National News

How a hotel earns five stars: the checklist

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-07-02 02:00

Hyatt is building a five-star hotel on West 57th street in Manhattan. According to Forbes Travel Guide, there are only seven others in New York City. The hotel’s pool will feature underwater speakers with a custom soundtrack from nearby Carnegie Hall, and the hotel's bath amenities are perfumed with Tubereuse 40, a custom scent created by Le Labo. 

Hanya Yanagihara, an editor at large at Conde Nast Traveler, says there are various evaluative bodies - AAA, the Michelin Guide - that rank hotels. For a hotel to win that coveted fifth star, certain standards must be met. 

“There has to be a 24-hour reception area, and there has to be an onsite restaurant, there has to be 24-hour room service, there has to be express dry cleaning service,” she says. 

Forbes Travel Guide uses 800 standards on a checklist used to evaluate hotels. Michael Cascone, the guide’s president and COO, says 70 percent of its secret algorithm is tied to customer service.

"No one leaves a hotel and says, 'you know what? That lobby was beautiful, but the service was bad and I’m going back.'” 

Bruce Wallin, editorial director at luxury lifestyle magazine "Robb Report," which covers hotels, says five-star guests expect 400-thread count sheets and nice artwork.

He agrees that top-notch hotels need to maintain high-end facilities, or as he puts it: "It can't be fake wood and Formica."

But Wallin also points out that ranking systems can be too focused on checklist items, and as a result, might overlook the less tangible elements of a hotel. This could potentially excluding smaller, yet special, properties.

What really sets top hotels apart, he notes, is service and surprise.

“In Milan there’s a hotel where every afternoon, you get a knock on your door, and instead of housecleaning it’s a cocktail cart and they’ll make whatever drink you want, right in your room," says Wallin.

But the real surprise may be six and seven star hotels, which Yanagihara says can be found in Dubai.

"It can mean that every guest has acess to their own Bentley, or there’s a helicopter pad on the roof," she says. 

The ranking, notes Yanagihara, is not formally recognized by any governing body.

A Five-Star Rating by the numbers

Inspectors for Forbes Travel Guide’s respond with a “yes” or “no” answer to certain standards during an incognito visit to a hotel. The hundreds of yes's and no’s on the inspection report are tallied into a score that ultimately earns the hotel a "Five-Star," "Four-Star," or "Recommended" rating. Here's some more numbers behind a Five-Star rating:

800 items

The number of items on the checklist that determines star ratings.

70%

The percentage of items on the checklist that are specifically related to service quality.

To receive a Five-Star Rating:

10 minutes

The amount of time within which bags should arrive after registration.

90 minutes

The amount of time within which the staff at the pool should offer a complimentary drink on a warm day.

5 minutes

The window of time surrounding the estimated time of delivery within which room service should be delivered.

24 hours

The amount of time that both a reception desk and a restaurant must be available and open.

To receive a five-star rating, a specific welcome gift should be provided, and bathrooms should be supplied with a variety of items the guest would find useful. For example, guests at Park Hyatt New York will be offered bathroom amenities scented with Le Labo Tubereuse 40, a custom designed scent for the hotel.

Bitcoin auction gives the currency more legitimacy

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-07-02 02:00

The US Marshals Service has announced that the bitcoins sold in its auction on Friday went to one, lucky bidder. Now, the almost 30,000 bitcoins have been transferred to that winner. 

The Marshals routinely seize the property of criminals, but only auction stuff off that’s legal. You wouldn’t have a heroin auction, for example. But they did auction the bitcoin seized from the black market website, Silk Road.

Why auction bitcoin?

“Because bitcoin is a legitimate asset," says Gil Luria, a managing director at Wedbush Securities. "And now the US Marshals Service has acknowledged that.”

But even with that legitimacy, bitcoin still isn’t easy to trade. To get it, you have to go to unregulated markets in places like Slovenia or China. Still, CoinDesk US editor Pete Rizzo says the auction helps.

“Is it raising awareness beyond where bitcoin was maybe a month ago?  I think absolutely," he says. "Does it still have a long ways to go?  I think yes.”

The new respectability has pushed up the price of bitcoin.  And even though it fell when the Marshals first announced their auction, it’s made up the lost ground, and then some.

 

 

 

 

 

A 'Lost Generation Of Workers': The Cost Of Youth Unemployment

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-02 00:11

Youth joblessness remains remarkably high across the country, threatening long-term trouble for young people's career trajectories, earning potential and the overall health of the economy.

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For Sale: Vacant Lots On Chicago Blocks, Just $1 Each

NPR News - Wed, 2014-07-02 00:00

Empty lots have multiplied in parts of Chicago in recent years, so the city is selling them to homeowners dirt cheap. It's an effort to spark renewal in some of the city's most blighted areas.

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Targeting Overweight Workers With Wellness Programs Can Backfire

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-01 23:49

Companies say it pays to invest in employee health — productivity climbs and many costs of health care drop. But preserving worker privacy while encouraging fitness can be tricky.

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A Woman Wrestles With A Disturbing Family Memento

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-01 23:44

Carol Zachary was 9 when her grandfather gave her an invitation to a hanging he attended in 1917. She peppered him with questions, but the meaning of his gesture still remains a mystery, even today.

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Afghanistan's Slow-Motion Election Strains A Fragile Country

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-01 23:39

The presidential vote was held in April. The two-man runoff came on June 14. Preliminary results expected Wednesday have been delayed as one candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, claims widespread fraud.

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