Fox Quarterly - Checking In With... Gwendal Poullennec | Luxury Travel

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Fox Quarterly Winter 2023

Checking in with… Gwendal Poullennec

Luxury Travel Lifestyle PR

As he prepares to launch the Michelin Key rating for hotels, the international director of the Michelin Guide reveals the thinking behind the new system, what luxury brands can learn from Michelin – and what he himself looks for from a hotel

You are launching the Michelin Key rating system in 2024 – why now? 

It takes time to do a good job independently! At the Michelin Guide we are committed to sharing the most relevant and accurate recommendations with passionate travellers and gourmets who have been trusting us for years. Not recommendations for convenient places to only enjoy a good meal or sleepover, but places – restaurants, eateries and hotels – which will provide unique, memorable and authentic experiences. 

The Michelin Guide has a history of sharing hotel recommendations, but over the past four years, it decided to fully renew its approach in order to put its hotel recommendations at the same level as its restaurant recommendations.

Our recommendations are the result of in-depth research and on-field anonymous visits or stays made by our expert, passionate and independent selection team. Humans who are passionate about other humans’ know-hows, skills, craftsmanship and values.

Is the Key rating based purely on the experience of Michelin inspectors?

Beyond our unique rating system, just like the restaurant selection, the opinions of travellers’ following their stay help to highlight the most memorable experiences as well as the most disappointing ones. 

Once a hotel has been recommended and can be viewed and booked on all Michelin Guide digital platforms, the hotel experts also rely on customer feedback to maintain – or downgrade – an address in the selection. This collaborative and continuous interaction with the users and customers of the Michelin Guide hotel selection is all the more important as its reliability and dynamism depend on it.

What can brands learn from Michelin’s rating experience in restaurants, and now hotels, to improve their own product? 

The Michelin Guide is proud to go beyond trends and to stay true to its distinctive methodology. We research on the ground ourselves to assess, without bias, the experience that anyone could have. 

Great brands stay true to this level of commitment. It has a financial cost but it’s the best way to keep uniting a demanding and loyal audience of customers.

What is the future for Michelin – do you anticipate any other rating systems being introduced?

We just launched the Michelin Key rating system, so we’ll focus on that for the next few years! Our aim today is to reinforce our leadership in worldwide lifestyle recommendations, for both restaurants and hotels.

What are some of the essential attributes that makes a restaurant or hotel truly great in your eyes?

Our criteria are very specific and are the same ones all over the world to guarantee the same level.

Hotels are rigorously evaluated on several criteria which are:

  • Excellence in interior design and architecture
  • Individuality, reflecting personality and authenticity
  • Quality and consistency in service, comfort and maintenance
  • A destination unto itself: the hotel contributes to the local experience
  • Ability to deliver an extraordinary experience for its price
  • Special consideration is given to hotels offering high-quality food experiences

Restaurants are the subject of multiple anonymous inspections – called table tests – and are assessed in light of universally deployed criteria:

  • Product quality
  • Mastery of culinary techniques
  • Harmony of flavours
  • The personality of the chef, as expressed through the cuisine
  • The consistency between the visits and across the entire menu

Last year you introduced Michelin Green stars – how does the judging system differ from restaurants being awarded a star and what should all brands be doing when it comes to providing sustainable luxury? 

The Green star informs gourmets of the establishments most committed to sustainable gastronomy. In awarding a restaurant a Green star, the Michelin Guide inspectors value its model in its entirety: the supply methods, origin of products, consistency of its menus, respect for seasonality, waste management, etc. In its way, the Michelin Guide has also become a stakeholder committed to more sustainable gastronomy, and therefore highlights the importance of global consistency, structured work and considered initiatives within the restaurant ecosystem.

Any tips and tricks for restaurants or hotels to be noticed and considered for a star or a Key?

No tips or tricks. But passion and hard work are a must!

We do not provide any advice as we don’t want to influence professionals. They all have the freedom to conceive the experience they want their guests to have in the establishment they run. Given the history of the place, its unique architecture or the amazing location or facilities, a team has to be free to craft a one-of-a-kind journey for travellers. We will always fight against standardisation in the hospitality industry because we believe that the magic and talent of people creates authentic bespoke memories.

Having been the pioneer in setting the standards when it comes to luxury experiences, what do you think is most important for hotel brands to know when crafting luxury in 2024?

For our teams who are on the ground every single day, luxury is not necessarily synonymous with high price. The most important thing is answering the question: what special bond will our guests develop with a hotel because they experienced an exceptional moment during their stay? Enhancing their travel by crafting a 360 deep-dive into the destination is what a few hotels in the world manage to do… and that’s what we are looking for: to surprise and satisfy our customers.

What advice do you have for people that want to give back or do better when travelling?

Be open-minded like a Michelin Guide inspector! The best way to give back is to start listening to people. Initiating conversations with the hotel staff is the guarantee to unlock true local stories. This way, every traveller has a real opportunity to become an ambassador for the destination.

What are your key requirements for a destination or hotel when choosing where to go?

It depends on who I’m travelling with! But in general, looking for a change of scenery, a cosy place filled with warmth and care on top of great places to eat in, or not far from, the hotel is the guarantee to spend a great moment.

What are your pet peeves when it comes to travelling, whether for business or for pleasure?

As I travel a lot: jet lag! It’s really exhausting when in the same week you travel to Japan, then to Paris, then to Argentina…

Are there any destinations still on your bucket list?

Yes a lot! I don’t know Africa very well. It’s a huge continent with a lot of incredible gems.

What are your top travelling tips?

Set my watch to local time as soon as I get on the plane. It reduces the effects of jet lag. And eat local food: the immersion is immediate and you learn so much about a culture following local food habits.

Dead or alive, who would your ideal travel companion be?

I’d rather they were alive, so my wife and daughters.

The Michelin Key rating system will be unveiled in the first half of 2024. To keep up to date with the news, subscribe at

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