Seeing Stars

by Tiana Templeman

The Oxford dictionary defines “luxury” as “something costly that is enjoyable but not essential”. I beg to differ. A luxurious holiday each year is something I cannot seem to do without – yet the term is harder to define when it comes to hotels. Especially when any hotelier with enough money and chutzpah can self-rate their property and market it as a decadent luxury escape.

I once stayed at a so-called five star resort that offered “exciting in-room dining”. It was most exciting indeed – you were never quite certain the food would arrive. Service was non-existent and checking out seemed to take longer than my flight from Australia. At another luxury hotel, our bags were delivered to the wrong room and the suite came with a live snake instead of welcome champagne. Unfortunately five stars do not always guarantee a good stay and the current rating system is far from perfect.

With no internationally recognised worldwide standard, good accommodation can be hard to find, especially when travelling overseas. Many countries rely on less than perfect self rating, some use diamonds, some use stars, and there were no five star hotels State for tourism recently revised the French classification system to remove “four star plus” and clear up the long standing confusion.

As for six or seven star hotels, there is (officially, at least) no such thing. Not even Dubai’s Burj Al Arab which is frequently referred to as “seven star” yet described by the hotel management as “five star deluxe”. The seven star rating was apparently awarded by a journalist who was so impressed by the hotel’s opulence she wrote it up as a “seven star hotel”.

Closer to home, the exclusive Qualia on Hamilton Island often finds itself in a similar situation. “We are unable to use the 6 star moniker as the AAA rating stops at 5 stars in Australia, and it would not be appropriate if we started inventing a new category, but that has not stopped others referring to Qualia as 6 star,” explains Jill Collins, Group PR Manager for Hamilton Island.

Choosing a hotel based on its star rating can lead to disappointment for a variety of reasons. The first being that many outstanding hotels both in Australia and overseas will never achieve a five star rating. Exquisite boutique properties such as Queenstown Park Hotel, which boasts limited edition linens, funky Esther Diamond cushions and design flourishes galore, are disadvantaged by traditional rating systems which focus solely on facilities. It’s not viable for a small hotel such as this to offer services such as valet parking and 24-hour room service. Therefore it will never be rated as five star.

Other issues relate to service or, in some cases, lack thereof. The true test of a luxury hotel is meeting or, some would say, exceeding guest expectations, yet service is seldom rated during an accreditation process. Amazing but true! Remaining loyal to a preferred hotel group can help travellers avoid disappointment, as can choosing properties with a strong focus on service.

Great Britain’s Automobile Association claims to have been the first to use stars for accommodation ratings back in 1912, and New Zealand has had a standardised star rating system since the early 1990s, but times have since changed. Modern media allows us to access to a wealth of information when it comes to choosing somewhere to stay. Why limit yourself to five stars when there is a whole universe to explore? In my opinion, the following properties have a star quality all their own.

The Langham Hotel Auckland, New Zealand
A haven of tranquillity in the heart of Auckland, this elegant hotel boasts one of the best spas in the country. Guests enter Chuan Spa through a circular “moon gate” (referred to by regulars as ‘the portal of pleasure’) to experience sensory delights. Overnight accommodation in an opulent Chuan Haven, resplendent in rich silks with oriental divider screens and an infinity-edge bathtub big enough to swim in, is guaranteed to balance your yin and yang. www.auckland.langamhotels.co.nz??

Sofitel Moorea Ia Ora Beach Resort, Moorea, French Polynesia
This resort shows off the ‘pearl of the Pacific’ to perfection with magnificent water views and a romantic restaurant known simply as ‘K’. Here diners are entertained by Tahitian dancers moving gracefully around each linen-draped table, their beautiful smiles bathed in the soft glow of candlelight. Each secluded overwater bungalow has direct access to sparkling aquamarine water and continuous entertainment is provided by the in-room ‘Tahiti TV’ (a glass panel in the bungalow floor). www.accorhotels.com

??Hyatt Regency Coolum, Queensland, Australia
Location, location, location. Guests can step off the plane at Mooloolaba and be checked-in and chilling out less than 30-minutes later. Standard rooms are anything but – a separate sitting area, plenty of room to relax, and breakfast is complimentary for every guest. Those staying at the exclusive Ambassadors Club, an enclave akin to a hotel-within-a-hotel, enjoy free school holiday babysitting during the cocktail hour and free-flowing complimentary champagne at the Club House. This relaxed coastal resort boasts a world-class golf course and never fails to deliver a hole-in-one (even for those who don’t play). www.coolum.regency.hyatt.com

Palazzo Versace, Gold Coast, Australia
Taking poolside lounging to a new level with a man-made beach featuring sparkling Surfers Paradise sand and gauze-draped private cabanas piled high with Versace cushions. Designer cocktails are de rigueur, and spa treats such as manicures can be enjoyed without leaving the cool oasis of your cabana. Accommodation ranges from standard rooms to condominium suites with a rooftop terrace and private marina berth. Suitably summery cuisine and the latest chill-out tunes complete the aquatic ambience at this glamorous resort. www.palazzoversace.com??

Huka Lodge, Taupo, New Zealand
Huka Lodge feels more like a (very wealthy) friend’s place than a hotel. Cosy furnishings and thoughtful touches invite you to relax. This once simple fishing lodge now offers 18 guest rooms featuring monogrammed linen, bespoke toiletries and elegant French doors overlooking the mighty Waikato River. Relax in front of the fireplace, explore the surrounding countryside, or trout fish from the Lodge’s rolling green lawn (rods and hearty encouragement provided free of charge). Huka Lodge has been spoiling local and international visitors with convivial cocktail hours, stellar food and gracious hospitality since the 1920s. www.hukalodge.co.nz