Why Do Guests Need a Concierge?

By Elaine Oksner Guest and Concierge Services Trainer, Hospitality Excellence, Inc. | June 06, 2010

The Concierge profession has changed over the years, but never more so than in this new century. Before the advent of the internet and other amazing technological tools, hotel guests used to rely on the concierge at their destination to orient them to their new surroundings and connect them with tourist destinations, specialized shopping, gourmet restaurants, business services and serve a myriad other needs. Twenty years ago, when I first started as a concierge in Washington, DC, concierges developed huge Rolodexes of contacts locally, nationally and internationally, in order to answer every request for help. We kept huge libraries of resources at our desks - telephone books, atlases, five inch thick guides to hotels around the world, a dictionary, and flight schedules for national and international travel, restaurant guides, an incredible amount of brochures on local attractions and so on ---| almost all of which are now replaced by computer access.

Back then, when a new challenge was made to a concierge, it could sometimes take hours of telephone calls to research an answer. As the Chef Concierge at the Park Hyatt Washington during the early 1990's, I remember getting a request from a VIP guest from the Middle East. He had read about a special cane that had laser beams. It was designed, he told me, for a blind person and emitted laser beams to sense the person's surroundings. He wondered where he could purchase one for his father. Fortunately, I had other staff on duty so I could spend the time it took to make a long series of calls that took more than two and a half hours to finally get the gentleman the information. With computer access, it might have only taken minutes. However, with computer access, he might have searched out and found the information himself and not asked the concierge.

So, has this internet access changed the need for the concierge? It is a double- edged sword. Yes, the guest has computer access, but then, so does the concierge. So, since virtually everyone now has computer access, the question becomes, "Why do guests need a Concierge?" Is it time for hotels to replace the concierge with a computer and let the guests tap out their questions onto the information highway? It is a question a lot of hotel managers are asking. Chakitan Dev, a Cornell University Hotel School professor, was recently quoted in USA Today as saying concierges are "going the way of the elevator operator" except at luxury properties.

There is no question that, due to the internet, many people are doing their own research prior to their arrival in a new city or resort. For example, they are making use of sites such as Opentable.com or Zagat.com. to pick out their restaurants and, in the case of Opentable, actually making their own reservations and getting rebates for doing so. How does a concierge compete with that? Future guests also check out internet sites such as Where Magazine's or even Concierge.com to get information on potential sightseeing excursions or must-see museum exhibits, and even use websites book a tee times and reserve theater tickets. They are conversant with the websites of their favorite airlines, car rental providers, and have more than a nodding acquaintance with sites such as Orbit, Expedia and Travelocity. So why, then, are concierges as busy as ever at their desks? What is it that they are providing that the guests still need and come to expect from their concierge?

The answer is two-fold. First of all, and most importantly, they want someone with local, first hand knowledge; someone with the expertise, wisdom and experience to guide them in their new surroundings, to assist them in getting the best out of their trip. They are looking for insight, that special knowledge that the concierge loves to share with his or her guests. They are looking for help from the one person on the hotel staff that is truly designated to serve their needs and make their stay a memorable one. They are looking for someone to listen to them and understand what they are searching for, whether it's a special place for a romantic dinner, a unique shop where they can find the antique cameo, the best spot for finding gorgeous sea shells, or even for the more mundane but essential things, like quickly getting a shoe repaired or a tooth capped. It is the human contact, the sympathetic ear, that makes the impact on the guest.

Concierges, like Jose Acevedo, Chef Concierge at the Fours Seasons Resort Palm Beach, have found that even guests who do a lot of research before they arrive still have questions and, in fact, often have more questions than the ones who have shown up ready, willing and able to leave their itineraries in the concierge's capable hands. Instead of suggesting a choice of two or three restaurants to meet the needs of an inquiring guest, Mr. Acevedo often finds himself responding to questions about five or ten eateries that the internet savvy guest has researched. The guest still wants the feedback of the on-site professional that they know and respect before they commit to making a decision.

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Coming up in March 2019...

Human Resources: An Era of Transition

Traditionally, the human resource department administers five key areas within a hotel operation - compliance, compensation and benefits, organizational dynamics, selection and retention, and training and development. However, HR professionals are also presently involved in culture-building activities, as well as implementing new employee on-boarding practices and engagement initiatives. As a result, HR professionals have been elevated to senior leadership status, creating value and profit within their organization. Still, they continue to face some intractable issues, including a shrinking talent pool and the need to recruit top-notch employees who are empowered to provide outstanding customer service. In order to attract top-tier talent, one option is to take advantage of recruitment opportunities offered through colleges and universities, especially if they have a hospitality major. This pool of prospective employees is likely to be better educated and more enthusiastic than walk-in hires. Also, once hired, there could be additional training and development opportunities that stem from an association with a college or university. Continuing education courses, business conferences, seminars and online instruction - all can be a valuable source of employee development opportunities. In addition to meeting recruitment demands in the present, HR professionals must also be forward-thinking, anticipating the skills that will be needed in the future to meet guest expectations. One such skill that is becoming increasingly valued is “resilience”, the ability to “go with the flow” and not become overwhelmed by the disruptive influences  of change and reinvention. In an era of transition—new technologies, expanding markets, consolidation of brands and businesses, and modifications in people's values and lifestyles - the capacity to remain flexible, nimble and resilient is a valuable skill to possess. The March Hotel Business Review will examine some of the strategies that HR professionals are employing to ensure that their hotel operations continue to thrive.