Con­jur­ing up the ex­tra­or­di­nary

An ex­pe­ri­enced ho­tel concierge can serve up magic on a sil­ver plat­ter

Business Traveler (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Ram­sey Qubein

Al­most ev­ery top-notch busi­ness and lux­ury ho­tel has a concierge desk, but do you make proper use of them? Even a novice concierge can wield in­cred­i­ble value through a care­fully cu­rated Rolodex (or per­haps th­ese days, a far-reach­ing smart­phone). Re­cep­tion may be swift to direct any lo­cal ques­tions to a concierge, but a well-trained concierge ma­gi­cian can do far more than sim­ply un­furl a map or make din­ner reser­va­tions at hard-toget restau­rants.

Are you even con­sid­er­ing the ho­tel concierge to be a re­source on your fu­ture trav­els? You prob­a­bly should.

It seems of­ten to be the case that the nicer the ho­tel, the more out­landish the re­quest that guests make of th­ese dap­per do­good­ers be­hind the desk.

Many years ago, Mar­riott ran a com­mer­cial about a busi­ness trav­eler who ar­rives in Lon­don with mis­tak­enly-packed mis­matched shoes and an im­pend­ing meet­ing early in the morn­ing be­fore most stores would be open. In the ac­tion-packed mo­ments of the 30-sec­ond clip, he em­ploys the concierge (who then en­lists a half dozen oth­ers) to scour town for a match­ing pair, a feat which they achieve just in the nick of time (at just about sec­ond 27). Not only is it a fine ex­am­ple of what a de­cent concierge can make hap­pen, but it did won­ders to en­dear trav­el­ers to the busi­ness­fo­cused Mar­riott brand.

Once, even this hum­bled au­thor left be­hind tuxedo but­tons when stay­ing at a Hy­att property in At­lanta. As any re­spectably or­ga­nized trav­eler should do, ev­ery­thing would be laid out in ad­vance. Not so on this oc­ca­sion, and the lack of proper but­tons was no­ticed by yours truly with only an hour to go be­fore a for­mal event. Thanks to a savvy concierge team – af­ter they’d ex­hausted all the usual op­tion – I pa­raded through the ban­quet room with min­utes to spare, wear­ing a pair of the serv­ing staff’s match­ing but­tons, and no one was the wiser. Prob­lem solved.

Concierge Ex­plained

While many ho­tels have a concierge team, their back­ground and ed­u­ca­tion for the role may vary widely. Les Clefs d’Or is the top or­ga­ni­za­tion in the in­dus­try with nearly 4,000 mem­bers in 60 coun­tries, and is a highly re­garded cer­ti­fi­ca­tion for both a concierge and the ho­tel that em­ploys him or her. They are not nec­es­sar­ily a dime a dozen so when you see a pair of golden keys adorn­ing the lapel of your concierge, con­sider your­self lucky.

Ac­cord­ing to Michael Romei, chief concierge of the Tow­ers of the Wal­dorf As­to­ria New York and also the gen­eral sec­re­tary of Les Clefs d’Or Ex­ec­u­tive Com­mit­tee, to be con­sid­ered for mem­ber­ship, a concierge must have worked at least five years in the in­dus­try and un­dergo anony­mous screen­ing and tests be­fore tak­ing a fi­nal exam to earn the golden keys.

If you re­mem­ber Bill Mur­ray’s char­ac­ter in the film The Grand Bu­dapest Ho­tel, that’s Romei. The mul­ti­lin­gual New York concierge says that rec­om­men­da­tions from other Les Clefs d’Or mem­bers and ho­tel gen­eral man­agers are es­sen­tial to an ap­pli­ca­tion. The US has more Clefs d’Or mem­bers than any other coun­try.

Not all concierges sit be­hind a desk in the re­cep­tion area though; some ho­tels fea­ture be­spoke concierge of­fer­ings like the cof­fee cu­ra­tor at the Costa Rica Mar­riott in San Jose or the canal chauf­feur, a des­ti­na­tion ex­pert who sings much of his knowl­edge as guests glide through the la­goon wa­ter at the Hil­ton Waikoloa Vil­lage on Hawaii’s is­land. While they may not be as up to snuff as their highly re­garded Clefs d’Or brethren, their spe­cial­ized know-how can come in handy.

Puerto Rico’s Wyn­d­ham Grand Rio Mar Beach Re­sort and Spa has a Di­rec­tor of Ro­mance to as­sist in bring­ing mo­ments of true love to life in es­pe­cially cre­ative ways. Or what about the res­i­dent sand sculp­tor at Wal­dorf As­to­ria’s Casa Ma­rina in Key West who of­fers up ar­chi­tec­tural ad­vice for sand cas­tles on the beach. Or the mu­si­cal di­rec­tor at Bu­dapest’s Aria Ho­tel who can con­nect guests with area mu­si­cal ex­pe­ri­ences or walk them through the ho­tel’s own mu­sic li­brary.

With the dig­i­tal age comes a new kind of concierge, one ded­i­cated to help­ing you keep all your gad­gets and giz­mos run­ning.

Many long-time concierges have more con­nec­tions than Lon­don Heathrow, and it could pay to tap into their list of friends

New York City’s Eventi Ho­tel in Chelsea has its own Tech­nol­ogy Concierge Team to be­friend guests as they nav­i­gate tech chal­lenges, ev­ery­thing from map­ping out the best places in the neigh­bor­hood at which to charge de­vices, to lo­cat­ing nearby tech­nol­ogy shops and book­ing ap­point­ments at the clos­est ven­dors.

The Eventi also of­fers a busi­ness bar with com­pli­men­tary on-loan tech­nol­ogy prod­ucts for length of a guest’s stay. Guests can choose from wire­less prin­ters, e-read­ers, Log­itech Blue­tooth Multi-De­vice Key­board K480 and a se­lec­tion of Ap­ple prod­ucts. The Tech­nol­ogy Concierge is there in the ho­tel’s liv­ing room lobby to help with that as well.

Al­ways Happy to Help

Some trav­el­ers are put off by the idea of tip­ping a concierge, ei­ther by the no­tion of pay­ing more or by the po­ten­tially awk­ward trans­ac­tion it­self. But there are some ser­vices that come un­der the purview of the ho­tel concierge with­out the con­sid­er­a­tion of a tip.

For ex­am­ple, a concierge team can help you re­con­firm flights (of­ten im­por­tant in some in­ter­na­tional cities), or­ga­nize air­port trans­porta­tion, and even sort out lost or de­layed lug­gage. The team at the In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal Toronto Cen­tre is even loan­ing out and ex­plain­ing how to prop­erly use selfie sticks. Th­ese are all con­sid­ered part of their du­ties, and while tips are ap­pre­ci­ated, they are not al­ways ex­pected.

Spe­cial oc­ca­sions dur­ing a trip are a fa­vorite of many a concierge be­cause it al­lows them to get cre­ative. The team at the Savoy, the leg­endary Fair­mont-man­aged ho­tel in Lon­don, has been known to as­sist in wed­ding pro­pos­als or other sur­prises. And the ea­ger-to-please staff at the Fair­mont Royal-York in Toronto have been called upon to or­ga­nize 10-course gourmet din­ners at 2 AM upon re­quest by wealthy – and ap­par­ently hun­gry – visi­tors.

When a concierge does go out of their way to as­sist, that’s when con­sid­er­ing a gra­tu­ity should come into play. If you have them rush to the air­port to col­lect a miss­ing bag on your be­half or call in a spe­cial fa­vor at a lo­cal restau­rant, then con­sider hand­ing over a ges­ture of your ap­pre­ci­a­tion. Pet concierges at the In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal Buck­head in At­lanta will walk your dog or babysit your pet while you’re away for the day. Any­time a pooper scooper gets put to use, a tip is surely de­served.

Chris McGin­nis, ed­i­tor of Trav­elSkills.com, rec­om­mends tip­ping at least $10 for ser­vices like se­cur­ing a dif­fi­cult restau­rant reser­va­tion or or­ga­niz­ing a com­pli­cated out­ing. He says it is im­por­tant to think about how much time they put into making your re­quest hap­pen when con­sid­er­ing the amount.

Never un­der­es­ti­mate the old adage, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Many long-time concierges have more con­nec­tions than Lon­don Heathrow, and it could pay to tap into their list of friends. Let’s say you are plan­ning a busi­ness func­tion or prod­uct launch in a new city; why not reach out to the concierge (maybe even in ad­vance of your stay) for rec­om­men­da­tions on some of the area’s movers and shak­ers to in­vite? For a guest, get­ting the most out of your concierge some­times may mean think­ing out­side the box, which is some­thing that a good concierge is al­ways trained to do.

Strange Re­quests Abound

Tuxedo but­tons may seem like noth­ing to a ho­tel concierge. Take for ex­am­ple, the concierge at the St. Regis Deer Val­ley, which once char­tered a jet on a last-minute guest re­quest for a “va­ca­tion within a va­ca­tion ”to Las Vegas. As the guests were rac­ing to the air­port, the concierge was madly piec­ing to­gether con­tacts to or­der the jet, which was wait­ing for them once they ar­rived.

Or the long-term guest at the Oberoi New Delhi who wanted to travel with his mo­tor­cy­cle, but was dis­in­ter­ested in pay­ing the ex­pense as­so­ci­ated with ship­ping it. In­stead, the cre­ative concierge hired a me­chanic to dis­man­tle and ship it in smaller boxes. Voilá, über-high trans­porta­tion costs avoided.

The Four Sea­sons Ho­tel in Prague doesn’t keep its knowl­edge­able duo Petr and Stanislav be­hind the counter all the time; in fact, the ho­tel of­fers up the concierge staff to fit­ness buffs once a week on morn­ing jogs through the city’s his­toric streets. Even if you pre­fer not to jog with a stranger, they are sure to prof­fer a ho­tel map that you can wear around your neck while pound­ing the pave­ment.

If you have worked out enough, the concierge team at Grand Bo­hemian Ho­tel in Or­lando can do the heavy lifting for you and trans­fer your lug­gage to the air­port and your fi­nal des­ti­na­tion. While many ho­tels now of­fer a place to bring board­ing passes on­site, few of­fer the chance to have lug­gage col­lected at the ho­tel and de­liv­ered to one’s fi­nal des­ti­na­tion in one swift move. At the Savoy, the concierge team of­ten num­bers as many as three top-hat­ted staffers at a time to han­dle the be­spoke

re­quests of­ten fielded from de­mand­ing guests. History buffs should ask them to or­ga­nize a visit with the ho­tel’s ar­chiv­ist for a tour of the ho­tel’s own mu­seum.

Per­sonal Touches

Find­ing a good concierge is not lim­ited only to five-star lux­ury ho­tels; they also float. Aboard Vik­ing Torgil, one of Vik­ing River’s Douro-based river­boats in Por­tu­gal, the staff once pulled out the stops to ar­range for a group of Aus­tralian guests to stream a rugby fi­nale game in their state­room. The tech­nol­ogy re­quired the re­align­ment of the ship’s satel­lite re­ceiver so that they could cap­ture the sig­nal from a for­eign chan­nel, but the deed got done. The rugby team lost, though.

Even mid-priced brands like Res­i­dence Inn are train­ing their re­cep­tion staff to dou­ble as concierge as­sis­tants. At the newly opened Res­i­dence Inn Mag­nif­i­cent Mile in Chicago, staffers can han­dle ev­ery­thing from stor­ing lug­gage for longstay guests to ar­rang­ing for per­son­al­ized shop­pers at nearby depart­ment stores to fill the wish-lists of time-strapped shopa­holics.

When lux­ury ho­tel brands look at ev­ery an­gle of ser­vice, they fo­cus es­pe­cially on the value of a strong concierge team. Wal­dorf As­to­ria Ho­tels and Re­sorts launched a pro­gram known as True Wal­dorf Ser­vice, which it touts as be­ing an “ex­ten­sion of the leg­endary per­sonal ser­vice prin­ci­ples” born at the flag­ship Wal­dorf-As­to­ria in New York. It de­liv­ers the ser­vices of a per­sonal concierge to guests be­fore, dur­ing and even af­ter their stay.

The brand says that guests can reach out to the ho­tel concierge through a direct phone line to pro­vi­sion their rooms with fa­vorite ne­ces­si­ties or make spe­cial ar­range­ments so that their ar­rival is noth­ing but a one minute jaunt be­tween taxi and el­e­va­tor. The per­sonal concierge can oversee the or­derly pack­ing of bags or, even bet­ter, have them shipped home, which may be cheaper than pay­ing an air­line’s over­weight bag­gage fees.

Romei, from the Tow­ers of the Wal­dorf As­to­ria New York, is of­ten sought out by pres­i­dents, heads of state, celebri­ties and tourists from around the world for his ex­pert ser­vices. The ho­tel is known to wel­come in­ter­na­tional dig­ni­taries, and he once was re­spon­si­ble for redi­rect­ing a plane’s route to re­cover a guest’s mis­placed bag­gage thanks to a lit­tle help from the US Air Force. To this day, Romei is mum on the name of the VIP who re­ceived that type of lav­ish at­ten­tion. A ho­tel stay is more than just mints on the pil­low and hag­gling for a late check­out. Go be­yond the re­cep­tion desk to tap into ex­per­tise avail­able on the other side of the lobby. But even with that lucky concierge ace in your pocket, try not to forget the tuxedo but­tons!

When you see a pair of golden keys adorn­ing the lapel of your concierge, con­sider your­self lucky

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