All Hail The Concierge – from Hotel Interactive

Who doesn’t love a good concierge? I know we sure do here at Hotel Interactive as they are the most critical conduit between a hotel and the community in which it resides. Concierges hold the doorway open for winning experiences that take place off property, but which the guest directs related to the overall stay.
A good concierge sets the stage for memories, positive or negative and have a direct influence whether a guest will come again or choose a competitor.
But what is a concierge anyway? The term “concierge” comes from the French, Comte Des Cierges, which means “The Keeper of the Candles,” in referring to a person who attended to the needs of visitors to medieval castles.
Castles have evolved into multi-million dollar resorts and hotels and today’s concierge works with high-tech tools. But at its most basic, the role of concierge hasn’t changed in more than 500 years.
“The underlying quality that comes to a being a very good concierge is an individual who has a true understanding of the needs of a guest and a true desire to be of service,” said Robert Marks, chief concierge at The Omni San Diego Hotel and vice president of Les Clefs d’Or USA, the national organization of hotel lobby concierges. “It really comes from a willingness to be of service. That is not something that is a teachable – it has to be an individual trait.”
There are, of course, many things that are teachable to aspiring concierges. Most properties put potential concierges through extensive training programs before the trainee even talks to a guest.
“No colleague is ever put behind a concierge desk alone without at least three weeks of training,” said Dan Droz, concierge supervisor at The Langham Huntington, Pasadena. “Training usually starts with an introduction to our computer system because it is a digital rolodex of our contacts and favorites. They learn to utilize this system and log information and requests correctly so the next shift can know what is going on without missing a beat.
“We then slowly introduce the new concierge to some options in each category and as the new colleague becomes more confident, their baseline of information is expanded. We make introductions with our vendor contacts and expand their network by having them attend events such as those from the LACA (Los Angeles Concierge Association). The learning cycle never ends – even for the experienced concierge. Oftentimes the best training discussions happen as requests come in or as questions are asked by the new concierge.”
A concierge, Droz said, is also responsible for getting to know guests on a level that other colleagues cannot, due to the in-depth types of conversations a concierge has with guests.
“Whether reminding them of the restaurant they loved on their last stay, remembering a child’s favorite treat, or the type of seat they prefer for a sports game, it is up to us to make sure that consistent level of quality and personalization enchants guests every time they stay with us,” Droz said. “Lobby concierge desks should serve as an oasis for guests during their stay. Any request, within the bounds of the law, can be discussed and options are given leading to guests’ wishes being granted. This is a timeless tradition that is honored by all concierge.”
At the JW Marriott Cancun Resort & Spa, each concierge undergoes what Chief Concierge calls “core training,” starting with brand introduction courses that include "In the Beginning," which covers the brand history and philosophy, "Five Diamond Service Training," and "JW Symphony of Service," which is exclusive to JW Marriott associates.
“For more in-depth information on the property, which further helps their abilities to be a resource for guests, they must complete the "Passport to Success" course within the first three months that they are with the hotel,” Calabrese said. “This cross-training program places the associate in different areas of the hotel for a complete understanding of the property and its services.”
Calabrese said training is also done off property as associates visit local attractions and participate in local cultural events to familiarize themselves with all of the options available to guests who want to explore the destination.
“They cannot recommend any place to a guest they have never visited,” he said. “Networking is an important aspect in these off-property activities, so that the concierge will know the right contact to reach for any given request from a guest. It is also a requirement to be well-versed in the culture and history of the destination.”
That kind of training – and ongoing training – are the keys to developing great concierges, according to Ed Ponder, director of guest services at The Betsy-South Beach and former president of the Southern Florida Concierge Association.
“We use pre-hiring questionnaires to see what they know and need to learn,” Ponder said. “Ongoing tests are used to challenge and expand their knowledge – regarding areas of the city including historical elements that are vital, cuisine, nightlife, etc. Hands-on experience is key so they are scheduled to dine, tour, and just experience the place as the guests will and do.”
So basically, from an information and recommendation standpoint, the concierge is a reference who has experienced and vetted places, restaurants and attractions for guests.
“Even with all of the technological advances we have such as Trip Advisor, Yelp and mobile applications, the people writing those reviews are anonymous, and could be providing biased reviews,” Droz said. “This is when the knowledge and experience of professional concierge is crucial to providing guests with quality recommendations for outings activities in the area. It is our job to steer and inform guests to the best possible and most genuine experiences that will fit within their interests and desires.
“A concierge must be prepared to keep asking questions when the answer or even the request is not obvious. A simple ‘no’ cannot exist. We must be ready to present options and alternatives through extensive research. Finding an answer to truly delight your guest and make them feel like they are your top priority is the most satisfying part of the job.”


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