How technology is changing the hotel concierge
11 FEBRUARY 2015 7:13 AM
Apps and user-generated review sites are rendering the traditional hotel concierge moot in some cases, although luxury guests still expect personalized service.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—The role of the hotel concierge might never disappear entirely, but advancements in technology (and changing attitudes from the guests who use it) are supplanting the need for human contact in many hotels around the world.
“The current role of the concierge is to provide information and services to guests,” said Kevin Murphy, chairman of the Hospitality Services Department at Rosen College of Hospitality Management in Orlando, Florida. “Their role will never diminish, but it’s going to be a much more specialized type of service that they’re providing.”
According to Les Clefs d’Or, an organization for professional hotel lobby concierges, there are 595 concierges wearing the group’s crossed gold keys insignia in the United States, a 14% increase since 2009.
Two trends could affect those numbers, as well as the actual role of the concierge, Murphy said.
The first is technology as played out on sites such as Yelp and Urbanspoon, which obviate guests’ need for a concierge.
The second is the increasing impact of the millennial generation—travelers who were raised with technology and are highly interested in experiential travel.
“People nowadays are very much into adventure tourism, gastronomic tourism, cultural tourism,” Murphy said. “Before, someone would come to Orlando and want to see alligators. Today, they want to go out with an alligator hunter. So the role of a concierge is to offer different and unique experiences.”
That means being able to refer a gastronomic tourist to a farm-to-table restaurant or arranging for a guest to dine on a fish he caught earlier in the day. That’s not something guests can do on their smartphones, he said.
Select- vs full-service
There are, however, some hoteliers leveraging technology to reduce the number of concierges they have on staff—or eliminate them entirely.
“I think except for the large, full-service hotels, guests are handling their needs themselves,” said Bob Habeeb, president and COO of Chicago-based First Hospitality Group, which manages 62 hotels, most of which are select-service brands such as Hilton Garden Inn, Hampton Inn and Springhill Suites. “Consumers now have so many ways to shop for the kinds of things concierges always were helpful with.”
One example is Courtyard by Marriott, which introduced interactive “GoBoard” technology in the lobby that encourages guests to use a 55-inch LCD touch screen to obtain information on news, weather, maps, flights, restaurants and events.
Even Habeeb, who was “a pretty loyal concierge user” in the past, is going it alone these days. When he travels, he orders a car through Uber and books restaurant reservations via OpenTable. “I’ve got a portable concierge with me everywhere I go,” he said. “And I don’t have to tip.”
Guests at luxury brands still expect to be pampered and demand the services of a concierge, sources said. At Waldorf Astoria hotels, guests are assigned personal concierges who act as their primary contact before, during and after their stays to guarantee that every want is met.
This personal concierge concept has been highly successful for Waldorf Astoria.
“We have seen not only large increases in non-room revenue, but we have also seen large increases in satisfaction and service scores when people employ the personal concierge,” said John Vanderslice, global head of luxury and lifestyle brands for Hilton Worldwide Holdings.
A hybrid approach
Hilton’s other luxury brand, Conrad Hotels & Resorts, has adopted a more high-tech approach to serving the needs of its guests: The Conrad Concierge app, which allows guests to customize the details of their hotel stay from a smartphone or tablet. The app enables guests to select bath amenities or their preferred pillow from the pillow menu, as well as to pre-order dinner through roomservice.
Conrad still has a traditional concierge, Vanderslice said. “This is just another way to service our guests.”
Marriott International’s Renaissance Hotels has adopted a hybrid approach that combines technology and personal service: a global hospitality program called “Navigator” that provides guests with resources allowing them to be “in the know” and to discover a destination’s hidden gems.
Navigator is an on-site, online and mobile program built around a curated database that provides guests with local recommendations about food, spirits, shopping, music, entertainment and culture. Renaissance also provides “Navigators,” or micro-local concierges, at each of its hotels who work one on one with guests.
“The Navigator is trained to provide guests with insider information you couldn’t find from any other source,” said Toni Stoeckl, VP of lifestyle brands at Marriott.
If guests prefer to do their own research, however, they can discover restaurants, shopping opportunities, bars and more on iPads available in the lobby of each Renaissance property.
“Technology is not making the concierge go away,” Stoeckl said. “It’s just that we’re using technology to make it even better.”