Small Luxury Hotels: An Insiders Look Into Maintaining Quality Control
By Edward Donaldson VP Marketing, Small Luxury Hotels of the World | October 28, 2008
In 2003, Small Luxury Hotels of the World added 44 new members out of nearly 200 applicants worldwide. Those numbers speak to the efficacy of our thorough application process in accepting only those properties that will enhance the SLH brand. The majority of hotels hoping to join the SLH group feel their hotel needs a better global presence, reservation system, sales & marketing team and an overall global brand alliance. Additionally, SLH employs a global team of business development executives that seek out the best of the best in each region of the world that appear to have the hallmarks of a Small Luxury Hotel of the World. The decision of whether to admit a particular hotel is driven by a number of factors. First and foremost is size. (As the old saying goes, great things come in small packages!) The average SLH hotel has approximately 55 rooms, but our hotels range in size from 6 to 200 bedrooms. Size however is relative to the marketplace. For example, in a large city like Chicago, 200 bedrooms is considered a small hotel whereas in more remote parts of the world it would stand as one of the largest hotels around.
After a hotel meets the size requirement, the more in-depth process ensues. The following questions are considered: Does the hotel enhance the SLH brand? How does it fit with the other SLH hotels in its region? Is the hotel located in an area of the world sufficiently developed to support luxury travel? As once underdeveloped regions begin to prosper, a new world of possibilities for luxury hotels emerge. In 2004, we added properties in Botswana and Cyprus - two areas formerly engulfed in civil unrest that have now blossomed into luxury destinations. Once these overarching questions are answered satisfactorily, the heart of our evaluation - our mystery inspection - begins.
Each hotel that has moved past stage one is secretly visited by one of our business development team members. At this point, it is all about details. Experience has taught our business development team to differentiate between what we call "fake luxury" and the real thing. A marble foyer or gold leaf moldings, while nice, are not necessarily an indication of a hotel's dedication to guest services and first-rate quality. Therefore, our team seeks the answers to more pertinent questions such as: What is the guest to staff ratio? How does the staff interact with their guests? How big are the rooms? What amenities are in the rooms? Are the rooms clean? What services does the hotel offer? Does the hotel have a gym and/or spa? What, if anything, do they offer that makes it a unique hotel experience in their marketplace? During the course of the secret inspection, the inspector will fill out a 25 page evaluation that addresses the questions above, amongst other things that guides them through a process designed to evaluate all hotels in a like manner.
Food & Beverage programs are also very important to SLH as several of our member hotels boast world-famous restaurants and chefs. The dining establishments are thoroughly critiqued for food quality and service. Service is a major part of F&B, as well as the overall hotel experience which leads our inspectors to create fake problems and test the hotel staff's reactions and ability to deal with guests. We try to look through the eyes of an SLH traveler to ensure that when they arrive at one of our properties, their expectations are not only met, but exceeded.
After completing its review, the business development team submits its recommendations to the Board of Directors for a vote. Upon unanimous approval from the Board, the hotel is officially notified of its acceptance into the membership of Small Luxury Hotels of the World.
We at SLH feel it is imperative to continue the evaluations once a hotel is admitted into our group in order to make certain our guests are consistently receiving outstanding services and accommodations from our properties around the world. Each year, half of the membership is secretly inspected by a team of third-party inspectors - some of whom are former guests who expressed interest in the process. The criterions employed in this review are substantially similar to that outlined above for inspecting prospective members. If a hotel is lacking in a particular area, it is properly documented and the hotels are given notice of what improvements need to be made in order to retain its membership in SLH. In all cases the hotel will be given the opportunity to correct any problems and will be subject to follow-up inspections.