One of my favorite pastimes is traveling. I love seeing and exploring new places, but I also enjoy the familiarity of chain hotels rather than relying on pictures and well-marketed descriptions of what to expect.
For those accustomed to living an opulent lifestyle that are seeking a truly rarified experience, being able to find a chain of hotels or resorts with a global presence can be difficult – especially if your expectation is familiarity meaning you always know what to expect, regardless of where you’re staying.
To help launch our new travel section, I’ve decided to break down the chains and give you a list of some of my personal favorite chains that take luxury to new heights. Utilizing my personal experience in addition to the experiences of many avid travelers I know and some of the top travel experts around the world, I’ve compiled this fairly in-depth report on the most lavish travel experiences you can find when staying at a chain hotel or resort.
The Criteria for Best Hotel Chains of the World
The criteria was surprisingly fairly limited. My initial thought when selecting the hotels was that the hotel chain must have a certain number of properties in a minimal geographic location such as let’s say 100 hotels in 50+ countries. However, as I began to seek out these abodes, I quickly realized by limiting the selection, I was going to be forced to leave out certain brands that can truly be considered spectacular places to rest your head for the night.
For the initial list, I decided the best way to determine eligibility was simply to define a chain as it is: a group of hotels and/or resorts owned and operated by the same parent organization. What came of that decision was a list that I think you’ll really get a lot of insight from. The only problem? It was a very big list.
That’s when I started narrowing the eligibility criteria down even further. I looked at the amenities offered with the chains. Did they have well reviewed restaurants managed by established chefs? Did they offer full service spa packages or at the very least, massage treatments? Was there onsite shopping or perhaps a well regarded complex just a short commute from the hotel? Was there an opportunity to engage in tourism or if chosen, could you simply relax poolside with a mojito? I began to think of everything I look for in a hotel or resort and streamline the list from there.
That’s how I came up with the shortlist detailed below. I focused on the most important factors that I consider when choosing a luxury property and furthered my search to ensure that the brands offered most, if not all of the same services and options at each of their respective properties. I call this the “McDonald’s” factor. Obviously, I’m not comparing a luxury hotel chain to a fast food restaurant, but the analogy is that you can walk into any McDonald’s restaurant, almost anywhere in the world and you know exactly what to expect. The uniforms are the same, the colors are the same and the famous golden arches never change. It’s a safe restaurant, because you know that no matter where you order your Big Mac from, it will always be made the same way, each and every time.
The Leading Luxury Hotel Chains of the World
One & Only
One & Only is a chain of hotels and resorts with eight exquisite properties around the world and three more in development. While many of you may not recognize the name, you would know the properties if you saw them. As an example, the Ocean Club on Paradise Island in the Bahamas is a well known hotbed for the wealthy and was prominently featured in the James Bond film Casino Royale starring Daniel Craig. With a prime focus on relaxation and play, One & Only resort destinations are perfect for discerning travelers seeking a refined experience. From the moment you pull up to the resort, every whim and desire is catered to by a team of experienced servants. Well known for their willingness to do anything to ensure guest satisfaction, the following resorts should be considered while traveling to any of the following destinations:
Palmilla Resort, Los Cabos
Ocean Club, Bahamas
Cape Town, South Africa
The Palm, Dubai
Royal Mirage, Dubai
Le Saint Geran, Mauritius
Reethi Rah, Maldives
Hayman Island, Australia
Perhaps one of the most well known and established chains of luxurious properties, the Ritz Carlton brand has been around since the days of our forefathers, or so it may seem. Described as a hotel for the “grandparents” by Virtuoso travel expert Jason Swaye of Vision Travel Solutions, the Ritz Carlton is quite possibly one of the most classically refined travel experiences one can enjoy. From the moment you arrive, the grandeur of the resorts and hotels in its portfolio will strike you down with awe and envy, wishing your home could be as opulent as the hotel. Even the most exquisitely decorated estates the world over seemingly pale in comparison to the overwhelming sense of graceful elegance that the Ritz so passionately resonates within its walls. With a large scale of varying properties around the world, the Ritz Carlton brand can easily be considered the godfather of rarified luxury. One thing that the Ritz Carlton group of hotels has really focused on in recent years is upgrading their aging sense of refinement. Continuing to focus on the older generation, they have now began to also realize that wealthy clientele is getting younger with each decade that passes. It now seems that while you can certainly find the floral blue and white prints in many of its hotels, the brand is also beginning to modernize its amenities in an ongoing effort to attract a younger clientele as well.
A Canadian hotelier, the Fairmont brand is what Swaye considers a top choice for corporate travelers. Certainly, many of their hotels such as the Banff location cater to all types, the Fairmont hotels are predominantly business oriented. I myself have attended conferences hosted by them in Vancouver, and the service was absolutely spectacular. One feature I thoroughly enjoyed was the separate reception / concierge desk for members which allowed me to bypass lines of people registering in the foyer. Often described as “castles”, many of the Fairmont hotels rest in historic buildings where ownership has opted to revitalize their history instead of renovating it with a more youthful appearance. The result is nothing short of opulent, with every detail being taken into consideration. Despite their historic image, many Fairmont hotels feature galleria or boutique stores with luxury watches, leather goods and couture.
Most luxury hotels attempt to blend into their surroundings. Paris based hotels will usually offer a Parisian flair with a focus on French cuisine, whereas a tropical destination may have palm trees in the lobby with fresh local produce prominent in the daily menus. One exception to this rule is the chain of hotels owned by Mandarin Oriental. While speaking with Virtuoso’s Jason Swaye, we played some word association and he opted to use the word “ über luxury” in his description of Mandarin Oriental. What’s truly unique and special about Mandarin Oriental is that regardless of where you are in the world, as soon as you enter one of their properties you feel like you’ve been transported to Asia with a single step through the door. Almost every property focuses on Asian luxury from the menu in the restaurants to the decor in the rooms. Mandarin Oriental hotels are often so luxurious, many royal palaces would have to increase their operating budgets to cater in the same way the hotel does to its guests.
Another Canadian based chain, the Four Seasons brand is well known amongst world travelers who require the very best in service and surroundings. Popular with celebrity clienteles as well as corporate executives, the chain offers a variety of styles and accommodations around the world, somehow taking each uniquely decorated property and giving it the familiarity you would expect with a global chain. Even though the hotels can often differ dramatically, the people who work to fulfill your wishes are all trained with the same principles which ensures you always feel like you’re home. What’s really unique about the Four Seasons brand is that despite each hotel being so different, you somehow never forget where you’re staying.
With 83 hotels and resorts throughout Asia Pacific, North America, the Middle East, and Europe, the Shangri-La group has an inventory of over 34,000 rooms steeped in Asian inspired luxury. What’s interesting about this brand in particular is that each hotel and resort is completely different. While the brand is synonymous with luxury and elegance, each hotel offers various services, amenities and options; something that’s fairly unusual for a corporate owned brand. Despite this, they really do an exceptional job of ensuring each hotel meets a standard of luxury which is why they deserve to be on this list. The brand has done a great job of focusing on some of the smallest details and offering them complimentary to guests when many other hotels charge. One example of this is wifi in each hotel. Many hotels only have hotspots in certain regions or offer it at a small cost. Shangri-La has it in every property as well as in every property owned car that is available for guest use. Of course, as a journalist, I have to mention that a great perk are the daily bookmarks left at turndown with a copy of James Hilton’s novel Lost Horizons for guests to read during their stay and take home if they choose. It’s this novel that was the inspiration for the Sangri-La brand.
The Park-Hyatt brand is quite possibly one of the most luxurious hotels that caters very well to the business community. They’ve managed to take all of the amenities and various services that are synonymous with the luxury hotel industry and perfect them to cater to corporate travelers over and above the typical traveler. Nowhere will you find a more exquisite collection of fine art, comforts and services to make the traveling executive feel at home. Even with their newest addition in Vienna, they’ve managed to begin a resurgence that has helped to increase business traffic into the area. While of course they still manage to fill their hotels with families and tourists alike, no other brand is as well received by the corporate community as Park Hyatt.
With a focus on leisure and tourism, Oberoi is an exceptional choice for families or couples looking to get away from the rigors of daily life. The brand operates thirty hotels across much of the middle east and abroad. They are quite possibly, one of the most refined and exquisite destination hotels you will find anywhere in India, the Himalayas, Indonesia, Mauritius or Egypt. They also recently hit the billionaires playground opening a hotel in Dubai just last year. There really isn’t much more to say, other than for those on vacation, this brand is about as good as it gets.
Born of a distinctive legacy and crafted for modern connoisseurs who desire the finest experiences imaginable, the St. Regis brand established luxury hospitality with the opening of their New York landmark more than 100 years ago. A staple in the luxury industry, this brand is a superlative choice for leisurely or business travel. Their motto is simply “Allow me” and they’re well regarded for their discreet and anticipatory butler service in each of the hotels. If you’re a travel aficionado expecting the very best in service and amenities, the St Regis should be on your list of places to stay.
When you arrive at a hotel and there’s a fleet of Rolls Royce Phantoms in the front parking lot, you know you arrived at home. When I spoke with Swaye from Virtuoso, the only word he used to describe the hotel chain was “impeccable”. I must say, I concur. Their portfolio isn’t huge, but very few brands spend as much as they do ensuring each property surpasses the expectations of the worlds wealthiest and most discerning clientele. Today, they have properties in Hong Kong, plus Shanghai, Tokyo, Beijing, New York, Chicago, Beverly Hills, Bangkok and Manila. A property is set to open in Paris next month and London is currently under development. If you are seeking the most rarified experience imaginable, the Peninsula is your destination of choice.
As Europe’s oldest chain of luxury hotels, Kempinski operates with the belief that life should be lived with style. Currently, the brand owns an international portfolio of over 70 Hotels that reflect the finest traditions of European hospitality with each customer served by European trained staff that is dedicated to making the guest feel more important than royalty. The fact remains that Europe is renowned for its quality of service, more so than any other region as a whole, and Kempinski adopts that practice and then perfects it.
From the classic colonial splendour of Raffles Singapore, to Dubai, Seychelles, Cambodia, Paris, Beijing, Hainan, Makati and Makkah, the Raffles name is synonymous with exquisite luxury, glamour and extraordinary adventure. Often considered one of the most intriguing luxury brands in the world, no where else will you feel more like James Bond. There is a mysterious refinement that each hotel seems to successfully capture and it makes you feel a sense of romanticism, glamour and Asian intrigue all at once.
There aren’t many brands as well known as Bulgari when it comes to luxury. With their roots planted firmly in some of the most expensive and exquisite jewelry found around the world, the brand decided they could compete with the very best that the luxury hotel industry had to offer. Only opening hotels at the finest addresses, Bulgari has properties in Milan, Bali, Tokyo and London, with developments under way in Shanghai and Dubai. While the brand may be young, it has certainly captured the attention of luxury journalists and customers the world over.
If you measure success in room numbers, Aman resorts hasn’t achieved all that much. They are small, intimate resorts catering to an exclusive few. This isn’t the place to bring your children or stay for business, it’s the honeymoon destination. If you need to reclaim your life this is the place to do it. They may not have the same capacity as the other hotels in this list, but they offer a far more involved and intimate service package, making your desires come to life. What I really appreciate about Aman is their modesty. While they may be in the pursuit of perfection, according to the brand, “the perfect resort has never been built, nor will it”. In my opinion it’s this unique business model that earns them a spot on the list of the most luxurious hotel chains of the world.
You may read this name and think “where do I know this from?” Jumeirah owns the distinctive sail-shaped Burj Al Arab in Dubai which has repeatedly been named the most luxurious hotel in the world and the symbol of modern Dubai. Despite being so well known for this single property, Jumeirah is one brand that puts extraordinary efforts into all of its properties in an effort to compete not with other brands, but with themselves. Regardless of how stunning their hotels are, it’s actually the service within that really makes the brand so extraordinary. Dubai has become well known as the billionaire’s playground and not even cities like Vegas or New York can compete with the discerning clientele resorts in Dubai encounter each day. Nowhere else in the world does service have to be so consistently perfect, ensuring that the world’s wealthiest and most distinguished people don’t have their expectations met, but have them exceeded. It’s this level of service that Jumeirah adopts throughout all of its properties, regardless of whether it’s one of their hotels in Europe, the Middle East or Asia .
Luxury hotels can often be a let down when traveling to new locations. With the development of photo enhancing software, many photos found online are nothing short of deceiving. It’s not unusual for unsuspecting travelers to book what they believe is luxury accommodations only to find something on par with a sleazy motel when they arrive. This is the reason behind this guide. It’s the familiarity factor, and despite each property owned by brands having differing features, amenities and services, the one thing you can expect is a level of unparalleled service and sophistication.
Each hotel and resort chain listed above caters to a different type of clientele. It’s our hope that you’ll find the right property for your next vacation and that you won’t have to worry about any unfortunate surprises.
Stay tuned for more in-depth features and guides showcasing some of the world’s most spectacular destinations for luxury travel. What are your favorite hotel chains, or do you prefer boutique hotels?
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