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Business News/ News / Michelin Guide Awards Its First Hotel Keys in the US

Michelin Guide Awards Its First Hotel Keys in the US

Eleven hotels earned the top three-key distinction, in a list that focused on major markets rather than being truly comprehensive.

Michelin Guide Awards Its First Hotel Keys in the USPremium
Michelin Guide Awards Its First Hotel Keys in the US

(Bloomberg) -- Last year, when World’s 50 Best issued its first global ranking of hotels, only two properties in the US made the cut: the Equinox and Aman New York hotels, both in Manhattan.

Now Michelin has arrived stateside, in its second-ever presentation of “keys"—a new system from the eponymous tiremaker that’s doling out one, two or three key emblems, like its restaurant stars but to the world’s worthiest hotels.

Out of more than 1,000 luxury hotels across the country, 11 were awarded three keys. The winners were all in California and New York, from Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur to Single Thread Inn in Healdsburg and the Whitby Hotel in Midtown. Aman New York, echoing its position on World’s 50 Best, was also included; Equinox, meanwhile, received no keys at all. 

Importantly, keys were only distributed to hotels in seven primary markets across the US where the Michelin Guide also reviews restaurants: New York City, California, Chicago, Florida, Colorado, Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Michelin says next year’s ceremony will expand to include more of the US.

One key denotes a “special" stay, two make it “exceptional" and three reflect hotels that are “extraordinary."

Gwendal Poullennec, international director of the Michelin Guide, has described the criteria for these awards in highly subjective terms. Earlier this month he told Bloomberg that these most exceptional properties will be judged based off “the experience" alone. Rather than requiring them to adhere to certain definitions—like having a spa, pool or minimum staff-to-guest ratios—the hotel experience “has to be memorable and singular in a way that will give people a feel for local character," he explained. At the awards ceremony, he built upon that sentiment. “We’re not a checklist of amenities," he said.

This is still an improvement over other ranking systems, which rely on already-published articles by outside media or complimentary stays to produce their results; by contrast, Michelin has committed to independently paying for its hotel reviewers to stay at each property. In an interview after the ceremony, Poullennec went further, adding that multiple inspectors stay at each hotel, sometimes multiple times, before assigning keys.

“We have boots on the grounds, inspectors working the field in every country, leaving no stone unturned and also looking for discoveries, new openings, in order to be fully up to date in their recommendation," Poullennec said in remarks during the key presentation. 

The intimate US ceremony, held at New York City’s Museum of Art and Design, is the second such presentation by Michelin this month, with the first-ever awards being handed out to French hotels on April 8, in Paris. At that event, 24 hotels were awarded three keys, including five of Paris’ 12 “palace" hotels. And more such ceremonies are coming: Awards will be announced in Spain next week and in Italy on May 7, before heading to Japan in July. 

Read more: Michelin Picks 24 Top Hotels in France in First-Ever Ranking

To some US hoteliers, Michelin’s recognition holds outsize importance. In background conversations leading up to the event, owners of several new independent hotels in major cities held hope that earning multiple keys could help them compete with better-established luxury brands such as Aman, Rosewood or Ritz-Carlton. That may be the case for the boutique London-based Firmdale Hotels, whose two New York hotels, the Whitby and the Crosy Street Hotel, both earned three keys. 

Others in more remote locations expected that any honor could help them lure talent—places like Twin Farms in Barnard, Vermont, or Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tennessee, for example. Unfortunately the prospect will have to wait. 

It’s not that Michelin is the only designation that consumers can use to parse quality hotels. Walk into many of the key-awarded hotels, and you might see a Forbes’ five-star plaque—that honor was given to some 80 luxury hotels in the US in 2023, and American travel magazines dole out similar recognitions each year. But Michelin’s reputation spans much of the globe, in a way that the others do not.

“Our users say that when they are looking for places to stay, they will spend on average 10 hours on 10 different platforms to do so," Poullennec said at the ceremony. “They’re at a loss. There is a demand for real recommendations and independent ones, that you can trust and go beyond brand labels, and that apply from one country to another—a global reference."

Still, there are many skeptics. Michelin’s entry into the hotel market comes at a time when the company is looking for new revenue streams and attracting criticism for expanding its Michelin Dining Guides in a way that prioritizes destinations with big marketing budgets, even when they don’t have the restaurant quality to back it up.

The Atlanta Michelin Guide, for instance was sponsored by the local tourism board in a deal worth $1 million, but no restaurant in the city earned more than a single star. Its inclusion as one of the first destination in the hotel keys presentation will come as a surprise to luxury hotel afficcionados; the city is not widely known as a hub for luxury hotels, and only three hotels in the city were included, each with one key. 

Pouillennec tells Bloomberg the overlap is because restaurant critics need places to sleep; that made it logistically feasible to prioritize these places. Although, as he told Bloomberg earlier in Paris, they’re not excluding the possibility of sponsored hotel guides in the future.

Also leading to skepticism about the awards is Michelin’s acquisition of Tablet Hotels, which took place in 2018 for an undisclosed sum; it’s a curated booking platform for luxury and boutique hotels that features some 6,000 hotels globally and around 950 properties in the US.

The technology gives Michelin a place where it can facilitate bookings for its recommended hotels, earn commissions from them, and also collect feedback from guests about their stays. As a result, some hoteliers have wondered whether Michelin has prioritized Tablet properties in its inspections; the company says reviews are completely independent and carried out by full-time employees, but adds that every hotel it recognizes is immediately bookable on its website.

“Nothing matters more than the independence of our recommendations," Poullennec said.

In all, 124 hotels in the US were recognized with keys. Here are the ones that earned the top, three-key distinction:

The Beverly Hills Hotel, Dorchester Collection, Los AngelesPost Ranch Inn, Big Sur, CaliforniaSingleThread Inn, Healdsburg, CaliforniaHotel Bel-Air, Dorchester Collection, Los AngelesAuberge du Soleil, Auberge Resorts Collection, Rutherford, CaliforniaMeadowood Napa Valley, St. Helena, CaliforniaCanyon Ranch Woodside, Woodside, CaliforniaCrosby Street Hotel, Firmdale Hotels, New York CityThe Whitby Hotel, Firmdale Hotels, New York CityAman New YorkCasa Cipriani New York

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Published: 25 Apr 2024, 12:17 AM IST
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