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From her vision of excellence and effortless service to the evolution of the guest experience in the luxury hotel industry, Amanda Frasier tells us more about her conception of luxury and the pillars of good ratings.


From her vision of excellence and effortless service to the evolution of the guest experience in the luxury hotel industry, Amanda Frasier tells us more about her conception of luxury and the pillars of good ratings.

Category: Worldwide - Industry economy - Interviews and portraits - Exclusive experiences - Rewards - Trends / Expert's advice - Interviews - Industry leaders
Interview made by Vanessa Guerrier-Buisine on 2024-06-21

Amanda Frasier, President of Standards and Ratings, Forbes Travel Guide

Amanda Frasier, President of Standards and Ratings, Forbes Travel Guide
Photo credit © Forbes Travel Guide

After starting her career in the hotel industry and joining Forbes Travel Guide as an inspector, Amanda Frasier has risen through the ranks of the independent rating system, devoting 17 years to the company that 'verifies luxury'. In 2022, Amanda was promoted to President of Standards and Ratings by Hermann Elger, the iconic CEO of Forbes Travel Guide. Elger praised Frasier's integrity and leadership because of her commitment to making standards more transparent and to keeping Forbes Travel Guide's evaluation and training departments completely independent of each other.

At the head of the Standards Advisory Committee she founded, the President of Standards and Ratings orchestrates a team of leaders from the hotel and luxury industry. She also oversees events such as The Summit, which will take place in Monaco in 2025.

In an interview with Journal des Palaces, Amanda Frasier reveals her vision of excellence, which she defines as authenticity, simplicity, and consistency. She describes the concept of “effortless service”, embodied by teams who intuitively anticipate guests' needs. She also looks at the evolution of the guest experience and the growing importance of well-being, and finally addresses general managers aspiring to achieve five stars.

Journal des Palaces: How do you define excellence?

Amanda Frasier: For me, excellence is about authenticity. And a lot of our standards are written in a way that we're seeking that authenticity for the guest: Did the staff smile? When they spoke to you, did it feel genuine or forced? And did it feel robotic, like they were going through a checklist? Our standards help understand what the guest is feeling.

So, really, I suppose excellence comes down to three things: authenticity, not overly complicated, and consistency.

How to evaluate the level of emotion?

We don't specifically evaluate emotions in ratings. But the way that we look for authenticity is through standards that we classify as graciousness and thoughtfulness. When our evaluators provide an answer, they have internal guidance on the direction of what we're looking for.

For example, when you were having breakfast, was the server thoughtful during your dining experience? Somebody who's not well-trained in luxury might say “Yes, they put down some condiments when they served my eggs”, and yes, that's thoughtful, but that's not really the level of anticipation. But if they saw that you were shielding your eyes because the sun was coming right in, if they noticed that, if they offered to move you or change the orientation of the shades, that’s what we’re looking for. It is paying attention to more than just the things that are part of your job.

Among the criteria used by inspectors, you mention the quest for “effortless service”. Could you explain this concept in more detail?

This is about the guests, not having to unnecessarily stop and think about the next obvious step. We want the inspectors to see that the staff is engaged and focused. It's really about the staff thinking before the guest has to think what the next step could be.

I remember, years ago, before we booked our own alarm calls on our phones. I was booking an alarm call at the front desk. I had a very early flight, like 4:00 AM. And noticing that it was very early, they asked me, would you like a reminder call in the next 5 minutes? I was very anxious about waking up early for this early flight, and I'm missing it, and it’s almost like they were reading my mind.

How can this effortless service be achieved?

You can't teach those things. You're either intuitive around service or you're not. Hospitality is more than a job, it's a career, it's a lifestyle, and it's who you are as a person. Bringing that to a team is a very important part of a hotel's success.

And you can have the most wonderful training in the world, whether it's Forbes Travel Guide training or your own training. But, at the end of the day, it's how the hotel operates itself to continue to instil that passion and make the staff feel that what they're doing has got an end goal and has an outlook.

How does guest experience fit into your rating system?

Guest experience is something that we introduced much more specifically for this past year. The average luxury consumer is so much more educated in their decision-making process and their expectation that we needed to make sure our standards were aligned with that thinking too.

We have guest experience standards now, which can impact your service score, and they look at things that we've never really looked at before, and reward or detract it with points. So as an example, now we ask our evaluators: How did you feel about the experience versus the cost? And we asked them to look at this very broadly, not just about the room cost, but it's: did you feel you made a smart decision staying at this hotel when you sat down in your room, and you ordered a burger, or a bowl of soup and the bill was $150.00? What came with it that made you feel that was the best experience?

When the last list was unveiled, you said, “The new winners on our 2024 list reflect the increased efforts properties are making to deliver elevated guest experiences”. Could you give some examples of these efforts to which you refer?

Guests now are more spoiled for choice of how to travel than ever before. I think there are so many wonderful ways that you can travel now that are much more open to so many more people. There’s been some terrific food and beverage programs, really interesting events and activities that a guest can do. It's a lot more well-being focused.

When I made that comment, we started to see more hotel brands partnering with other luxury brands. So, these collaborations are not new, but I think hotels are seeing that there is a real opportunity for the intersection of luxury fashion, entertainment, obviously, hospitality, and healthcare. It enhances the guest experience because it gives them something new to try that maybe they would not have experienced anywhere else.

How much effort is required to go from 4* to 5*?

To be a four-star, you have to be at 82%, and to be a 5 star, you have to be at 90%. But we don't like to think of our rating system as a game of numbers because once you start trying to gain the system, like if a hotel GM is thinking “I just need to get to 82, or I just need to get to 90”, you've already lost. That's the worst way to approach it.

The effort really comes down to consistency and everything we were saying before. It’s thinking about how I make sure that every member of this team, from the owner, all the way down, is on the same page. It’s everybody understanding that the goal isn't the number, but the goal is how you're making a guest feel.

Could you briefly detail the terms of the recent partnership with Les Clefs d'Or, the hotel concierge association?

We believe strongly in the value that an excellent concierge, as the members of Les Clefs d’Or, can bring to the hotel, but more importantly, can help to elevate the guest experience.

Every year, we go through our standards, and just keep them relevant. Our Standards Advisory Committee (SAC) helps us do that. So, I am chair of this SAC, that I established in 2013. It’s a group of top-level hospitality executives that help the conversation when we refine our standards. And the President of Les Clefs d’Or has a seat on it.

We attend the Clefs d’Or annual conference; we support and bring our thought leadership there. And they also play a significant role at our event, such as the summit which is due to take place in Monaco in February 2025. Les Clefs d’Or concierge from the entire Côte d’Azur are collaborating with us and helping me put together some bespoke tours and opportunities, very small groups for our guests to enjoy and participate in.

What major trends does the Forbes Travel Guide monitor closely?

We're monitoring luxury, and how that continues to evolve. Once upon a time being in a restaurant, you had to have a white tablecloth. That's just not what defines luxury dining any more. If that's what your restaurant does, that's great, but that isn't exclusively how you can create luxury.

Well-being and sustainability are very important as well. One example with well-being is the advancement of touchless well-being services. So, we introduced touchless service standards to our evaluation last year. Because we know the importance of giving the guests this wider choice of maybe less traditional well-being experiences.

And there are so many great brands like Carillon Miami Wellness Resort in Miami Beach. Tammy Pahel, who is on our SAC and helped us frame our touchless service standards. This is not only for the ROI for a SPA, but also, obviously importantly, for the benefit of the guests because it's pushing well-being outside the spa and putting it into the main areas of a hotel.

What advice would you give to a General Manager who wants to achieve five stars?

Whether you achieve “recommended”, four stars or five stars, if you're on our list, basically you're one of the 1443 hotels on our list. It shows already that there is a commitment to thinking about all the steps that your hotel needed to go through to create an excellent guest experience.

So, it shows that as a leader, you've done something right. The five-star list represents just around 20% of our entire list, so it comes back to consistency.

You don't chase the stars, what you're chasing is hopefully a guest outcome, the way that you want your hotel to be perceived. And it really comes down to great communication with your entire team and consistent support. Focusing on authentic service and gestures that come from the heart but giving them the ownership to be themselves and be the person that you hired.

You can't fake excellence. You have to live it and breathe it even when there are mistakes, and that's OK to make mistakes because that's where the biggest learning opportunities.

Forbes travel guide the summt

The next Forbes Travel Guide Summit will take place in Monaco in February 2025
Photo credit © Forbes Travel Guide

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About the author

As a journalist and luxury hotel expert inspired by the men and women who embody it, Vanessa aspires to enhance and sublimate the beauty and elegance of palaces through her writing. "In a palace, simplicity serves the quest for excellence" she admires.

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