Forbes Travel Guide launches Startle.com in conjunction with 2012 award winners

startle.comToday, Forbes Travel Guide (formerly the Mobil Travel Guide) announced their 2012 world winners of their four- and five-star hotel properties and also the launch of Startle.com, their new “curated” site for luxury properties worldwide.

The site launched with content for 72 US and five international markets, according to TechCrunch, and includes content from the Forbes reviews as well as specialized content from influential “Tastemakers” like Ivanka Trump and chef Eric Ripert alike.

The site is set up in a Q&A style where travelers can find answers to questions like “What are the rooms like at X hotel,” or “What are the bathrooms like in the suites” and get detailed responses about specific properties. City-specific guide information is also available. So far, the site seems most similar to a review platform like Oyster, but geared towards luxury properties already on the Forbes list.

A select deals component called “Startle Me” is also available, which looks like it takes aim at sites like Jetsetter.com, offering discounted package offerings at places like Nemacolin Woodlands Resort and The Mayflower Inn and Spa.

We’re excited to see how the site evolves – at present, more than 350 establishments on the Forbes Travel Guide list are accounted for. For those who are already fans of luxury travel and wish to visit spots on the Forbes list, this site will prove exceptionally useful. For those who want to explore additional destinations are are looking for more unique properties offering an experience that is still upscale but perhaps not “four star” by Forbes’ standards, the site may not prove as interesting.

In the interest of full disclosure, this writer has previously worked as a freelancer with Forbes Travel Guide.

Forbes Travel Guide announces annual four- and five-star hotel, spa, restaurant winners

The star-rating for hotels, spas, and restaurants is similar to the Academy Awards for Hollywood. If Oscar is the type prize, a five-star rating for a hotel can be called “Oscar.” Luxury properties waited with bated breath for today’s announcement from Forbes Travel Guide: the list of Four-Star and Five-Star award winners for the 2011 Forbes Travel Guide.

The list, unveiled today, announced two hotels, two restaurants, and two spas winning a coveted fifth star. The list has defined the industry’s highest standards of excellence in hospitality for more than 50 years.

The five-star winner restaurants are both in New York City (Daniel and Eleven Madison Park); the two new five-star hotels include Island Shangri-La Hotel in Hong Kong, and Falling Rock at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, in Farmington, Pennsylvania; and the two new five-star spas are The Spa at The Grand Del Mar, in San Diego, and The Spa at Mandarin Oriental, in Las Vegas.

Forbes Travel Guide’s ratings are based on objective evaluations of more than 500 attributes. This year’s additions bring the total number of Forbes Five-Star hotels to 54. Among the 54 Five-Star hotels, six are in New York City, the most of any city in the U.S. There are five Five-Star hotels in Hong Kong, and two in Macau, where ratings were established for the first time in 2009. Forbes Travel Guide expects to further expand its rating system to include properties in additional international destinations in 2011.

The complete list of Forbes Travel Guide Star award winners can be found here.

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.