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
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 (heathrowvip.com) 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