France doles out new "palace" label to top hotels
PARIS (Reuters) - France granted a few top hotels the right to call themselves a "palace" on Thursday, a label which distinguishes them from rivals and is designed to boost the country's profile as a luxury destination.
The eight winners of the accolade include Paris hotels Meurice and Plaza-Athenee, both owned by the Sultan of Brunei, as well as the Bristol hotel, owned by Germany's Oetker family.
"We expect significant commercial and notoriety boosts from this accolade," Didier Le Calvez, head of the Bristol told Reuters.
"Perhaps other countries, such as the U.S. and the UK, might now think of giving the same label, countries which have the same hotel heritage as France....The palace label means winning a prestigious decoration which is valid for five years."
Criteria to obtain the palace label include the hotel's location, historical significance, room comfort, personalized service, multilingual staff, health and spa facilities.
The Ritz hotel in Paris, famous for being the last place where Princess Diana slept before her fatal car accident, the Four Seasons George V, and the Negresco hotel in Nice all failed the exam to get the label.
The palace denomination was created by France in 2009 to boost the country's attractiveness for affluent tourists. It was also a response to the hotel industry's lobby for a revamp of classifications.
"The word 'palace' holds a certain place in our imagination, it is in and of itself an invitation to travel," French junior minister Frederic Lefebvre in charge of tourism said in a statement.
French historical novel writer Gonzague Saint-Bris and the architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte were members of the jury.
French luxury hotels have enjoyed significant sales increases since last year with many expecting 2011 to be a record year.
The Park Hyatt Paris Vendome, owned by the Hyatt family, also got the right put the palace plaque on its front door along with the Grand Hotel du Cap Ferrat in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat.
Other winners include LVMH's Cheval Blanc and Les Airelles, owned by Stephane Courbit, former chairman of media company Endemol -- two neighboring hotels nestled between trees right on the slopes of luxury French ski resort Courchevel.
L'Hotel du Palais in Biarritz, on the French Atlantic coast, also won the right to call itself a palace.
France altogether counts 127 five-star hotels. The entirely refurbished Royal Monceau, which is managed by the Singaporean group Raffles and the new Shangri-La, part of the Hong Kong hotel group, are expected to apply for the label.
The famous Crillon hotel on Paris's Place de la Concorde which was just sold by U.S. investment fund Starwood Capital to a Saudi investor, did not apply for the distinction.
(Editing by Paul Casciato)