After 123 years of recommending restaurants to road trippers, the Michelin Guide is driving into the hotel world. At an event on Thursday, October 5 in Paris, the eponymous publication owned by the French tiremaker announced that it would start designating “the most exceptional hotels across the world”—not with one, two or three stars but with a “key” emblem. It will allocate keys to establishments based on five criteria: having a local character, individuality, excellence in architecture and interior design, top service and comfort, and a consistent value-for-price.
The move comes five years after Michelin quietly acquired Tablet Hotels, a booking website for boutique and luxury hotels, for an undisclosed sum. That site’s booking interface and hotels database now power a portal on the Michelin Guide site where consumers can browse a curated selection of accommodations—many with Michelin-rated restaurants—and make reservations.
It’s a long-planned bid to capture more of the travel market at a time when consumer spending and competition in the sector are at an all-time high. In recent months, restaurant ranking titans World’s 50 Best and La Liste have released hotel lists for the first time.
The first Michelin keys will be announced in the first half of 2024 from a preselected group of 5,300 hotels in 120 countries, the company said. All of those hotels, whether or not they earn keys, will be bookable through its website. Michelin will receive commissions on bookings made on its site.
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Michelin has not specified whether a hotel can get more than one key. In its restaurant ratings, one star denotes that a place is “worth a stop,” two are “worth a detour” and three are “worth a special journey.”
“The Michelin key is a clear, reliable indication for travelers,” Gwendal Poullennec, international director of the Michelin Guide, said in a statement.
Michelin’s expansion into hotels comes just weeks after the New York Times reported how six- and seven-figure sponsorship deals with tourism authorities brought the guide to such places as Colorado and Florida.
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The hotel business will work differently. Michelin plans to initiate its service with a global list of keys, rather than destination-specific guides. Because the company stands to make significant revenue from commissions—Tablet was estimated to bring in $100 million in gross bookings in 2018, along with fees from a membership club for frequent travelers—sponsorship deals with tourism boards will not be the only way for the company to monetize hotel content.
“In an industry saturated with questionably trustworthy endorsements, the Michelin Guide offers its expertise to travelers to guide them toward only the very best experiences,” it said in a press release.
To that end, Michelin keys will be awarded following anonymous stays by Michelin staff judges, marking a departure from World’s 50 Best, which allows its anonymous panel to rank hotels in which they have accepted complimentary stays, and La Liste, which primarily bases its ranking on what’s been written in previous press coverage. Michelin inspectors pay their bills, said Poullennec, so there is no “commercial bias.”
For Michelin, the latest expansion marks a return to its roots. When it debuted as a publisher in 1900, the company was targeting travelers by giving practical advice to people driving the first motor vehicles around France. By 1920 it was charging for guidebooks filled with lists of hotels in Paris and restaurants broken into categories.
This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.