The Hindu Business Line
Role of a concierge in an Internet world
He can make a difference by helping people visit some secret places
Michael Polovich is not one to skimp on research. An assistant attorney general for Tennessee, he applies the same level of meticulousness to leisurely excursions as he does to his casework. So when he and his girlfriend took a trip to Charleston, South Carolina, this past summer, he had assembled a robust dossier of intelligence on his destination.
But his concierge at the Courtyard by Marriott in the city’s historic district, Kevin McQuade, soon convinced him that he didn’t know squat.
“I had a lot of either/or questions I thought I’d run by him,” Polovich said. “As we started talking, it became apparent that he knew a lot more than what you could learn online. We spent the rest of the trip following his recommendations instead of the stuff we’d planned, and felt like the trip was better off for it.”
Polovich lives in Nashville and knows a hackneyed tour when he sees one. But McQuade connected him with a local professor who does walking tours on weekends. He turned out to be “the highlight of the trip,” Polovich recalled.
“Nothing about it felt kitschy and touristy,” he added. “This was a person who was deeply engrossed in the history of the town and a magnificent storyteller — strong narratives that brought Charleston to life and weren’t trite.”
McQuade is a member of Les Clefs d’Or, a society of concierges whose members must pass a series of rigorous tests to gain entry. But even he acknowledges that the availability of travel information online has called the very usefulness of his profession into question.
Step up the game
“When you have a problem like this, you can lay down and say smart phones are just taking over the world and give up, or you can step up your game,” he said.
McQuade said he thought too many of his colleagues were hung up on sending guests to venues they could walk to or were preordained as touristfriendly. “You go to a concierge to find things you couldn’t find on your own,” he said. “If you’re in New York, you’re going to know about the Met and the Statue of Liberty. But if I tell them about a good jazz club or a Greenwich Village walking tour or a restaurant in Little Italy, that’s something they can only get from me. “People want to find those secret places. You should look at their itinerary and tell them what they’re missing that gives them the essence of the town. The internet isn’t doing that — taking a look at the bigger picture — and neither are some concierges.” If guests can find them, that is. According to the American Hotel and Lodging Association, the share of luxury hotels that employ concierges fell to 82 per cent from nearly 100 per cent between 2014 and 2016, with many concierges taking on duties that require them to abandon their once stationary posts. For instance, Joseph Sundberg of the Hotel Monaco in Portland, Oregon, now holds the title of roving concierge, which finds him ferrying luggage too.