Trends for the Concierge

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

I remember when my father would reminisce about his youth, beginning his stories with "Why, when I was a boy..." He would launch into how dramatically things had changed over the years, from the price of a loaf of bread (a nickel in his youth) to the accepted fashions of the day (a diatribe on torn jeans). Now I find myself looking back over the time I have spent in the hotel industry and all the changes that have occurred just on my twenty- plus years at the Concierge desk and I want to say, "Why, when I was a girl..."

In the early 1980's, when I began my Concierge career, there were no computers at the desk. The newest gizmos, fax machines, were just coming on the scene, and they came with rolls of flimsy, curly paper that had to be hand cut to the size of each page as it was printed. The information highway was not on anyone's map and no one had heard of global positioning systems or Bluetooth. Information at the Concierge desk was kept unwieldy log books and guest history was tracked on 3X5 file cards. Every communication with the guest was done on note cards, painstakingly and time- consumingly written in our best hand. Outside communication was limited to using the telephone and telex, and overnight delivery services like FedEx and DHL were just getting started. Tracking down the odd item for guests meant searching through telephone books and calling contacts from the huge Rolodex and/or big black address books that were our closely guarded lifelines. Shelves were full of reference books and a great deal of space was taken up with printed materials. My, how times have changed. And every day, it seems, they change yet again.

Keeping up with technological advancements is a constant challenge to Concierges today. How to incorporate the latest innovations into our work without losing the human touch, which is our hallmark, is also a challenge. Innovation and education are the key elements in making technology work for us and making these new products profitable for the hotel or resort's bottom line.

Today, of course, I doubt that there is a Concierge desk anywhere that isn't connected by computer to the wonderful World Wide Web, allowing speedy research and prompt answers to guest requests. The computers are connected to printers that, more often than not, are tied into a software program that is able to take key elements of, for example, a restaurant reservation, and speedily pop out a perfect confirmation letter. And, if programmed properly, along with the well-worded confirmation will appear, as if by magic, a full color map and printed directions not only going to, but coming back from the restaurant. While this and other abilities of the computer software make the job easier, the Concierge must always stay on top of what information is going into the data base. For example, it is imperative that the information in the system is kept up to date so the map doesn't guide the guest to take the bridge that is now closed and under construction for the next month, or refer to valet parking that is no longer available.

Concierge computer programs allow the Concierge to collect and analyze data. Your Concierge staff can, and should be encouraged to, keep management updated on what is taking the guests off property and spending money elsewhere. For example, what kind of restaurants are the guests are looking for? If the Concierge tracks reservations that lean heavily toward a certain kind of cuisine, perhaps that would influence what food choices the in-house outlets offer. And, of course keeping track of guest preferences and anticipating their wishes helps to foster repeat business. Guests love to know we take the time and effort to learn their preferences.

Along with the computers though, have come some extra tasks that weren't part of the job even just a decade ago. For example, printing boarding passes, handling email requests and making dinner, spa and golf reservations through interconnections with other in-house department systems are all possible now and make a lot of sense and cents. How much easier it is for the Concierge staff to cross sell the other departments when they have first hand knowledge and training and the ability to book the reservations. When the golf course, salon, spa and dining rooms are closed, the concierge is still hard at work at the desk. Who better to assist the guests who want to make an appointment at their convenience? Of course it is imperative to make sure that training and product knowledge is comprehensive before turning the job over to the Concierge Staff. But they will absorb these additional tasks with their usual aplomb and make a positive impact on the bottom line.

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Eco-Friendly Practices: Corporate Social Responsibility

The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.