The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Money

January 23, 2013

Refusal to make structural changes led to rating drop



Management at The Greenbrier was warned a year ago that AAA planned to drop the resort’s rating from Five Diamond to Four Diamond and took steps to avert the action, but to no avail.

When the travel service’s lodging ratings for 2013 were released Friday, The Greenbrier was positioned a notch below the highest rank for the first time since AAA began the rating system in 1976.

According to Jeff Kmiec, president and managing director of The Greenbrier, AAA was immovable on a single issue: the less-than capacious size of a small percentage of the historic hotel’s bedrooms and baths.

“AAA put us on notice in 2012 that if we didn’t materially change the size of certain bedrooms and bathrooms, they would re-evaluate The Greenbrier and drop us from five diamonds to four,” Kmiec said in a telephone interview with The Register-Herald this week.

“Literally, we would have had to change the footprint of the hotel; walls would have had to be moved,” Kmiec said. “You’re changing hundreds and hundreds of years of history. We flat out refused to change the footprint, to blow out walls.

“As we’ve said before, it would be like changing the face of Mount Rushmore. You can’t do it; it’s a national treasure. We at The Greenbrier hold ourselves in similar regard.”

He pointed out, “The size of the rooms was sufficient for AAA’s standards for 35 years.”

Kmiec said an effort was made to meet all of AAA’s other criteria by re-doing the rooms that were at issue — approximately 10 percent of the hotel’s more than 700 guest rooms.

“The Greenbrier’s designer and curator, Carleton Varney, added touches to the rooms to appease AAA, but it wasn’t what they wanted,” Kmiec said.

“We appealed to AAA to consider the hotel’s age and longevity, and pointed out that some $300 million has been invested in this property in the last three years. Unfortunately, they were unwilling to reconsider.”

Despite the loss of AAA’s fifth diamond, Kmiec said he finds many positives in the situation.

“The outpouring of public support is tremendous,” he said. “Everyone we’ve heard from supports our position.”

Having also dropped a level in the Forbes Travel Guide’s ratings more than a decade ago, The Greenbrier will continue to strive to recapture the accolades Kmiec feels are due the famed resort.

“We’ll continue to work with (the ratings services) to change their minds,” he said, while warning, “The resort has no intention of changing its footprint. We can’t throw away hundreds and hundreds of years of history.”

Without going into specifics, Kmiec concluded, “With (Greenbrier  owner) Jim Justice at the helm, there will always be plans in the works. He has already exceeded expectations with what he has accomplished, and he will never simply rest on his laurels.”

— E-mail: talvey@register-herald.com

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