This article was printed in Hospitality News’ January 25, 2015 issue with the title “The concierge: Why they will last,” tackling the future of the hotel concierge. As technology makes do-it-yourself travel arrangements more convenient, there are questions whether the concierge will still be relevant in a hotel’s offer.
Concierges and their trade group, popularly known as Les Clefs d’Or, have recently been under the spotlight after The Grand Budapest Hotel hit the movie screens globally and was nominated at the Oscars. [Update: The movie won four Academy Awards categories.]
Fictional the movie may be, many concierges admit that a number of scenes about them are truthful: the strong network that moved mountains for results, the presence of Les Clefs d’Or across different continents, and the concierge being the face of a hotel. The controversial and highly efficient concierge of the hotel, Monsieur Gustave H, was why affluent guests checked in at The Grand Budapest in its heyday during pre-World War II, according to the movie.
That was the concierge then, and surprisingly, little has changed. During a roundtable discussion by Hospitality News with five members of Les Clefs d’Or Philippines, there was unanimous opinion among these hotel professionals that the concierge is much more relevant today than ever.
This is true despite the ways technology has empowered travelers to arrange their needs by themselves. Need a restaurant reservation, airline ticket, taxi, or free travel advice? Everything is online, mobile, and do-it-yourself.
Jun Nadres, head concierge of Marriott Hotel Manila, even admits that technology has made doing their jobs easier. Concierges make restaurant and airline reservations online, and as most hotels digitize their newspapers, they have been unloaded of manual and tedious tasks.
But the number of requests have not dwindled, according to the interviewed members who all work for luxury or upper upscale hotels in Metro Manila. The concierge ensures everything goes on smoothly even if technology fails. Popular restaurants in Metro Manila get fully booked easily, but concierges have connections inside the restaurants who can bring in the “magic tables,” or tables that the restaurant does not sell or may sneak in, reveals Carlo Fornier, assistant chief concierge, The Peninsula Manila.
The concierge also puts in “personal touch” especially during special dates like anniversaries. And when requests fall out of expectations, guests will look for someone for help—or to blame. “People want somebody to be accountable, and they want assurance,” says Fornier.
“The emotion, you can’t have that with all the apps,” says Rey Emil Moraga, concierge supervisor, Raffles Makati.
In fact, the immense amount of information in the Internet has pushed guests to rely more on the concierge. “You can google as much information, but once you talk to a concierge or a person, you are already resolved,” says Mayumi Hayakawa-Marcelo, chief concierge, InterContinental Manila.
While little has changed in the role of concierge in luxury chain hotels, where the position is brand-mandated, some local properties are being creative. For instance, a hotel group created the position “lifestyle executive” to take on concierge and butler duties. Meanwhile, a new hotel brand in the Philippines has been training its front-of-house staff to act like a concierge by mastering the local area from a tourist’s perspective and knowing what to recommend to guests.
Les Clefs d’Or acknowledges these changes and are accepting members without the “concierge” title. But Rob Porter, service associate concierge of Makati Shangri- La, cautions that these innovations should not confuse concierge with a few concierge services.
Luxury guests have a set of expectations when they meet a concierge, while other hotels may not have a dedicated full-service concierge and instead only offer limited concierge services like transportation arrangement.
It is not technology that the Philippine chapter worries about, rather the hotel construction boom and the consequent number of concierges that will be required. Members agree that it is difficult develop a competent concierge because the job relies on practical information forged by experience.
There are a lot of potential concierges out there, says Marcelo, who is president of the Philippine chapter. But hotels would rather get experienced concierges instead of training one. “We have shortage in finding apt concierge that you can place there and he’s ready to go.”
“It’s quite difficult to get concierge from outside, from newly grads. I would not get one for the reason that they don’t have the knowledge. I would rather get someone from inside who has worked under my department and that I would be promoting,” says Nadres.
Marcelo reveals that the association is mulling to develop concierge training seminars for college students. But even those who went through such would still need to start below. “In my case, I started in carrying bags, sometimes open the door. You really start from the bottom and really learn the hotel,” says Moraga. Monsieur Gustave H agrees in the movie, and says he was the best bellboy around before earning his “golden keys”.