Five-star gold and platinum accolades will sort the luxurious from the truly glamorous, inspectors say.
Luxury redefined by new Dubai hotel ratings
DUBAI // The emirate famous for luxury hotels is adding superstar "gold" and "platinum" statuses and two dozen other categories.
The labels, part of a year-long overhaul of a 13-year-old classification system by Dubai's tourism authority, are being introduced to help hotels better differentiate themselves in a hospitality scene bursting with luxury.
Dubai now boasts 52,000 hotel rooms, 20,000 of them five-star, 13,000 four-star and many more opening each month.
"We have a lot of five stars here in Dubai. And in the coming years, more than 90 per cent of the rooms which will come down the pipeline, they are five stars," said Majid al Marri, the head of hotel classification at the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing.
"So we have to differentiate between the five stars which have the minimum requirements of our criteria [and those that do] more than we ask for," he said. "We have to award them."
Hotels will be invited to apply for the new labels and will continue to have a ranking of 1 to 5 stars, though the criteria for each level, also dating from 1998, will be updated.
While only five-star accommodations can apply for the gold or platinum "accolades", all hotels are eligible for the other two labels: "categories" and "designators".
Categories denote the type of accommodation. The original three - hotel, hotel apartment and guest house - have been expanded to eight, including resort, timeshare and youth hostel.
The 18 designators - all new - provide more detail, for example, airport or desert, all-suites or boutique, golf or shopping.
The new scheme will provide guidance in what has become a vast hotel landscape, said Peter Goddard, managing director of TRI Hospitality Consulting Middle East based in Dubai.
"We endorse the new classification system," he said. "The market has developed significantly over the past decade and has become more difficult to analyse.
"Historically if you googled five-star hotels in Dubai, you'd come up with a list of all the five-star hotels. And it doesn't give you a whole lot of direction," he said. "Now you'll be able to work out where they are located and their quality."
The gold and platinum accommodations will have to meet exacting standards on levels of luxury. Both types must offer in-room check-in, complimentary poolside refreshments and a different nightly gift with the turndown service, among other requirements.
Platinum hotels must also provide round-the-clock butler service, with at least one butler per 10 rooms. Shampoo and other amenities must come in full sizes - not miniatures - from a globally recognised luxury brand.
Though the tourism authority said it developed its criteria with feedback from hotels, many in the industry could do without the gold and platinum statuses, said Dhahi Bader al Budoor, the supervisor of the hotel classification department.
The five-star hotels that don't get them could end up feeling left behind.
The Jumeirah Group, which runs the colloquially titled "seven star" Burj al Arab and other hotels in Dubai, said the new system would "bring clarity to the ranking of hotel rooms".
It still needed to review the criteria but felt its establishments would "fare very well under the new ranking", said the spokeswoman Genevieve Picard.
The gold and platinum statuses are not used in other countries, though the tourism authority said their criteria had been benchmarked based on research - and stayovers - in hotels in the region and worldwide.
The department plans to hire "assessors" to inspect hotels applying for new categories. They will have to have experience inspecting hotels and spend three to six months in training.
For hotels seeking gold or platinum status, a mystery guest will stay and test the amenities for two nights.
When it comes to making sure hotels deserve their stars, the emirate’s official hotel inspectors go from top to bottom – literally, from the rooftop to reception.
In their daily rounds they spend up to several hours in each hotel, armed with a 15-page checklist, digital camera and – if needed – a laser distance measurer.
But the checklist, which dates from 1998 and has 178 boxes, may not capture the full essence of what makes a five-star hotel feel like a five-star hotel.
It homes in on details such as soap receptacles and shoe-polishing sponges, while moving swiftly over other areas that guests might care more about. “Health club” and “swimming pool”, for example, get one box each, with no additional requirements.
“For the new one, there will be more details,” said Bader Abdullah Mohammed, deputy director of hotel classification at the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing. He said he used the same checklist when he started out as an inspector 12 years ago.
At a guided inspection of the four-star Layia Plaza Hotel near the airport, Mr Mohammed took pictures of the signboard outside, quizzed bellboys on their mailing services, inspected the lunch buffet, walked around the gym and read the toiletry labels in a guest bathroom.
Like others in his department, he knew by heart which boxes needed to be ticked for a four-star rating.
Other checklist items deal with staff uniforms, air conditioning, laundry service, bathroom supplies, telephones, hangers, reading lights and their means of control from the bed, floor space, newspaper selection, public toilets and dining options.
A few boxes addressed “general cleanliness” and “satisfactory standard of interior and exterior decoration”.
Some four-star hotels might feel as luxurious in quality as a five-star hotel, but not have five stars because they lack certain amenities, Mr Mohammed said.
And hotels that meet the criteria for their level might still have to make improvements, especially if they have been open for many years.
The hotels respond, often using the slower Ramadan period to do renovations, he said.
Hotels face routine inspections up to four times a year, more if they have received warnings or fines. The offending establishments are given a certain amount of time to fix their problems – whether a dirty carpet or poor service – and are inspected again once that time runs out.
Basil Haddad, the Layia Plaza front office manager, accompanied Mr Mohammed through the hotel, pointing out special touches and rattling off babysitting, medical, valet and other services that it offers.
The hotel’s own duty manager inspected several rooms each day, said Mr Haddad, following requirements set by the company and the government.
“They are very tough on us,” he said.
• Luxurious furniture and extra non-allergenic pillows
• Small rug, tissue paper, a scale
• Health club and swimming pool
• Non-smoking rooms and restaurant areas
• Arranging local tours and excursions
• Rooms 25 per cent larger than five-star minimum
• Seated or in-room check-in
• Evening turn-down including a gift that is changed daily
• In-room food or beverage amenity
• Full-service spa
• Rooms 35 per cent larger than five-star minimum
• Full-sized, luxury-brand bathroom amenities
• 24-hour butler service with maximum ratio of 1 butler to 10 rooms
• Food amenity in room replenished daily
• Complimentary evening refreshments