On your last stay at the Ritz-Carlton Chicago, did you have to escort yourself to your room? Were fresh flowers not present in the guest room? Were you not offered a refreshing water spritz at the pool?
If you were offered only one complimentary newspaper instead of two, there is a reason. The posh hotel earned only four stars from the new Mobil Travel Guide 2009, after six years of proudly holding a five-star status.
Meeting the requirements for a Mobil Five-Star Award is no easy task. The travel guide inspects hotels, restaurants, and spas in a broad range of classifications, including graciousness and efficiency. There are more than 500 criteria for staff appearance, behavior, food quality, housekeeping, concierge services, etc.
Inspectors allow no room for error. For example, a guest's luggage should be delivered to his/her room in ten minutes. Not eleven. Not ten and a half. Ten.
With standards exact as these, few businesses are able to meet them. Of the more than 8,000 North American hotels that the Mobil Travel Guide rates, only 44 achieved Five-Star status this year.
But it's not all bad news for the Ritz. Due to a poor economy and a tight credit market, many business travelers who were formerly authorized to stay at Five-Star hotels are now restricted to Four Stars.
Luxury hotels across the board have been hit hard, with occupancy rates falling nearly 25% the first week of January, compared with the same time period last year, according to Smith Travel Research.
Many high-end hotels have found themselves offering incentives—free valet parking, free Internet service, free spa use, and even complimentary restaurant meals—all services which were once charged extra for.
Businesses have also been faced with the dilemma of cutting costs without compromising service.
"You're thinking, how do you provide decent service to guests without them seeing that you've cut back on staffing levels, or noticing you're putting two bags of coffee in the room instead of four?" Lisa Grossberg, the general manager of the Buckingham Hotel in Midtown Manhattan, told the New York Times.
It appears the Mobil inspectors do not work on a state-of-the-economy sliding scale.