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3 Lessons From the Women Who Won at the World's 50 Best Hotels

It was an incredible few days for hoteliers in London with the celebrations around the inaugural World's 50 Best Hotels. Held in the grand historic Guildhall with over 800 people in attendance, the mood was high with everyone in black-tie sipping champagne and honorees adorned in red scarves and women in red dresses.

The winners at the World's 50 Best Hotels in London
The winners at the World's 50 Best Hotels in London

While there were many more red scarves than red dresses at the event, it was thrilling to see the top award––Best Hotel in the WORLD––go to Valentina De Santis, the owner of Passalacqua, a 44-room luxury boutique hotel on the shores of Lake Como in Italy – which only opened in June 2022! Valentina, conceived and masterfully curated every aspect of the award-winning villa.

Silvio Vettorello, Valentia de Santis and Delia Facchini getting the top prize at the World's 50 Best Hotels Awards in London
Silvio Vettorello, Valentia de Santis and Delia Facchini accept the top prize at the World's 50 Best Hotels Awards in London

Coming in at No. 4 on the list, the 117-room The Upper House in Hong Kong, with Kristina Snaith-Lense running the show. (Though she was not present at the London event, we interviewed Kristina in November, 2021.) And at No. 12, The Calile Hotel a 175-room property in Brisbane, Catherine Malouf, a first time hotelier, whose family has been in the real estate business for more than a century in Australia.

With a chance to learn from these inspiring women, here are the top three threads that unite these visionary hoteliers:

1. Let passion lead the experience you create for guests.

From Italy to Australia and Hong Kong, a thread between these women is a passion for creating an experience. For Catherine Malouf of The Calile, her drive was to create a platform for the artists, musicians, designers and writers of Australia to share their work. She developed the vision and brand for The Calile, whose name comes from the Arabic word for "close friend" to embrace and bring to life the unique style of Brisbane centred around the people who live there.

Catherine Malouf of The Calile at the 50 Best Hotels in the World after party
Catherine Malouf of The Calile at the 50 Best after party

For Valentia, she was driven to see a local treasure, the historic Villa Passalacqua, a Neoclassical beauty which had been commissioned in the 1700s and changed hands many times over, be restored to and reclaim its Italian roots. From there, she created her ultimate vision of an Italian holiday. For Kristina, she began working in hotels at the age of 16 and never looked back, her passion for service was ignited, and has driven every guest touch point in the hotel.

Emily Goldfischer with Valentina De Santis at the press conference following the awards for Best Hotel in the World 2023
Emily Goldfischer with Valentina De Santis at the press conference following the awards

2. Be inspired by family.

All three women spoke of the importance and influence of family in their work life. For Kristina from Upper House, it was her grandfather who "fostered a deep love of service culture," within her. Valentina and Catherine, both work within their family businesses.

Valentina, a third-generation hotelier who eagerly followed in her parent’s footsteps, is passionate about maintaining a balance between honoring tradition and infusing innovation. "Renovating the historic Villa Passalacqua to convert it into a jewel property was a labor of love, it was like choosing the interiors for our own home. A true family affair." She also credits her partner, General Manager Silvio Vettorello, who helped her build the culture around family values. "We share the love," she told me, "we do everything with a lot of feelings. Everyone here learns on the job. I don't hire for experience, I hire for a sparkle in their eyes. The rest we can train."

Passalacqua on Lake Como is top hotel in worlds 50 best hotels
Passalacqua on Lake Como

As for Catherine, while her family has developed and run a successful real company in Australia for over a hundred years, she was the one to lead them into hospitality. "Brisbane used to be seen as a gateway to the paradisiacal coastal escapes of the Sunshine Coast and Byron Bay, but over the last decade it has evolved so many people were coming for the art, culture and unique shopping of the James Street area we developed, but they had no place to stay." She credits her family for supporting her and sharing the vision, "my father lives in the building, our family is the heart of this new brand."

3. Lead by example.

Humility is at the heart of these three leaders. Valentina shared how in the rush to put the finishing touches on Passalacqua, "we were moving furniture, cleaning and sweating a lot, and I was right there with everyone." Both Catherine and Kristina echoed this, as they see themselves as part of the team they have created.

How the 50 Best Hotels in the World Were Selected

The list is created from robust voting process from The World’s 50 Best Hotels Academy, which comprises 580 international well-travelled experts within the hotel and travel industry, with a 50/50 gender balance. The Academy is split into nine regions across the world, where each region is headed up by an Academy Chair. We learned from the organizers that each person was asked to list their best seven hotel stays over the past two years (which would explain why many of the hotels are new).

Moving forward, a minimum of 25% of the panel will be renewed each year. All voters, aside from the Academy Chairs, remain anonymous to eliminate the possibility of lobbying. Voting is carried out individually and strictly confidentially on a secure site and the results remain confidential until after the list announcement.

The full list of the "50 Best Hotels in the World":

1. Passalacqua, Moltrasio, Italy 2. Rosewood Hong Kong, Hong Kong 3. Four Seasons Bangkok at Chao Phraya River, Thailand 4. The Upper House, Hong Kong 5. Aman Tokyo, Japan 6. La Mamounia, Marrakech, Morocco 7. Soneva Fushi, Maldives 8. One&Only Mandarina, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico 9. Four Seasons Firenze, Florence, Italy 10. Mandarin Oriental Bangkok, Thailand 11. Capella Bangkok, Thailand 12. The Calile, Brisbane, Australia 13. Chable Yucatán, Chochola, Mexico 14. Aman Venice, Italy 15. Singita Lodges, Kruger National Park, South Africa 16. Claridge’s, London, United Kingdom 17. Raffles Singapore, Singapore 18. Nihi Sumba, Wanokaka, Indonesia 19. Hotel Esencia, Tulum, Mexico 20. Le Sirenuse, Positano, Italy 21. Borgo Egnazia, Savelletri, Italy 22. The Connaught, London 23. Royal Mansour, Marrakech, Morocco 24. Four Seasons Madrid, Spain 25. Aman New York, United States 26. The Maybourne Riviera, Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France 27. Rosewood Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo, Brazil 28. Capella Singapore, Singapore 29. Le Bristol Paris, France 30. Park Hyatt Kyoto, Kyoto, Japan 31. La Reserve, Paris, France 32. Gleneagles, Auchterarder, Scotland 33. Hotel Du Cap-Eden-Roc, Antibes, France 34. Cheval Blanc Paris, France 35. Four Seasons Astir Palace Hotel Athens, Greece 36. Soneva Jani, Maldives 37. The Newt in Somerset, Bruton, United Kingdom 38. Amangalla, Galle, Sri Lanka 39. Hoshinoya Tokyo, Japan 40. Desa Potato Head, Bali, Indonesia 41. Eden Rock St. Barths, Caribbean 42. The Siam, Bangkok, Thailand 43. Badrutt’s Palace, St. Moritz, Switzerland 44. Atlantis The Royal, Dubai, UAE 45. The Oberoi Amarvilas, Agra, India 46. NoMad London, United Kingdom 47. The Savoy, London, United Kingdom 48. Equinox New York, United States 49. Six Senses Ibiza, Balearic Islands, Spain 50. Hôtel de Crillon, Paris, France

Overall, the list is dominated by hotels in Europe and Asia, with Asia taking half of the spots in the top 10 list. France is home to the most hotels on the list, with six properties scattered around the country, while Italy has five. On a city level, Paris, London and Bangkok each have four hotels on the list.

What do you think? Which hotels are missing?


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