The stars have aligned for a couple of Miami-Dade hotels.
After a long dry spell with no five-star lodgings to boast about, Miami-Dade now has a mini constellation of bragging rights.
The Mandarin Oriental, Miami on Brickell Key and Acqualina Resort & Spa in Sunny Isles Beach, both previous four-star winners, each earned an upgrade on the Forbes Travel Guide’s Annual Star Awards, which were announced Tuesday.
The spa and restaurant at the Mandarin, Azul, also earned five stars, making it the state’s only triple winner. Acqualina Spa by ESPA at the Sunny Isles Beach resort also got the highest rating. NAOE, a Japanese restaurant on Brickell Key, was the only other five-star restaurant in the state.
Formerly known as the Mobil Travel Guide’s awards, the top ratings are coveted by hotels, restaurants and spas for the prestige they lend and high rates they can drive. But they can be elusive. South Florida hasn’t had a five-star hotel since the old Grand Bay in Coconut Grove dropped to four stars in 1997. (That hotel was recently razed.) While representatives for the travel guide have said Miami has five-star facilities, the sticking point has always been service — or the lack of it.
As part of the rigorous rating system, an anonymous inspector stays at a property for two nights and pores over 550 standards. Service and staff engagement, said Forbes Travel Guide executive vice president Jayne Griswold, makes up 75 percent of the calculation. Those properties in the running for five-star status get two or three visits, and scores must be consistently high for each visit.
“It’s a challenge for any property and it all comes down to culture and the staff and the momentum of the staff, its focus to deliver together as a team,” Griswold said. “I can’t point to something that prohibits any property from achieving a five-star level, but I can tell you that it takes years to do.”
The Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau has been working on widespread customer service initiatives for several years, an effort that continues now.
“As Miami has become a luxury destination, it is clear from our research that we need to have the best customer service that we can have,” said William Talbert III, the bureau’s president and CEO. “We’re moving the bar up ever so slowly. It takes time.”
As Miami has emerged as an international destination with high-profile events such as Art Basel and Winter Music Conference, observers say, so has the demand for top-notch service. Miami used to have a reputation solely as a place to party, said Kelly Grumbach, who heads the U.S. travel team for global concierge company Quintessentially. “There’s a different level of clientele that is now traveling to Miami,” she said. “They actually do care about the service.”
For a destination that has grown into an established high-end hospitality market over the past decade, the new ratings are indicative of an evolution.
“This shows real progress,” said Mark Lunt, partner in the hospitality practice at Ernst & Young. “And I think in the long term, and even the short-to-mid-term, it’s helpful to the lodging industry here because you can bet that every other wannabe five star hotel is trying to catch up.”