gastronomic experience. The guestrooms are quaint and well-appointed too.
Most Innovative Property: Opened just last year, the William Vale Hotel in Brooklyn, New York, exudes multiple initiatives that defy the traditional hotel. Some examples include lobby art that seems to wrap around the entire public space, ultra-modern ballrooms, small bespoke guestrooms that include large balconies to make the feel rooms expansive as they are bathed in natural light, a rooftop bar that has become the toast of the town with lineups starting in the early afternoon and even a second-floor podium terrace restaurant housed in an Airstream. The property reinforces the fact that exceptional architecture and interior design are the cornerstones of a fantastically successful new property because they offer locals a point of interest to generate national and international buzz.
Best Renovation: This hotel opened in 1912 and was the first hotel in world to bear this name. Closed for a four-year renovation and re-opened on its centenary, the Ritz Carlton in Montreal combines historic touches with modern bathrooms and amenities. While the renowned chef-inspired Daniel Boulud restaurant breaks with the old, you can still have afternoon high tea in summer outdoors by the duck pond.
Best Small Property: With only 40 guestrooms, Lake Austin Spa Resort in Austin, Texas, delivers a remarkable combination of unique activities, F&B and services that are hard to beat. The location is such that cellphones rarely work, and that may be on purpose! At first, this appears to be a concern, but after a day of getting into the groove of the activities offered, leaving electronics in your room seems appropriate, ultimately representing a new trend in hospitality in the form of an ‘electronic detox’. Spend a few days or a week here and you’ll appreciate what a real resort can do as well as wonder why we are constantly distracting ourselves with our mobile devices.
Property of the Year: This pinnacle award goes to the Montage Deer Valley Resort in Park City, Utah. Sensational guestrooms, massive public rooms and meeting spaces, and innovative restaurants all combine to make a resort that checks every box on the list. The 154 rooms start at 600 square feet while the 66 suites range from 1,000 to 3,000 square feet. The meeting space is adeptly partitioned so that multiple events can take place without any disruption to the guest seeking quiet solace in a lush mountain setting. With services operated at the usual Montage level of genius, this property sets a standard that would make most hoteliers envious by offering year-round activities and points of interest, thereby redefining what it is means to run a seasonal resort in an area only really notable for its skiing. As such, you’ll be craving a return visit at odd times of the year, if only to see what innovative and intrepid activities they’ve conjured up to fill your time.