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Hotels and Resorts

Cigar Aficionado's panel of travel experts picks the most luxurious, most outstanding, most exciting range of destinations in the world
Larry Olmsted
From the Print Edition:
Jim Belushi, November/December 2010

Five years is a long time in the travel business. That's how long it's been since Cigar Aficionado first tackled the notion of selecting the Best Hotels and Resorts in the World. Since then, there are many more luxury hotels and resorts, despite the tough economy of the last two years.

Americans have continued to expand their travel horizons, and once-exotic destinations have become more mainstream. Hotel industry trends have come and gone, new high-end chains have sprouted, and in short, today's traveler has more and better choices than ever-making vacation planning, in a way, harder than ever.

We are sticking to our original idea. Most travel publications ask readers to weigh in on their favorite properties. But we believe that readers' polls can be grossly distorted-one good example is a recent survey that named a hotel with a single par-3 golf course as the best golf resort in the Caribbean. The results rely on single visits, from people who may or may not have had a good experience.

We have gone about our travel surveys differently every year for the last five years, focusing on topics like golf, beach or vacation resorts or some speficic segment of the travel industry. We choose a group (usually around 30 people) who work in the travel business, even major hotel executives who are then prohibited from voting for their own properties. Check out cigaraficionado.com for a list of our pollsters and the methodology under a new feature called MagPlus. This year, we are revisiting the topic of our original poll in 2005: The World's Best Hotels and Resorts.

Before we get to the results, here is a roundup of how the travel landscape has changed-or not changed-since 2005.

What's Hot: A back-to-basics approach in the hotel industry, stressing the classic strengths of top operators and managers, service and cuisine. Any investor with enough money can build beautiful rooms with plenty of marble and electronics, but today's more discerning traveler is over flash and fizzle and demands first-rate food and staffing to go with the gorgeous physical plant.

The Pacific Rim continues to emerge as one of travel's shining stars, with a staggering crop of true luxury hotels from all the top brands in both the usual suspect cities, Tokyo and Hong Kong, as well as Beijing, Shanghai, Hanoi, Macao and more. The same is true on the resort front, with impossibly gorgeous beach and spa properties throughout Thailand, Indonesia,
Vietnam and the South Pacific. South America is the other hotbed of new discoveries. For more than a decade, industry pundits have predicted the continent's emergence as vacation destination and this finally seems to be happening with wonderful lodging properties in every shape and size, from city hotels to tiny boutique lodges, tucked amongst historic city centers, ruins, mountains and rainforests, along with lavish golf and beach resorts.

Here at home, nowhere is the recent change to the luxury hotel scene more visible than in the ski business. It is hard to believe that no so long ago there was not a single luxury chain operating a slope-side hotel in this country, with just a few independents like the Little Nell and Stein Eriksen representing the entire upscale ski lodging market. Suddenly everyone has jumped in: Four Seasons, Ritz Carlton, Park Hyatt, Capella, Aman, Rockresorts, St. Regis, Waldorf Astoria, Viceroy, Montage and so on. Just between the winters of 2009 and 2010 the luxury ski hotel selection in the U.S. will have essentially doubled.

Globally, "authenticity" is the industry buzzword, leading to the demise of the cookie-cutter hotel and rise of the sense of place. As obvious as it seems, travelers to Bali want to feel like they are in Bali, but this was not always the case. This search for authenticity has increased interest in destinations like Bhutan and to ancient ruins, and birthed a market for new hotel-based activities like cooking and language classes and even indigenous spa treatments.

Finally, a slew of new, smaller or imported luxury brands that had very little name recognition-or did not even exist-five years ago are stepping up to challenge the big boys. We saw the names Capella, Como, Shangri-La, Aman, Banyan Tree, Rocco Forte and Montage a lot more than in past polls.


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