Of the 540 New York City hotels listed on TripAdvisor, only one can rank at number one. That distinction goes to Pendry Manhattan West, an outpost of the Orange County, California-based Montage International, and currently the most favorited of all lodging options in the greatest city in the world.
How does a hotel rise above the rest in terms of guest reviews and stars in a market as ferociously competitive as New York City? Honestly, I’ve wondered about this for years. Last week I had a chance to chat with the team behind the hotel, which opened last September in a 23-story tower designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, which also designed the new Moynihan Train Hall at Penn Station.
Even a quick look at the Pendry gives you clues about its standing. Noteworthy for its rippling-wave glass façade, the hotel at 33rd Street and 10th Avenue is the gateway to the new Manhattan West development, the seven-million-square-foot futurescape that’s part of the Hudson Yards Redevelopment.
Walking into the lobby, guests receive a welcome that is almost unnerving in its warmth and graciousness (“Oh, hello [your name here]! How was your trip from [your town here]? I love your [piece of clothing you forgot you were wearing]! Did we see you that you recently [whatever you posted on Instagram two days ago]?”). It instantly makes you forget everything you’ve ever heard about the cold, hard streets of Manhattan.
The interiors are equally sunny, starting with a lobby of amber and creamsicle hues, and soft velvet furnishings, that the design team at Gachot Studios calls a “California-inspired take on progressive luxury.” There are signature scents and a crackling fireplace making it probably Manhattan’s best-smelling place this side of the L.E.A.F. Flower Show. Hidden gems are everywhere, like the sliding door that opens onto Bar Pendry with its gold-leaf ceiling and bar-backing frieze by New York-based artist Nancy Lorenz. Bathed in this gilded glow—L’Observatoire International designed all the lighting—everyone around you looks like they’re having a very, very, very good day.
The 164 guest rooms, including 30 suites, are by Gachot Studios, too, and designed with wood finishes and elegant furnishings to feel like sophisticated residences. The Skyline Two-Bedroom Suite, for instance, has two living areas with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the skyline. There’s a dining table for six, an L-shaped velvet sofa, two full marble baths, one with a freestanding oval tub, and all kinds of smart TVs and Bluetooth speakers.
But still? Number one of 540? In New York Freakin’ City? There has to be more to it than sandalwood-scented candles and flattering lighting?
I asked general manager Ash Bhasin and director of sales and marketing Danielle Choi for the inside scoop on being TripAdvisor’s NYC top dog.
Being number one isn’t easy. In Manhattan, it’s almost impossible. What’s the secret?
Ash Bhasin: I wouldn’t say there’s a secret per se or even a playbook. But we do strive to deliver service that makes the guest experience personalized and memorable. Our goal is always to achieve greater heights, the benchmark being “let’s make today better than yesterday for every guest.” That might sound corny but we really strive for that, and it gives guests the feeling of being cared for in a way that’s authentic and compassionate, as if you were a guest in our home.
Danielle Choi: Personalization of service is something every hotel talks about. But this is a place where I think all of us have jointly created a culture where that’s become a reality.
What does that look like specifically?
Danielle Choi: Our communication pre-arrival is important. We’ll reach out to guests in advance and ask, When are you traveling to New York? What time are you arriving? Are there any special needs or requests? We then share that with our team, so that we are anticipating your arrival. If the doorman and bellman know you’re arriving at 1:30, you might see them walking down the block to welcome you by name as you’re getting out of the car. We want our guests to feel like they’re staying with family or friends.
What’s it like training the staff for this level of service? It must take weeks and weeks to get it right.
Ash Bhasin: Well, some of it is about the mindset. We focus on building emotional connections with our guests rather than on transactional ones, whether that’s walking guests to the elevator or really listening and tuning into what the needs of the guest are. Anticipating needs. But, yes, we have a very rigorous onboarding experience for our teams. It’s our obligation to make sure we have the tools and resources. So, a typical associate might easily be in a program that lasts 30, 60 or 90 days. That gives us time to check in, to train, to recheck, to re-train, to debrief and to redo things right until the service is perfect.
Wow. Give me an example of what perfect service looks like.
Ash Bhasin: Here’s a small example, okay. Recently a guest posted gratitude on social media for a great welcome amenity we shared with them, but noted that they were gluten free and couldn’t enjoy it. Our team saw that immediately and turned it into an opportunity. By the time the guest came back from their day in New York, there was a gluten-free amenity, with a note waiting for them in the guest room.
Danielle Choi: We stay in continuous dialogue with guests during their stay. We learned that a guest was going to see Hamilton, so we put together a bespoke amenity related to the show. But then we learned they’d made a last-minute change and were going to see Phantom of the Opera instead. So we switched out all of the amenities that were supposed to be welcoming them when they returned from the theater and got them a phantom mask and a long-stem rose and some other items instead. We really want to make sure our guests know that we listen.
Nice. How much are you tracking TripAdvisor, Instagram and Facebook for those cues?
Ash Bhasin: We’re in a social media environ, right? So we’re watching. We have systems and technology in place to look at each piece of feedback across all channels. Then we try to be as responsive, whether that’s acknowledge something that can be improved, or just sending a “high five” back for a really generous accolade.
I notice you respond to just about every review on TripAdvisor.
Ash Bhasin: Our approach is that if we respond and acknowledge each guest comment, rather than TripAdvisor being just a review site, it’s an opportunity for a dialogue with our guests. It’s an additional point of connection. The guests clearly already feel connected enough to write a review for us. So we make sure we continue the dialogue and have an opportunity to welcome them back.
Does it feel like pressure to stay at number one?
Danielle Choi: For us, this is about creating a culture of service, and that makes it enjoyable. We love what we do and we love the environment we’ve created. We know that it’s nice to arrive somewhere where people already know your name, where they’re happy to see you, where they offer you a welcome beverage, and perhaps with an option to get it spiked.
Ash Bhasin: It’s quite magical making someone feel extremely special in the space of time they’re with us. It reminds me of my time in Japan, where every restaurant you walk into, everyone welcomes you and makes you feel appreciated. So we focus on that experience. The other way around would be chasing accolades and stars specifically, and that just doesn’t work. It would feel forced.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.