Daily Pampering: Betrothal Butlers at Woodlands Inn help you pop the question

Betrothal ButlersPlanning to pop the question? Woodlands Inn, a five-star, five-diamond Salamander Hospitality property in Summerville, South Carolina (just a short drive from Charleston) has enlisted a team of Betrothal Butlers to be at your beck and call as you plan your perfect proposal.

This special service is launching for Valentine’s Day, but will be available throughout 2011, so if you’re considering an “engagement-cation” this year, but overwhelmed by the planning it requires, this may be exactly what you need! Here’s just some of what the Betrothal Butlers can do to help in this gorgeously traditional setting:

  • Provide expert advice with all aspects of proposal planning. People propose at hotels all the time. These guys know what’s up and what works best.
  • Special delivery of the ring. Hiding the ring can be hugely stressful when all you’ve got is a suitcase. Let the Betrothal Butlers help you out — they can even deliver the ring in a glass of champagne, movie-style.
  • Creative dinner menu choices. Obviously, you want your beloved to have pretty much the best dinner ever. Inject extra romance with personalized selections.
  • Capture the moment on camera. So many of us wish the moment of our engagement could have been captured on camera! The Betrothal Butlers are totally on this. And they’re discreet.

The Betrothal Butler service is complimentary for dining and overnight guests of Woodlands Inn — and we love its formalization as a “service;” sometimes you feel like you’re driving a hotel crazy or like you’re the first person who’s ever requested help with a proposal when asking for help. This is one of those few situations where you do deserve special treatment, and so does your intended!

If you are intending to head to Woodlands Inn for Valentine’s Day, they have a Romance Package for Febraury 11-14, which includes overnight accommodations, champagne and chocolate upon arrival, a three-course dinner for two with wine, and breakfast for two the next morning (in the room or the resturant) starting at $599. Not too shabby. Call (800) 774-9999 to book the package.

Are hotel star ratings getting out of hand?

At one time, staying in a “four-star hotel” meant you were experiencing the peak of luxury. Luxurious rooms, top-notch accommodations and plenty of amenities. But increasingly a four-star hotel is no longer enough, with uber-high-end properties in Europe racing to claim six or, in the case of the Burj-al-Arab in Dubai, even seven-star ratings. At what point do the hotel stars become meaningless? The BBC took a look at the hotel-star “ratings game” in a recent article, noting the jumble of competing systems and confusion it causes for consumers.

According to the BBC, the ratings have become a subjective measure of amenities depending on the place. In much of Europe for instance, stars are assigned based on random factors such as whether the property has an elevator or includes breakfast, not by factors like building age or cleanliness. There’s similar confusion in the United States, where competing organizations like AAA and Forbes Travel offer customers conflicting systems. Those in the hotel ratings business acknowledge the confusion, though minimal steps have been taken to change the process.

The next time you check into that “Five-Star Hotel,” make sure you know what you’re paying for. In a world of increasing hotel rating inflation, there’s still plenty of room for debate.

France gets a fifth star

France has a new way to define luxury. A new five-star category has been added to the country’s hotel ranking system … as if you’d need the extra star to pick one of these properties out of a lineup! The marketing ploy, of course, is to use the extra etoile to draw big spenders and entice them to open their wallets a bit wider. France had to amp up its ranking system, as it was the only country in Europe lacking a five-star category, despite its reputation as a destination. You can now find 13 five-star hotels in Paris.

While France has resisted the worst of the travel market slump in Europe, according to a report by Deloitte, it has lost some British and American tourists. The French government hopes the fifth star will help invite them back. Visitors to France have fallen 7.5 percent this year to 15.9 million, according to the Paris Tourism Office. And, the market has suffered a 14 percent drop in revenue per available room night for the first half of 2009, thanks to shrinking demand, shorter booking times and competitive pressures.

Yet, Paris did have the highest occupancy rate in the euro zone (74 percent) and the second highest average room rates (after Venice) for the first half of the year.

[Photo via MigrantBlogger]

Travel to Cuba legally with New York art museum package

Travel to Cuba is still illegal for most Americans, but if you don’t want to challenge the law or take your chances sneaking there and back, you can still arrange a visit. The Katonah Museum of Art, in Katonah, New York, has been authorized to lead a tour group to Cuba.

Participants on the trip, which is scheduled for January 17-23 of next year, will visit Havana and learn about Cuban culture through visits to museums, holy sites, and the homes and studios of 14 Cuban artists. The package costs $4,400 per person for double occupancy($4,600 for singles) and participants must also pay a $700 tax-deductible membership fee to the Katonah Art Museum. The price includes airfare from Miami to Havana, five nights at a five-star hotel in Havana, ground transportation, daily breakfasts and lunches, several dinners, all group activities and sightseeing, and insurance, taxes and visa fees.

Reservations for the trip must be made by October 19 and the Museum does expect the tour to sell out.

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[via Matador Pulse]

Hotels lowering standards, prices and star ratings

It won’t come as a surprise to hear that hotels all around the world are suffering. The hotel industry is becoming a survival of the fittest, and as some hotels simply close for good, others are taking a more practical route to get out of trouble.

Luxury hotels have been lowering their prices, but many of them have hit a limit on how low they can go. Most have tried adding creative promotions, and even handing out dining coupons or other incentives, but eventually they’ll need to cut other corners to make ends meet.

By removing amenities like fresh flowers, free drinks, newspapers, magazines and free gifts for elite guests, hotels are saving a fortune. At the same time, the removal of these amenities means the hotel can no longer hang on to its current star rating. What used to be a four or five star hotel, suddenly becomes a three star hotel, with a three star price.

I’m sure this solution may work for the short term, but by removing a star (and the services attached to that star), hotels will also drop out of view of people looking for a luxury hotel. Removing services that used to be included with a room will also annoy loyal returning guests who expect a certain level of luxury. And finally, turning your once upscale property into a not-so-luxury hotel also damages your brand, something that may take years to fix. Then again, I’m sure it beats the alternative of having to fire everyone and close.

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