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The world's best hotels 2002

The two top scorers in Institutional Investor's 22nd annual hotel survey had the closest call ever: Only a few hundredths of a point separate No. 1 -- the Four Seasons in Seattle -- from No. 2, the Ritz-Carlton Millenia in Singapore.

The two top scorers in Institutional Investor's 22nd annual hotel survey had the closest call ever: Only a few hundredths of a point separate No. 1 -- the Four Seasons in Seattle -- from No. 2, the Ritz-Carlton Millenia in Singapore. Close on their heels in third place is the Four Seasons in Chicago.

Perhaps it was the chocolate-dipped strawberries that await guests in their rooms at Seattle's Four Seasons that ultimately tipped the ballot in its favor. Such details count in the world of luxury hotels, and no small gesture seems to go unnoticed by the senior financial executives who rated the world's 75 best hotels for II this year. One financial manager from the Philippines confided how delighted he was when the Ritz-Carlton Millenia took the trouble to deliver "a simple little birthday cake" to him in his room.

A California portfolio manager reported that she likes everything about the winner, from the Seattle grande dame's downtown location to the exceptionally warm welcome to the attentive but unobtrusive service. The Ritz-Carlton Millenia, designed by famed architect Kevin Roche (who also designed the Ford Foundation building in New York), is as modern as the Four Seasons Seattle is traditional. The expansive views of Marina Bay and Singapore from its oversize rooms are so breathtaking, says one panelist, that "I have to remember to close the blinds" for privacy. And a New York executive reports that the public rooms at the Four Seasons Chicago are so luxurious that he "expected Louis XIV to walk in."

This year just 75 hotels met our survey criteria, compared with 80 last year. But this year's ranking reflects a more level playing field than the 2001 survey, when American hotels -- still riding the wave of the bubble economy -- dominated the list with 37 hotels. Europe placed 29 hotels last year, and recession-mired Asia accounted for just 14.

By contrast, this year's rankings are much more evenly distributed, reflecting changing travel patterns: 24 hotels in the Americas, 29 in Europe and 22 in the Asia-Pacific region. Scores are solid overall, if less stratospheric than last year's.

One striking feature of this year's survey is Asia's resurgence in the rankings. The region places eight more hotels this year than last, including three debut entrants: the three-year-old Grand Hyatt Shanghai -- the world's loftiest hotel, occupying the top floors of the 87-story Jin Mao Tower -- at No. 23; the four-year-old Mandarin Oriental Kuala Lumpur, standing beside the world's tallest buildings, the Petronas Twin Towers, at No. 42; and the two-year-old Fullerton, a converted Greek Revival landmark a short walk from the Singapore Exchange, at No. 50.

Other notable newcomers to the list are, at No. 58, the Ritz-Carlton Boston Common, across the park from the original Ritz-Carlton, a mainstay of this ranking (which has been renovated and is set to reopen this fall); and, at No. 69, the Churchill InterContinental, a London shopper's delight near Oxford Street. Among returnees to the list are the thoroughly modernized century-old Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, at No. 31, following a six-year hiatus and a $71 million face-lift; and, at No. 63, Paris's Plaza Athénée, which boasts an Alain Ducasse restaurant and the hippest bar in town.

This year's hotel roster spans 31 cities. London claims ten of the listings and Europe's single best hotel: the No. 5 Lanesborough, on Hyde Park, adjacent to Buckingham Palace. The establishment is located "on the most exclusive and verdant corner in London," observed one Middle Eastern panelist. New York placed seven hotels on the list; the highest-ranking, at No. 17, was the Four Seasons. Hong Kong (top-ranked: No. 13 Mandarin Oriental), Paris (Ritz, at No. 6) and Singapore each had six.

The globetrotters who constitute our panel have visited some 500 hostelries over the past year. They're a demanding bunch, seeking not only great service and convenient location but also ambience, decor and fitness facilities. That's not all: They also insist upon security, ample work space, Internet connections, an abundant selection of in-room movies and good restaurants that cater to special diets.

Institutional Investor polled more than 100 senior financial executives from 31 countries (who spent an average of 61 nights a year at hotels last year). The scores were tabulated according to a formula that assigns greater weight to the responses of the most-frequent travelers. The results were then averaged, and the 75 hotels that made the cut were ranked.

To qualify, a hotel had to receive a significant number of votes; even consistently well-rated hotels sometimes fail to secure the necessary quorum, which explains the absence from this year's list of several notable hotels that made the rankings last year, including Los Angeles' Bel-Air and Four Seasons, Dallas's Mansion on Turtle Creek, London's Ritz and the InterContinental Hong Kong (formerly the Regent).

The rankings were compiled under the direction of Barbara Bent with Sabina Zigman. Contributing Editor Lois Madison Reamy wrote the overview.

Inn crowd
Anyone who spends an average of 61 nights a year on the road -- as the participants in our hotel survey do -- can't help but discover a few charming out-of-the-mainstream hostelries. Here these well-traveled financial executives share their favorite finds: inns or hotels that are too small, too new or simply too offbeat to appear on our main hotel list.

Next time you're in Beirut, check into a Syrian-, Turkish- or French-style suite at the "splendid and charming," 33-room Hotel Albergo, urges one European traveler. Other suggestions for city-center spots: the Best Western Hotel Navarra (88 rooms), a newly renovated classic town house in the heart of historic Bruges; London's intimate and elegant Chesterfield Mayfair (110 rooms), complete with business services and a conservatory; the Hotel Orfila (32 rooms), a truly grand hotel converted from an 1886 bourgeois home, offering an oasis in central Madrid; and the year-old, ultra-high-tech Emiliano (57 rooms) -- it's topped by a helipad -- near São Paulo's fashionable Avenida Paulista and the financial district.

Larger in scale but also convenient to business are the renovated 235-room Holiday Inn Düsseldorf City Centre Königsallee, with a pool and sauna, in the city's banking district, and the Westin Sydney, which was converted from the 1887 general post office three years ago and provides 366 light, contemporary rooms in a new tower as well as 50 antique-style rooms in the Heritage wing.

For conferences: Try the sprawling Château St. Gerlach on the Geul River near Maastricht; it offers 58 luxury rooms in an old farmhouse, meeting rooms and restaurants in a castle, and a hydrotherapy spa.

For resorts: To escape to nature from Auckland, New Zealand, take a four-hour drive to the Lodge at Kauri Cliffs near Matauri Bay, where the outdoors seems boundless; guests can stay in the lodge or one of eight remote bungalows. The golf course offers panoramic views of the craggy Pacific islands offshore. A destination Xanadu on the majestic Jerudong coast of Brunei in the South China Sea is the 423-room Empire Hotel & Country Club, which has everything imaginable, including a Jack Nicklaus­designed golf course.

The 374-room Ritz-Carlton in Doha, Qatar, is an Arabian Sea peninsula caravansary that is a five-minute boat ride from the Doha Golf Club, home of the Qatar Masters. The Dorint Seehotel Überfahrt in Rottach-Egern is a stylish Bavarian lakeside resort offering sailing, riding, golfing, climbing and skiing about an hour's drive southeast of Munich. -- L.M.R.

Click here for the Hotel Rankings.

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