How concierge roles are changing in an internet age
How concierge roles are changing in an internet age
09 JULY 2018 7:35 AM

While there have been some contraction of concierge jobs in luxury and trendy boutique hotels, there still is a need for the knowledge, recommendations and personal relationships concierges have within their cities.

REPORT FROM THE U.S.—As mobile apps providing at-your-fingertips travel information have proliferated, the role of the hotel concierge has evolved with this growing high-tech trend.

Guests at luxury hotels and resorts and smaller boutique properties will now gather information online about restaurants, shows and attractions themselves, and then combine what they have found with the expertise and connections that the concierge offers.

“The work of the concierge is definitely changing from what it used to be; we are the filter of information from the internet,” said Roberts Marks, president of Les Clefs d’Or USA, the prestigious national association of hotel concierges. “Guests will come to us, for instance, with the names of three restaurants they found on different websites and ask us which would be best suited for them.” Marks is also the chef concierge at the Omni San Diego Hotel.

But, the growth of internet research has led to some job loss among concierges. At other hotels, they have distributed the concierge role among several employees, who add those responsibilities to their other ones around the hotel. Still, even though traditional concierge jobs continue to ebb and flow, Marks said that Les Clefs d’Or USA continues to see yearly incremental growth, and with 650 members, the organization is larger than it has ever been in its 40-year history.

“One of the biggest assets we give guests is one thing you can’t buy, and that’s time,” Marks said. “If you have to work to find out information yourself, you are using your precious time, which no one has enough of these days.”

Relationships matter
For one hotel, choosing to open without a dedicated concierge on staff proved to be a negative. The 111-room boutique CIRC Hotel in Hollywood, Florida, originally opened in May without a concierge. The mindset was that the property has multi-functional employees who could have handled some of the concierge duties. That lasted just four weeks, said GM Kara Lundgren.

“Guests were looking for the concierge to assist them,” she said. “The (return on investment) on having a concierge is infinite.”

Robert Marks, left, is president of Les Clefs d’Or USA and chef concierge at the Omni San Diego; Jeanne Venn, Les Clefs d’Or member since 1986, is chef concierge at the Chase Park Plaza in St. Louis. (Photos: Les Clefs d’Or USA)

And while guests can use mobile devices to request an Uber or order show tickets, the concierge has the relationships and connections to get guests into top restaurants or score tickets to the hottest show in town, said Frederik Houben, director of sales and marketing at the 389-room Chase Park Plaza Royal Sonesta St. Louis.

“You want to be everybody’s favorite hotel, and being a favorite means you want to offer the level of personal connections that an experienced concierge can provide to your guests,” Houben said. “Technology can’t and will never take that place.”

The evolution of personalization
Jeanne Venn, chef concierge at the Chase Park Plaza and Les Clefs d’Or member since 1986, said the role of the concierge has become more and more personal.

“Since guests are already coming to you nowadays with information and are more educated, you have to be able to ask pertinent questions to know what to best recommend to a guest and what really matters most to that particular person,” she said.*

She added that since there is so much “garbage” and erroneous information on the internet, the concierge can help decipher what makes the most sense for a guest.

While younger guests rely heavily on mobile apps for finding information on shows, restaurants and attractions when traveling, they are now combining that with a final seal of approval from concierges.

“The millennials want our opinion and are asking if a certain restaurant or attraction they have researched themselves is really right for them; they are still seeking that human connection,” said Ryan Lettier, concierge at the 117-room Kimpton Hotel Vintage Portland in Oregon.

That human connection that Lettier mentioned is especially important to foreign travelers, noted Tory Criss, guest services supervisor at the 44-room beachfront Tower23 Hotel in San Diego, California. About 40% of the property’s guests come from Europe, Asia and South America.

“These international travelers want more than just brochures and online reviews,” Criss said. “They really seek out the concierge to recommend unique dining options and special experiences while they are here.”

New technology can actually enhance the work of concierges, and allow them to serve guests even before they arrive on site, said Jonathan Wilson, VP, customer experience, food and beverage and wellness at Hilton. Hilton’s Conrad Hotels & Resorts brand offers Conrad Concierge, which allows guests to request amenities and communicate with a concierge pre-stay.

“Five years ago guests would ask a concierge for a recommendation for a good place for dinner; now they want to dine at a restaurant that has the top new chef in town,” Wilson said.

Another value concierges provide, which is technically not part of their job descriptions, are the unique and long-lasting relationships they have built up with repeat loyal guests at their properties. Because they are so visible in hotel lobbies, guests may turn to them to lend an ear in a way that they wouldn’t with other hotel employees.

“I have had guests in town for a funeral or for treatment for stage four cancer come over just to talk to me as a friend,” Lettier said. “No app can do that.”

*Correction, 20 July 2018: This story has been updated to use the proper pronoun for Jeanne Venn. 

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