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Conjuring up the extraordinary

Published: 01/12/2015 - Filed under: Home » Archive » 2015 » December 2015/January 2016 » Special Reports » Home » Features »

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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-to-get 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 do-gooders 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 business-focused 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. 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 long-stay 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!  

By Ramsey Qubein


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