|By Donna Hogan, The Tribune, Mesa, Ariz.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Oct. 24, 2003 - No Arizona resort or restaurant garnered five stars this year in the Mobil Travel Guide's annual hotel ratings announced Thursday.
And the number of local properties that earned four stars -- the second-best category -- was only about a third as big as a year ago.
Now part of ExxonMobil, the Mobil guides have been rating resorts and their restaurants for travelers since 1958. For the 2004 guides, the raters checked out 19,000 places to stay and dine, said Sandy Duhe, ExxonMobil spokeswoman. Only 30 U.S. hotels and 13 restaurants earned five stars, while 138 inns and 167 restaurants picked up four-star ratings, Duhe said.
Last year the Phoenician, which had been holding the state's five-star hotel spot alone after Camelback Inn tumbled down to four-stardom in 2000, dropped a notch. But the Phoenician's posh Mary Elaine's eatery still earned five stars in the 2003 restaurant ratings.
This year Mary Elaine's also lost a star, leaving the once-stellar East Valley without a glimmer from the top tier.
California shines brightest this year, according to Mobil, with seven hotels and three restaurants earning a whole handful of stars. New York has six five-star winners and Florida and Illinois each have four.
But even worse than the loss of Arizona's last five-star winner is the number of local inns and eateries that fell out of the four-star category. Only four Arizona hotels and six restaurants were ranked in the second best category this year. All the hotels and half the restaurants are in Scottsdale or east Phoenix. Last year 15 Arizona hotels and 12 restaurants earned four stars.
Among the hotels dropped from the four-star list for 2004 are the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess Resort and the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort at Gainey Ranch in Scottsdale, Marriott's Camelback Inn in Paradise Valley, and the Arizona Biltmore Resort and Royal Palms Hotel & Casitas, both in east Phoenix.
Restaurants falling from four-star favor this year are La Hacienda and Marquesa at the Fairmont in Scottsdale, Latilla Room at the Boulders in Carefree, the Phoenician's Terrace Dining Room and the Royal Palms' T. Cook's in east Phoenix.
Duhe said it's still a significant accomplishment for those that hung on.
"Four and five-star properties make up the top 2 percent of all 19,000, and having 10 is an extraordinary testament to the hospitality industry in the state," Duhe said. "Arizona has an excellent selection of resorts and restaurants."
Only a week ago, The Phoenician received a lot more respect from Conde Nast Traveler magazine whose subscribers rated it third best hotel in the nation. The resort has been working on improvements since losing a star last year, said general manager Mark Vinciguerra at the time.
"Everybody is recommitted to a five-star, five-diamond basis," Vinciguerra said. "We feel we are headed in the right direction in taking it to the next level this year."
Among the strategies is a $7 million spruce up of the property, which includes revamps of Mary Elaine's and Terrace restaurants and is scheduled to be completed by year-end, he said. At least $1 million of that was tapped to enhance Mary Elaine's elegant decor, including new tall-back leather chairs.
Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau president Rachel Sacco said often technical requirements deemed important by guide raters but not necessarily by guests can knock a property down a peg or two.
"Our resorts are all of a four- or five-star caliber," she said. "I think our hotels have made a conscious effort to invest money in improving the guest experience. We continue to be acknowledged as a No. 1 destination for the meetings industry."
Sacco said Scottsdale area resorts still rate high in consumer surveys, such as the recent Conde Nast Traveler poll. And she said guests' opinions are more important than those of professional raters.
"In a perfect world we'd like to see our resorts dominate (the Mobil guides) as they have in the past, but am I worried? No," Sacco said.
Duhe said formerly favored hotels sometimes lose their luster because consumers' expectations keep rising rather than because the hotels are deteriorating.
"It's a moving target," Duhe said. "A property couldn't stay the same for five years in a row and expect to (get the same star rating)."
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(c) 2003, The Tribune, Mesa, Ariz. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. XOM, MAR,