If you want to identify the world’s leading hotel brand, you can arrive at your answer through a variety of methods. You could look at star ratings, but these are neither standardized nor likely to differentiate at the higher end of the market. You could also look at surveys such as those conducted by Condé Nast Traveler. Or you could look at TripAdvisor.
But TripAdvisor is notoriously unreliable, you might argue. Anyone can write reviews, from the property’s own PR staff to the mentally unhinged. And the kind of people who frequent luxury hotels aren’t the type to post online reviews in any case.
One agency which might take issue with that point of view is Luxury Branding (luxury-branding.com), who pointed out that not only are there an awful lot of luxury hotel reviews posted on TripAdvisor by guests who supposedly don’t write reviews, but also that the sample size of over 250 million ratings and reviews on the site will reduce the more outlandish opinions to mere statistical noise.
In using TripAdvisor data to evaluate the luxury sector, each brand was given a weighted rating to reflect the relative performance of each of its properties against other hotels within the same location. A low score would therefore indicate that the property is ranked very highly against competitors in the same city, while a high score shows the opposite. One caveat is the weighting element, which is necessary to reflect the fact that being ranked 20th out of 300 properties is much better than being ranked 25th out of 40.
The second aspect under investigation was consistency. Clearly your brand is rather devalued if one of your properties is outstanding but others are mediocre – so Luxury Branding also looked at the range of the ratings, measuring the gap between the best and worst performing hotels operated by each brand.
While both statistical approaches might be expected to favor monolithic brands with only a handful of properties, who would easily be able to impose excellence across the board, the results were rather different.
The Ritz-Carlton simply blew away the competition no matter how you slice the data. With 90 properties, the brand was one of the largest in the survey, which covered 58 luxury brands, yet was able to finish top of the pile in overall weighted average, some distance ahead of Oberoi Hotels & Resorts in second place and Raffles in third. More remarkably, the Ritz-Carlton finished third on Luxury Branding’s measure of consistency, behind only EDITION Hotels and Armani Hotels & Resorts – who have a total of six properties between them. The data would rather suggest that the Ritz-Carlton is considered by its reviewers to be superb, everywhere.
A number of other trends also surfaced over the course of the study. One is the success of ‘traditional luxury hotels’, with nine of the top ten in the survey falling into the ‘conservative’ bracket, and outscoring their ‘lifestyle’ rivals. Meanwhile, although a significant proportion of the top-rated brands were Asian, the data revealed a tendency for Asian brands to perform less effectively in markets outside Asia, hinting at a failure of Asian hospitality to translate well into other cultures.
Surprises came in the shape of Jumeirah Group (31st) and Aman Hotels & Resorts (43rd) who might have been expected to perform better. The indications are, however, that when the bar of customer expectation is set so high, trivial shortcomings can lead to disappointment and lower ratings than the actual product might deserve.
This final point is an important one. Hotels finishing towards the lower end of this survey need not necessarily hang their heads in shame. Luxury Branding made one final comparison, using Marriott to represent an upscale chain product in the segment below genuine luxury. The results showed that Marriott would have been rated 58th had it been included in the study, revealing perfectly the differentiation between the basic Marriott product, the luxury JW Marriott at 27th, and the group’s industry-leading Ritz-Carlton. Customer perceptions don’t seem to be too far removed from the group’s brand architecture after all, and if you opt for a luxury hotel, luxury is what you’ll get.