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THE WORLD'S BEST HOTELS 2007 - Where Luxury Lives
To stand out in today's crowded market, top hotels need to offer service, comfort -- and a whole lot more.
As the demands of business travel keep intensifying, so do the demands of business travelers. Today's high-level executives require seamless WiFi connections, top-notch meeting facilities and instant limousine service. For pleasure or entertaining, they relish luxurious spa facilities, sumptuous dining and a knowledgeable concierge. The ideal package combines efficiency and luxury with the pampering of attentive and highly personalized service.
These days more hotels than ever seek to fill that bill. As they expand, luxe chains and boutiques are competing with established landmark properties to cater to the needs of pressured but well-heeled executives. To stand out, hotels need to offer a certain je ne sais quoi -- a distinction that may say as much about the fickleness of client tastes as it does about a particular establishment's amenities or style.
Institutional Investor's annual ranking of the World's Best Hotels features significant changes at the top, reflecting the fluid but exacting nature of the market. Our voters rate the Ritz-Carlton, Battery Park, at the southern tip of New York's Manhattan island, as their favorite hotel. The hotel, the first luxury accommodation to open in Wall Street's vicinity, is far from the established bastions on Park Avenue and Central Park South and has been open for less than six years. Indeed, it's of such recent vintage that it didn't even make the top 100 a year ago. But the hotel's combination of traditional comfort and service, modern facilities and a convenient location with stunning views of New York Harbor certainly appeals to discriminating travelers.
Leading hotels in Europe and Asia also include some relative newcomers that offer timehonored luxury with a modern twist. Berlins Adlon Kempinski was erected a decade ago on the ruins of a cherished Weimar-era institution. Today it beats with the pulse of Germanys vibrant, new-old capital. In Bangkok the Sukhothai offers exquisite Thai service in a distinctively relaxed and private setting smack in the heart of the capitals financial district.
Scores of other hotels are also satisfying the needs and whims of traveling executives. To compile our ranking, Institutional Investor surveyed senior executives in the financial services industry, asking them to rate hotels they had visited recently on a scale of 1 to 100. The scores were averaged and ranked according to a formula that assigns greater weight to those panelists who are the most frequent travelers. And frequent they are: Our voters spent an average of 41.12 nights in hotels last year; the busiest road warrior logged a daunting 165 nights.
Rates: $750 to $7,500
The West Side Highway empties into the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel some 200 yards from the Ritz-Carlton, Battery Park's front door. But fumes and gridlock seem a universe away as you settle in for evening cocktails at the 14th-floor Rise Bar, where a Wall Street crowd works off the adrenaline of the trading day and, outside, the Statue of Liberty glows in the sunset and looks almost close enough to touch.
In the 1980s artists and other urban homesteaders began to form a neighborhood amid the loading docks and office buildings of Manhattan's southern tip. Tribeca's coming of age received a seal of approval in the mid-'90s when Ritz-Carlton and premises owner Millennium Partners broke ground on a new flagship hotel. The project got off to an inauspicious start, however, when terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center a half mile to the north on September 11, 2001, just two months before the hotel was due to open.
The opening was delayed until January 2002. Today the property stands unrivaled for the top-scale traveler who prefers hip downtown to the usual midtown lodging, or who wants to walk to the New York Stock Exchange. Then there is the view. Polshek Partnership, the New York architectural firm whose credits include the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum in Little Rock, Arkansas, and the restoration of Carnegie Hall, cleverly curved the hotel's building "to resemble a 1920s ocean liner," as hotel general manager Richard Evanich puts it.
The design assures that two thirds of the guests face the harbor, not the highway. The fitness center and Prada-operated spa share the top-floor vista with the bar; $200 buys a 75-minute Harmonizing Wrap skin treatment -- with the view of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge thrown in for free.
With the new location comes a new aesthetic for the venerable luxury hotel operator. "This is not your father's or your grandfather's Ritz," proclaims Evanich's deputy, hotel manager David Chase. "Manhattan luxury has almost by definition been old and dark. We are new and light."
Mahogany wainscoting and crystal chandeliers are out at the Battery Park hotel. Instead, designer Frank Nicholson has gone for clean lines and sparse, art decoinspired spaces, accented by granite counters and subdued abstract paintings by New York artists.
Even in the $7,500-a-night Ritz-Carlton Suite, the earth-toned sofas and armchairs are modern and functional rather than ornate and fussy. The point, the managers explain, is to appeal to the rising generation of business leaders who like their comforts to be direct and informal. "Business travelers are not as old as they used to be, whether from the emerging markets, Europe or America," Evanich says. "They want luxury where they feel comfortable coming down in jeans and having a steak."
Executive chef Jacques Sorci serves a menu of seafood and grilled meats in the main restaurant, 2 West, where a roaming saucier offers a choice of ten sauces, including truffle, red wine and peppercorn gravy. For a quicker, less formal meal, guests can hit the New York Hot Dog Cart, a posh version of the city's ubiquitous street-corner stand, replete with oversize pretzels and steaming pots of sauerkraut.
In keeping with modernity, the hotel allows clients to specify their preferences on its Web site, which managers use to provide staff with an individualized scouting report on who likes to be checked in without fussing at the front desk or who had a housekeeping dustup on their previous stay and needs to be fawned over immediately upon arrival.
Such dedication pays off in compliments lavished on the hotel on feedback sites like Tripadvisor.com. One couple from New Jersey who splurged on a night in town to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary were delightfully surprised to have the reception staff congratulate them on the occasion when they walked in.
Respondents to Institutional Investor's survey suggest that the 21st-century Ritz is getting the mix right. So do occupancy numbers. Evanich notes with satisfaction that his house was 98 percent full on a typical Wednesday last month and has enough second honeymooners and other weekend visitors to keep overall rates north of 80 percent.
Success is spawning the sincerest form of flattery: As many as 3,200 new hotel rooms are scheduled to open over the next few years in lower Manhattan. The added rooms will more than double the area's current total of 2,200, according to the Downtown Alliance civic group. The W chain is set to challenge Ritz-Carlton in the luxury niche with a hotel-condo complex a few blocks north, scheduled to open late next year.
Evanich professes to be unconcerned. "The more competition down here, the more buzz around the whole area, and the better it is for everyone," he contends. In any case, there will likely be no match for Ritz-Carlton's place at the foot of West Street with its unobstructed views in three directions -- a virtual corner office for the whole of New York.
-- Craig Mellow
Rates: $380 to $2,720
Founded in the 13th century as the first independent Thai kingdom, Sukhothai -- whose name means "dawn of happiness" -- was a center of learning, commerce and culture. History has it that King Ramkamhaeng erected a bell at one of the capital's gates so that even a commoner could summon him for help. In modern Thailand the kingdom of Sukhothai is viewed as a golden age -- a Thai ideal.
In the realm of the hospitality industry, general manager George Benney and the staff of the Sukhothai Bangkok are striving to create a similar ideal. Since its establishment 15 years ago, the 210-room Sukhothai has rapidly established a reputation as one of the finest hotels in a city that boasts some of the worlds best. This year the Sukhothai ranks as the top hotel in Thailand, and one of the best in Asia, in Institutional Investors annual survey. Being No. 1 is dangerous, says Benney, a 30-year industry veteran. The last thing we want is complacency. You cant stop trying to be better.
For design, ambience, location and service, it's hard to do better than the Sukhothai. Its lobby and gardens are decorated with red-brick stupas, carved stone friezes depicting images from Buddhist mythological epics, and iridescent silks that conjure the hotel's namesake kingdom. Its stylishly appointed rooms blend traditional style with high-tech modernism. The furnishings have clean lines and make liberal use of Thai fabrics, teak and rosewood; vases and decorative plates in the pale green ceramic known as celadon adorn the rooms. Flat-screen televisions hook into sound systems outfitted with iPod ports. Even the hotel's new fleet of Mercedes S-class limousines has iPod-friendly sound systems. WiFi access is available throughout the grounds.
In a city known for sumptuous dining, the hotel's Thai restaurant, named Celadon after the ceramic, is consistently rated as one of the most splendid. The extravagant delicacies on offer at the buffet in the Sukhothai's Colonnade restaurant -- from omelettes and pastries to curries and seafood -- make it the capital's prime destination for Sunday brunch. And the recently opened Spa Botanica is an oasis -- a garden spa with outdoor pools and walkways that offers the full range of pamperings from aromatherapy and East/West massage to herbal baths and facials.
Situated on Sathorn Road and surrounded by many leading financial firms, the Sukhothai is a favorite for executives from Goldman, Sachs & Co., JPMorgan Chase & Co., PricewaterhouseCoopers and other top firms. Benney says guests appreciate the residential feel of the low-rise hotel. Its rambling villas and four- and five-story wings afford the kind of privacy that allows guests to "just chill," in Benney words -- as France's Zinedine Zidane did following the frenzy of the 2006 World Cup -- or rival corporations to hold meetings without worrying about what their competitor is up to. Many a hotel company would have been tempted to maximize the property by throwing up a 30-story building, but such a structure would stand little chance of drawing the elite clientele that repeatedly chooses the Sukhothai: 43 percent of its guests are return customers.
Personal attention also sets the Sukhothai apart. "Service is an individual thing -- doing the little things with love," Benney says. "If a guest eats only the mango on the fruit platter we send up, you can be sure the next one we send will be heavy with the best mangoes we can find." The hotel recently upgraded its computer system to give staff more space to record the likes, dislikes and preferences of guests, and to include photographs so staff can address guests by name on sight.
The personalized approach extends to business services. The facilities include a 240-seat ballroom and more than a dozen tastefully appointed meeting and conference rooms, including four Garden Villa meeting rooms surrounding a courtyard brimming with orchids, bamboo and palms.
With such lavish settings and service, Benney is determined to make the Sukhothai a new Thai ideal. -- Robert Horn
Rates: E420 to E12,500
($606 to $18,100)
History looms large at the Adlon. Even today, nearly 20 years after the Berlin Wall came down, Mikhail Gorbachev still gets a standing ovation whenever he strolls into the hotel's plush lobby.
More than a Berlin landmark, the Adlon is a constant reminder of Germany's painful past and the enormous promise of its rebirth after the fall of the Wall, which used to stand just a stone's throw from the lobby.
General manager Stephen Interthal knows that it is this historical aura that distinguishes the Adlon from the 224 other five-star hotels in Germany. He points toward the bustling crowds on Pariser Platz, the public square that separates the hotel from the Brandenburg Gate. "There were land mines out there," he says, his English tinged with a slight British accent. "Sometimes you have to take a moment to think about what kind of historical responsibility we have managing this hotel on this location."
Similar thoughts may have crossed the minds of the U.S. presidents and Middle Eastern sheikhs who have peered out of the bullet-proof windows of the Presidential Suite toward the floodlit gate.
Lorenz Adlon, a successful Berlin wine merchant, couldn't have foreseen the dramatic events that would play out here when he had the hotel built in 1907. Protocol obliged him to step aside and let Kaiser Wilhelm II be the first person to enter the new building. This year the hotel celebrates its centennial, and the lobby is lined with photographs of past guests, including Marlene Dietrich, Charlie Chaplin, Herbert Hoover, Enrico Caruso, George Bush -- both father and son -- Vladimir Putin and Michael Jackson.
The old Adlon was a meeting place for the Weimar-era rich and famous. Journalists would hang out there because of the hotel's proximity to the British Embassy, next door, and the Reichstag, a ten-minute walk away. The hotel burned down just days before the Germans surrendered on May 8, 1945. Local lore has it that Red Army troops looting the wine cellar set the hotel ablaze as they left. When East Germany erected the Berlin Wall in 1961, the ruins of the hotel wound up on the wrong side of history. For a brief period, East Berlin used one remaining wing of the hotel as a hostel. But in 1984 the last walls of the original hotel were razed, leaving an empty lot.
"When I came here in 1992, there was nothing," says Interthal.
The new hotel, a marriage of modern efficiency and old-world elegance, opened in 1997. The façade, a six-story yellow limestone exterior with a squat green roof, is a replica of the original. Some interior features have been designed from photographs of items in the old Adlon, such as an Indian sculpture with elephants and what appears to be a climbing lotus, the centerpiece of a lobby fountain. Other fixtures, such as the art decoinspired lamps hanging from the hallway ceilings, merely seek to evoke an earlier style.
The spirit of the Adlon has been revived as well. Journalists, politicians and diplomats meet in the spacious lobby, which with its marble floors, broad Oriental carpets and leather sofas and chairs is once again a gathering place for Berlin society. The hotel is at the crossroads of a vibrant and unified capital, just steps away from the British and French embassies and the new U.S. embassy under construction on Pariser Platz, and less than a ten-minute walk from the rebuilt Reichstag.
The hotel is one of the preferred lodgings for American executives who want to stay where the president stays, says Fred Irwin, head of Citibank in Germany and chairman of the country's branch of the American Chamber of Commerce. The Lorenz Adlon restaurant, which under chef Thomas Neeser has earned a one-star rating from Michelin, offers such delicacies as caneton à la presse Lorenz Adlon, or duck in blood sauce with truffles. The restaurant, which seats only about 30 people, is in the Library room overlooking the Brandenburg Gate.
Notwithstanding the resurrection of some of the original hotel's features, there is a distinctly modern feel to the Adlon today, especially when entering the rear of the hotel, where there are sleek meeting rooms for business gatherings and two ballrooms with the capacity for as many as 400 guests.
The residential wings boast 304 rooms, 75 suites and junior suites and three presidential suites. The latter are aptly named, with each offering 240 square meters of space, including two bedrooms, dining and living rooms, a sauna, an office complete with Internet access and fax, four flat-screen TVs and butler service. One of the three, the Security Suite, can have its entire floor sealed off, which raises the price to E20,000 a night. "You tell us what you want, and you'll get it," says Anne Martinussen, the Adlon's director of sales. Butler and limousine service is available to all guests, on request, as are the hotel's six private dining rooms, sauna, indoor pool and fitness room. Massages and cosmetic treatments can be ordered in-room.
The typical hotel guest, says Interthal, is a wealthy traveler who comes to enjoy Berlin's new energy and increasingly international flair. "Berlin was not on the map for many years," he says. "When you come here, we offer a great atmosphere, a certain elegance and European hotel tradition." -- William Boston