‘Smile’ guide checks out great experience at three Irish hotels

ONLY in three luxury hotels in Ireland can satisfaction be virtually assured, according to an independent guide just published.

Cited as "three-smile" places to stay in this country are the Great Southern Parknasilla, Sneem, Co Kerry; Dromoland Castle, Newmarket-on-Fergus, Co Clare, and Dublin's Four Seasons in Ballsbridge.

British-based Harden's Hotel Guide 2004 covers Britain and Ireland and is based on reports from nearly 2,500 hotel users.

It awards its top "three smiles" citation to hotels on which "practically all reports were highly positive".

Richard and Peter Harden, the brothers who edit the guide, say some of the "big names" of the hotel business now seem to be trading on reputations greatly exceeding the quality they offer.

In all of Britain and Ireland, only 27 hotels were guaranteed to raise a smile. None of the big name, high-priced London hotels got a look-in, with just two the Milestone in Kensington and the Lanesborough at Hyde Park Corner mentioned. Paris also managed two the George V and the Hotel de Vigny while New York scored zero.

Of the three Irish hotels listed in the guide, Parknasilla has the cheapest double-room rate for mid-season at 180. Dromoland is dearest at 370, with the Four Seasons marginally less at 365.

Parknasilla general manager Jim Feeney said he was delighted to be given the distinction.

"It's a bolt out of the blue, we never expected it, but it is very welcome."

The conclusions reached in the guide are based on the response of reporters.

The Hardens said the large chains "were rarely associated with particular quality", although smaller hotel groups and country house hotels were making a big contribution to overall betterment of the trade.

Richard Harden said: "We see no point in telling people that a £400-a-night hotel is five-star and that a £75-a-night hotel isn't. People know that already. What a survey aims to show is whether reporters feel that a particular hotel delivers a good experience, bearing in mind the price it charges."

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