Consider the best hotels in the land and brands like Four Seasons and Ritz-Carton come to mind. Maybe a boutique property such as the Tides on Miami's South Beach.
And, of course, the Comfort Suites beside the Florida State Fairgrounds. No, really.
The popular travel site TripAdvisor released its annual Travelers' Choice Awards of hotels as reviewed by members Thursday. There at No. 13 on the list of top U.S. hotels — between Portland's RiverPlace Hotel and the Tides — sat the year-old east Tampa property with the bargain basement name.
"One of the great things about the Travelers' Choice Awards is they're not necessarily the most opulent hotels," said Amelie Hurst, spokeswoman for TripAdvisor. "It's hotels that offer remarkable service, great quality and good value."
TripAdvisor uses an algorithm to rank each property based on reviews by 20 million members. The data goes back as far as each hotel's first review, although comments from the most recent year carry extra weight, Hurst said. Hotels are rated on service, value, room quality, location, cleanliness and "sleep quality."
The Comfort Suites was "obviously very, very popular, a great value and had a particularly welcoming staff and comfortable beds," she said.
Staffers at the 84-suite property were ecstatic when they received the news, but not totally surprised. The hotel ranked in TripAdvisor's top three for Tampa during its first months in business before pulling away with the No. 1 spot for the year, said general manager Jeff Morgan. Last week, the site called him for a quote, just in case.
"Our hotel looks like a cookie-cutter hotel from the outside," Morgan says. "But the ownership did a lot of upgrades. It has custom colors. The ceiling in the lobby is teal. They bought 37-inch-screen TVs when they could have done 32-inch. Rooms have separate showers from the bathrooms."
Rates for a busy weekend night can hit $140. But a typical weeknight stay can drop to as low as $89.
Dilip Kanji, a longtime Tampa hotel developer and owner of the Westin Tampa Bay, knows owners Raj and Sheila Patel of Lutz and likes their Comfort Suites. He suspects hotel staff juiced the rankings by persuading guests to post TripAdvisor reviews.
"For a Comfort Suites to be in the top 25 is a real accomplishment," he said. "But they must have encouraged some people."
Steve Huettel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8128.