Text Size
Make Text Bigger Make Text Smaller

  Westworld       AMA
 
travel smarts

by Jeff Bateman

June 2006
The Ice Man Cometh

Jack Frost is just one of his pseudonyms when registering at hotels in Alberta, the B.C. interior and as far north as Alaska, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories. A definitive road warrior, he’s on the move for as many as 300 nights a year, occasionally spending six weeks at a time away from his Calgary home. And like his equally shadowy colleagues, he prefers to remain anonymous.

When you’re an insider in the diamond cartel – a man capable of giving and taking away status according to the discriminating standards of the hospitality industry – it’s generally wise to keep your own counsel and drift through postal codes without leaving too many traces.

Mr. Frost, as he’d like us to call him, is one of 65 full-time professional inspectors (formally known as “tourism editors”) across North America who are responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the AAA/CAA Diamond rating system. With 32,000 lodgings and another 23,000 restaurants in the continental database (available online and published in regional auto-club guidebooks), it’s a mammoth, never-ending task. Frost personally visits upward of 1,000 hotels and motels in his vast geographic territory each year. He also dines out anywhere from 200 to 300 times annually in an epicurean feast that takes in everything from family diners to gourmet hotspots.

“Some days I’m dining in great restaurants, others I’m peering under toilet seats at motels in the middle of nowhere,” says Frost, a friendly, easygoing sort with a lengthy career in the hospitality business behind him. His job: To act as a surrogate for AAA/CAA members, a vigilant guardian who ensures that recommended lodgings and restaurants not only meet basic industry standards but also fully live up to whichever of the five diamond rating levels they’ve been assigned.

Frost is continuing a tradition that began in 1937 when American Automobile Association inspectors began helping auto-club members separate the clean, comfortable wheat of the lodging business from the “I can’t believe they’re charging $10 (in depression-era dollars) for this flea pit!” chaff. The growing collection of ratings was organized into “good,” “excellent” and “outstanding” categories in the early 1960s before today’s system was implemented in 1977 in honour of the AAA’s diamond anniversary.

Typically, Frost will appear, unannounced and unscheduled, at the front desk of a hotel or motel – no matter whether it’s an established listing or a new applicant seeking a first accreditation. He’ll present his card, exchange pleasantries with the staff, then ask to see four or five rooms freshly prepared by the maid service. Donning the metaphoric white gloves and working with a 40-item list of prerequisites, he explores each room stem to stern, checking for everything from stray dust bunnies to working smoke detectors. “It’s a common-sense criteria based on industry standards. Is the room clean and well-maintained? Do guest-room doors have a peephole and substantial deadbolt lock? Does the bathtub have a non-slip surface? Is there proper task lighting? These are all essential if any property wants basic approval from us.”

The level at which lodgings are then rated also follows logical parameters, which Frost likens to housing types. “One diamond is your basic starter home – clean, safe, no frills, but good value,” he explains. Two diamonds takes one into a good middle-class neighbourhood of older homes, while three diamonds is akin to a newly built contemporary home with attractive decor and higher-grade flooring and lighting. Four diamonds slips into the high-rent district, while the rare and prestigious five-diamond rating (of which there are just two in western Canada, both in Vancouver) is the last word in luxury.

A similar pecking order is established for restaurants: from the one-diamond diner that serves rib-sticking burgers and pizza to the foodie nirvanas that rate five glittering big ones. “Just like hotels, it’s a matter of enhancements and refinements. At the upper end you’re getting knowledgeable, personalized service, creative menus and wonderful plate presentations.”

When Frost spots something amiss during an inspection, he prepares a notice alerting management. Lodgings are generally given one year to make amends. If so, wonderful. If not, a downgrade or decertification may be in order. “It doesn’t happen often. The vast majority of owners and operators I deal with are extremely proud of what they offer the public. More often than not, I get to be a hero and pass on an extra diamond because of serious upgrades and renovations.”

Carat Criteria

Lodgings
• 1 Diamond
• Clean, comfortable, budget-oriented
• 2 Diamonds
• Modest enhancements to decor and amenities
• 3 Diamonds
• Upgraded facilities, amenities, level of comfort
• 4 Diamonds
• High degree of service, hospitality and attention to detail
• 5 Diamonds
• First-class, ultimate in luxury and sophistication, impeccable service

Restaurants
• 1 Diamond
• Affordable, good, casual dining
• 2 Diamonds
• Informal, family oriented dining
• 3 Diamonds
• Creative, upscale, adult-oriented
• 4 Diamonds
• Luxurious, excellent service
• 5 Diamonds
• World-class, impeccable service

travel smarts

by Jeff Bateman

June 2006
email to a friend

The Ice Man Cometh

Jack Frost is just one of his pseudonyms when registering at hotels in Alberta, the B.C. interior and as far north as Alaska, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories. A definitive road warrior, he’s on the move for as many as 300 nights a year, occasionally spending six weeks at a time away from his Calgary home. And like his equally shadowy colleagues, he prefers to remain anonymous.

When you’re an insider in the diamond cartel – a man capable of giving and taking away status according to the discriminating standards of the hospitality industry – it’s generally wise to keep your own counsel and drift through postal codes without leaving too many traces.

Mr. Frost, as he’d like us to call him, is one of 65 full-time professional inspectors (formally known as “tourism editors”) across North America who are responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the AAA/CAA Diamond rating system. With 32,000 lodgings and another 23,000 restaurants in the continental database (available online and published in regional auto-club guidebooks), it’s a mammoth, never-ending task. Frost personally visits upward of 1,000 hotels and motels in his vast geographic territory each year. He also dines out anywhere from 200 to 300 times annually in an epicurean feast that takes in everything from family diners to gourmet hotspots.

“Some days I’m dining in great restaurants, others I’m peering under toilet seats at motels in the middle of nowhere,” says Frost, a friendly, easygoing sort with a lengthy career in the hospitality business behind him. His job: To act as a surrogate for AAA/CAA members, a vigilant guardian who ensures that recommended lodgings and restaurants not only meet basic industry standards but also fully live up to whichever of the five diamond rating levels they’ve been assigned.

Frost is continuing a tradition that began in 1937 when American Automobile Association inspectors began helping auto-club members separate the clean, comfortable wheat of the lodging business from the “I can’t believe they’re charging $10 (in depression-era dollars) for this flea pit!” chaff. The growing collection of ratings was organized into “good,” “excellent” and “outstanding” categories in the early 1960s before today’s system was implemented in 1977 in honour of the AAA’s diamond anniversary.

Typically, Frost will appear, unannounced and unscheduled, at the front desk of a hotel or motel – no matter whether it’s an established listing or a new applicant seeking a first accreditation. He’ll present his card, exchange pleasantries with the staff, then ask to see four or five rooms freshly prepared by the maid service. Donning the metaphoric white gloves and working with a 40-item list of prerequisites, he explores each room stem to stern, checking for everything from stray dust bunnies to working smoke detectors. “It’s a common-sense criteria based on industry standards. Is the room clean and well-maintained? Do guest-room doors have a peephole and substantial deadbolt lock? Does the bathtub have a non-slip surface? Is there proper task lighting? These are all essential if any property wants basic approval from us.”

The level at which lodgings are then rated also follows logical parameters, which Frost likens to housing types. “One diamond is your basic starter home – clean, safe, no frills, but good value,” he explains. Two diamonds takes one into a good middle-class neighbourhood of older homes, while three diamonds is akin to a newly built contemporary home with attractive decor and higher-grade flooring and lighting. Four diamonds slips into the high-rent district, while the rare and prestigious five-diamond rating (of which there are just two in western Canada, both in Vancouver) is the last word in luxury.

A similar pecking order is established for restaurants: from the one-diamond diner that serves rib-sticking burgers and pizza to the foodie nirvanas that rate five glittering big ones. “Just like hotels, it’s a matter of enhancements and refinements. At the upper end you’re getting knowledgeable, personalized service, creative menus and wonderful plate presentations.”

When Frost spots something amiss during an inspection, he prepares a notice alerting management. Lodgings are generally given one year to make amends. If so, wonderful. If not, a downgrade or decertification may be in order. “It doesn’t happen often. The vast majority of owners and operators I deal with are extremely proud of what they offer the public. More often than not, I get to be a hero and pass on an extra diamond because of serious upgrades and renovations.”

Carat Criteria

Lodgings
• 1 Diamond
• Clean, comfortable, budget-oriented
• 2 Diamonds
• Modest enhancements to decor and amenities
• 3 Diamonds
• Upgraded facilities, amenities, level of comfort
• 4 Diamonds
• High degree of service, hospitality and attention to detail
• 5 Diamonds
• First-class, ultimate in luxury and sophistication, impeccable service

Restaurants
• 1 Diamond
• Affordable, good, casual dining
• 2 Diamonds
• Informal, family oriented dining
• 3 Diamonds
• Creative, upscale, adult-oriented
• 4 Diamonds
• Luxurious, excellent service
• 5 Diamonds
• World-class, impeccable service

(1) view/add comments
Westworld wants to hear from you!
Check out the comments page and let us know what you think of the article you just read.

Editor's Pick

The Back-in-Print Bears

A copyright-1910 childrens’ book by British author Graham Clifton Bingham, was recently republished by Whyte Museum.

>> more