Ten new properties won AAA's covered Five Diamond Awards for 2019, the first year under a more flexible set of grading guidelines adopted to meet the ever-evolving and increasingly diverse definition of luxury.
Still on the list, as it has been since the ratings system was created 43 years ago, is the always luxurious Broadmoor resort in Colorado Springs.
Among the new entrants, AAA said, were several that had received high marks in the past but didn't quite meet AAA's service standards. After demonstrating noticeable improvements, AAA said, San Antonio's Hotel Emma became the city's first Five Diamond winner. Banyan Tree Mayakoba, NIZUC Resort & Spa, Rosewood San Miguel de Allende and The St. Regis Mexico City also received the fifth Diamond for the first time.
Houston also got it its only Five Diamond winner with the new Post Oak Hotel.
The properties are among 121 Five Diamond winners, which AAA said represent just 0.4% of the more than 27,000 AAA Inspected & Approved hotels across North America.
While service remains a key component for the ranking, inspector John Lubanski, who worked extensively on that latest revisions, said the new guidelines also recognize the importance of technology and the move way from some of the more rigid physical requirements.
For instance, he said, they allow for more flexibility with luxury hotels that no longer have the traditionally separate dining, bar and restaurant space as well as the trend by some luxury hotels to forgo bathtubs for big modern showers.
The ratings for technology, he said, replace those scores previously given for a business center. Considerations include the availability of free Wi-Fi and USB ports as well as mobile apps, interactive kiosks, mobile key technology, messaging services and behind the scenes systems and messaging services.
"Another part of our new guidelines," Lubanski said, "when it comes to the overnight service evaluations that we do, if a property has those kinds of services in place, like a tablet in the room, we are actually to use that and evaluate how effective it is and if it's seamless to use. . We are going to try it out and see just how good it works."
And while technology is increasingly important to members, Lubanski said, it is still possible for a luxury hotel to get a Five Diamond rating even if it's a property that is historic and bills itself as a place to disconnect.
Likewise, he said, the new guidelines allow for more leeway in grading properties aimed at a new generation, where the staff is more casual than at traditional luxury hotels.
"There is more flexibility," he said. "We are not as focused on scripted responses. The guidelines are based on general interactions."
Lubanski said the guidelines are updated about every five years with extensive member input.