|By Mike Gorrell, The Salt Lake Tribune|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Nov. 12, 2004 - Less than four years after it opened, the Grand America Hotel has reached the elite status of being designated a Five Diamond Hotel by AAA.
The prestigious ranking will be announced today and formalized Monday in a ceremony at the ornate Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. The Grand America becomes Salt Lake City's first hotel -- and only the second in Utah, following Deer Valley's Stein Eriksen Lodge -- to receive a Five Diamond rating from the not-for-profit travel organization, representing 82 motor clubs and 44 million members in North America.
"It's unique to achieve this in such a short amount of time," said Bruce Fery, Grand America's general manager for the past 16 months. "A Five Diamond rating provides instant recognition with the Bank of Americas, General Electrics, high-profile corporations that can pay the tab for this type of service... It gives Salt Lake a whole new way to market the city."
Quite true, Salt Lake Convention & Visitors Bureau spokesman Jason Mathis said.
"The Grand America has significantly increased the number of conventions that will consider Salt Lake," he noted. "The Grand America is so beautiful, so elegant. It attracts the scientific, pharmaceutical, medical groups. We didn't have the facilities to bring those groups here."
And even when big groups book the Salt Palace Convention Center for their general sessions, Mathis added, they frequently use the Grand America for their headquarters. "My impression is we complement each other quite well... Their Five Diamond designation will make the Grand America an even greater asset for our community."
The Grand America received Four Diamonds in AAA's last two ratings, good but not quite up to what owner Earl Holding wanted.
As defined by AAA, a Five Diamond hotel must reflect "the ultimate in luxury and sophistication. Accommodations are first class. The physical attributes are extraordinary in every manner. The fundamental hallmarks at this level are to meticulously serve and exceed all guest expectations while maintaining an impeccable standard of excellence."
When Fery arrived at the Grand America, he was duly impressed by the hotel's fine features -- chandeliers from Milan, hand-woven wool carpets from England, Italian marble bathrooms, rooms twice the size of many in nice hotels. All that was missing was a prominent sign outdoors.
So he made sure one was installed, then set to work on refining the corporate personality of the 700-plus staff, which he found quite competent but a bit stiff.
"I wanted them to use their hearts not their heads," Fery said. He provided training that made their interactions with guests sound less mechanical and scripted. He focused on consistency and what he calls "service recovery.
"In any hotel, there are always challenging situations or guests," Fery said. "How quickly you are able to recover with a guest when there has been a mishap, so that their stay from that point on is impeccable, that is what will produce a lasting, memorable experience.
"The staff has done a magnificent job in delivering, matching the beauty of the building with service," he added.
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