Top class Any ser­vice can claim to merit five stars but few make the grade

Top-of-the-line lux­ury is all about ser­vice, style and sub­stance, which means many are called but few are cho­sen

The Australian - The Deal - - News -

THERE ARE FIRST-CLASS X-men, First­Class Cool­rooms and First-Class Vi­ta­mins. I’ve even seen First-Class Drain-clean­ing and First-Class Spray Tans. First class now falls into the same cat­e­gory as five star, pre­mium, pres­tige and gourmet. In fact, like gourmet in front of restau­rant, first class in front of any­thing is usu­ally an oxy­moron.

For in­stance, gen­uinely first-class ho­tels don’t

de­pend on their ar­chi­tects, their views, the size of the rooms or the amount of mar­ble in the foyer. First-class ho­tels know your name even if you have never stayed there be­fore, have style and sub­stance, don’t jab­ber at you and gen­er­ally have a his­tory.

The re­al­ity is there are only a few truly first­class ho­tels in the world. For just over 50 years the Man­darin Ori­en­tal in Hong Kong (from $637 a night) has been a bench­mark of global first class. It used to be on the har­bour but pa­tri­otic de­vel­op­ers have been on a cru­sade to join the Hong Kong side with the Kowloon side, so now it’s about as far away from the wa­ter as the Ex­change Ho­tel in Kal­go­or­lie is.

To get the real Mando ex­pe­ri­ence you need to ask the ho­tel to pick you up as you walk off the plane at Norm Fos­ter’s Chek Lap Kok Air­port, whisk you through Cus­toms, put you in the back of the black Merc and take you straight up to your suite. The 2005, $US150 mil­lion makeover brought the property gen­tly into the noughties but re­tained the crit­i­cal el­e­ments of the last bas­tion of English China with the Clip­per Lounge and the world’s most won­der­ful eat­ing space, The Grill, and a new no-sweat work-out cen­tre next door to a dis­creet but ef­fi­cient spa.

The Grill sums up all that is right with the Mando. You sit in lounge chairs at ta­bles that are so far away from each other that you can hear yourself and your guests talk about the 28 choices of oys­ters while ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a level of ser­vice that Noel Coward and other mad dogs could only dream about. The only Aus­tralian ho­tel that comes close is the Syd­ney Park Hy­att, where you pay about $750 for a room with an Opera House view.

The only first-class ex­pe­ri­ence on an air­line is aboard Sin­ga­pore. Emi­rates has suites and show­ers but Sin­ga­pore has the staff. No amount of run­ning­wa­ter fea­tures can make up for cabin crew who still have a long way to go to reach first-class ser­vice. Qan­tas’s first-class in­ter­na­tional lounge in Syd­ney is the best in the world and its do­mes­tic busi­ness class is streets ahead of Vir­gin’s. The multi­na­tional Fly­ing Kanga com­peti­tor just doesn’t have the in­fra­struc­ture to make its own work yet.

Iron­i­cally, the world’s best first-class ter­mi­nal ser­vice is at one of the world’s worst air­ports. Heathrow usu­ally brings to mind the black hole of Cal­cutta but the Wind­sor Suite stands alone from the teem­ing mass of an­gry people (and that’s just the staff) over­crowd­ing the ter­mi­nals. Leav­ing Lon­don, your car passes through the jail-type gates at the fa­cil­i­ties near Heathrow’sTer­mi­nal 5. You are met by a jolly door­man type, who leads you into your pri­vate room where you have your own ded­i­cated se­cu­rity and im­mi­gra­tion per­sons. Af­ter a few drinks, you go on to the tar­mac, hop into a big black BMWand are taken to your plane. On ar­rival, the Heathrow VIP staff ( meet you as you stag­ger off the plane from the An­tipodes, take you down into the Bim­mer and off to your mini-of­fice. Nat­u­rally, for about $3200 they find your lug­gage, re­unite you with it and pack you off to your ho­tel.

The lobby at the Man­darin Ho­tel, Hong Kong

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