It may not come as a surprise that California -- a sun-splashed magnet for celebrities and big-spending tourists -- leads the nation in the number of hotels winning five-star ratings from Forbes Travel Guide.
But winning the coveted rating is no easy feat. Only 58 hotels in the U.S. -- with 12 in California -- were awarded the recognition this year, including, for the first time, the Resort at Pelican Hill in Newport Beach.
The resort, having fallen short in the past, launched a campaign to earn the distinction that included such measures as increasing training among its workers and executing internal audits.
"From the top down, we all have one vision and that is to offer hospitality at its finest," said the resort's manager, Giuseppe Lama.
The Forbes five-star rating is considered more difficult to land than the five-diamond rating from AAA, which awarded its top ranking to 101 hotels in the U.S. this year.
Hotel owners vie for the Forbes distinction because it enables them to draw much higher rates. For example, the four-star rated Beverly Hilton recently posted average daily rates of $245 to $325, while the five-star rated Beverly Hills Hotel posted rates of $510 to $540.
With Forbes, that one-star difference is primarily the level of service offered by the staff.
"Graciousness, courtesy and thoughtfulness -- it's much harder to get that right," said Mike Cascone, president and chief executive of Forbes Travel Guide, formerly known as the Mobil Travel Guide.
Forbes dispatches inspectors to stay at the hotels incognito for at least two nights and three days, using all the services, such as ordering room service and exercising at the gym. The inspectors rate the hotels on 500 standards, including accommodations and attitude.
Other guidelines for Forbes five-star hotels include:
• Arriving guests are greeted and assisted curbside within 60 seconds of arriving;
• Wake-up calls are delivered within two minutes of the requested time;
• Refills at restaurants are offered within 30 seconds of the guest's beverage being empty;
• No telephone call is left on hold longer than 30 seconds without being offered a call-back.