By Michael Matthews
October 19, 2011 -- Is there really a "best hotel in the world?" Every year, the editors and publishers of the nation's major travel magazines--American Express' Travel & Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler--try to tell us that there is.

They have their readers duke it out to determine the answer. Or, perhaps more accurately, an answer. Each has a list of the Top 100 or so hotels and resorts as chosen by their readers. In the case of Conde Nast Traveler, it claims 8 million votes cast by 25,000 readers, which is 320 votes each. A bit far-fetched, in my opinion, but so be it. Travel & Leisure does not print the total votes. That seems a little dicey, in my opinion. Both magazines ask their readers to nominate and judge hotels based on their rooms and facilities; location; service; restaurants and food; and overall value.

As an hotelier whose company once had four of his hotels in the Top 10 and seven in the Top 20, let me assure you that being up there is an achievement. Staying up there is a major achievement. Much drinking of champagne as the listing of your hotel ousts one of your competitors. Much gnashing of teeth and probable job loss if you drop a few places from the previous year.

And what would you think if your hotel had once been voted the "best" hotel in the world and now didn't even make the Top 100? Pretty sick, I'd say. And I speak from experience. It happened this year to two of my former hotels.

It just shows how much has changed since I was running and marketing hotels.

When Travel & Leisure published its list of the Top 100, I must admit I had only heard of one hotel in the Top 5. The four "best" were all African safari type of places and the fifth was located in Udaipur, India, which I had heard of. The sixth hotel was right here in the good old USA, but, like the first four, I'd never heard of it! It's in Darby, Montana--and I've never heard of Darby, Montana, either!

None of my personal bests, some of which I've written about in this column, made it to the Top 25. Only two of the hotels that I've personally been involved with over the years made the list. And one of those squeaked in at No 99.

Over at Conde Nast Traveler, they gave the top hotel award to a property in Pudong, the glitzy and mostly built-yesterday extension of Shanghai. I've been there and, in my opinion, it doesn't say much of the opinions of the 25,000 reader/voters of Conde Nast Traveler. On the other hand, a great many of my old favorites are on the list and there are fewer hotels of the Philippe Stark three-legged-stool variety. The Conde Nast Traveler ranking features many great, solid properties that have been on the list for years and will be there forever, I hope.

What does it all mean? Is there really a best hotel in the world? Frankly, I'm not sure. But if you are looking for a new experience then you should certainly check the Travel & Leisure list of bests. If you are more of a classicist, peruse the Conde Nast Traveler list. There are, by the way, duplicates on each list, but those few hotels that make both magazines' "world's best" occupy substantially different rankings on each chart.

I've been careful not to name the top hotels from each list, but since you have read this far, I assume you're at least interested in the standings.

The Singita Grumeti Reserves in Tanzania earned 98.44 points out of 100 and topped the Travel & Leisure poll. The top U.S. hotel and sixth best property in the world? Triple Creek Ranch in Darby, Montana. It scored 97.10, which may also be the population of Darby, Montana.

Over at Conde Nast Traveler, the Ritz-Carlton Shanghai, Pudong, with 99.2 points out of 100, was judged the best hotel in the world. The top U.S. hotel and seventh best in the world? The Elysian hotel in Chicago with 98.2 points.

I have heard of Chicago, by the way.

ABOUT MICHAEL MATTHEWS Michael Matthews has managed and marketed fine hotels around the world for more than 45 years. He spent 14 years in Hong Kong building the legendary Regent International group. He has also worked with St. Regis, Ritz-Carlton and Rosewood hotels. Matthews is currently based in Arizona. He began writing Do Not Disturb in early 2004.

THE FINE PRINT Joe Brancatelli makes this space available to Michael Matthews in the spirit of free speech and to encourage editorial diversity and the wider discussion of important travel issues. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property of Matthews. This column may not be reproduced in any form without the express permission of Michael Matthews.

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