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Longboat Key Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018 9 months ago

What makes a 5-star hotel five star?

Longboat is proposed to get a five star hotel with development of a St. Regis at the site of the former Colony — so what does that mean will go there?
by: Bret Hauff Staff Writer

What’s in a five-star hotel?

Well, for starters, it’s what Unicorp National Developments proposes for the 17.6-acre site at 1620 Gulf of Mexico Drive, the site of the former Colony Beach & Tennis Resort. Building one is a town condition of approval.

Attaining that rare ranking pivots on materials, amenities and service, said Michael “Doc” Terry, an associate instructor for the Rosen College of Hospitality Management at University of Central Florida, a top-ranked hospitality school worldwide.

“It’s the quality level and the number of amenities,” Terry said.

By one measure, the Forbes listing, fewer than 200 such hotels operate worldwide.

A hotel or resort must meet a list of up to 900 criteria to get the official ranking from Forbes, the independent overseer of the star-based ranking system, Terry said.

Of the criteria, Terry said a few can make, or break, a hotel’s five-star ranking. Among them:

  • 24-hour service: a five-star hotel offers room service and housekeeping around the clock, expensive features Terry said many hotels forgo in lieu of a higher rating;
  • Multiple restaurants: and each must offer something different, such as one for fine dining and one for a casual dining;
  • Service mindedness: all hotel or resort staff are trained to ask something to the effect of “is there anything else I can do for you,” at the end of any conversation, Terry said. Failure to do so more than two or three times with a Forbes inspector and could result in a lower rating.
  • What you can touch: bedding of a certain thread count, flooring of a certain make and furniture of certain quality are all necessary in a five-star resort, Terry said. “It’s strictly what you see,” Terry said of how five-star hotels are ranked. “It’s the cosmetics, the scripting, the soft goods and hard goods.”

And if a hotel does not receive a five-star rating, it could miss out on a major wealth bracket: the about 1% to 4% of people with the “financial means” to stay at one, Terry said.

Chuck Whittall, president of Unicorp National Developments, said he plans to use the best materials available for the hotel he hopes to build. He said he has even almost doubled the average per-room budget  from between $300,000 and $350,000 to $600,000. The hotel is planned for 166 rooms. 

“When we submit our building plans, nobody is going to question the quality of our building,” Whittall. “We’re going to have the best, we’re going to use the best materials.”

One thing not required for a five-star hotel, and also a contentious topic in Unicorp’s plan for development, is meeting space.

The Orlando-based development company has said many times that without the meeting space it has built into its plan, it couldn’t achieve financial success. The proposed St. Regis will include 15,304 square feet of meeting space, including a reduced-in-size 7,650-square-foot ballroom to accommodate 425 people.

Whittall said he thinks the resort will host many weddings, for which some people don’t stay overnight, and company meetings where space will be partitioned for different uses.

Five-star hotels in major metropolitan areas are often used for business meetings and are served by much larger meeting spaces than beachfront hotels, like the one proposed at 1620 Gulf of Mexico Drive, Terry said.

“Normally, for what you’re talking about, I would think meeting facilities would be minimal, unless they’re working very closely with the Apples of the world that they want to bring their people in on a regular basis,” Terry said.

And it will take at least a year from the resort’s opening before it can get an independent ranking of any kind, Terry said. Resort managers are given the time to “work out the bugs,” Terry said.

“It just takes weeks and months to get things there right. I don’t care if it’s the best hotel in the world, you’re not going to get it right from the beginning,” Terry said.

According to the town’s staff report: “The hotel shall be designed, constructed, and operated to be eligible for designation as a ‘Five Star’ hotel of similar quality to the Ritz Carlton, Sarasota, Ritz Carlton, Naples or St. Regis Hotel.”

Both the Ritz Carlton, Sarasota, and the Ritz Carlton, Naples, are four-star hotels, according to Forbes. Whittall said town staff included those examples.

The St. Regis Hotels and Resorts manages at least six five-star resorts across the globe, according to Forbes. The brand, run by Marriott, the third-largest hotel chain in the world by number of properties, also oversees at least 17 four-star hotels, according to Forbes.

The independent five-star system began in 1958, when Mobil Travel Guide began assigning hotels and resorts objective ratings verified by anonymous inspectors who stay at least two nights.

Of the 199 five-star hotels and resorts in the world, 83 are in the United States, according to Forbes Feb. 20 list. Seven of those are in Florida: five in Miami and two in Palm Beach.



I’m a Longboat Key Staff Reporter. I write stories about how decisions and events affect the island, its leaders and its citizens. I received a bachelor's degree in journalism from Emerson College, where I wrote for The Boston Globe. Reach me at 941-366-3468 ext. 333.

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