The ‘Godfather’ of luxury hotels. Synonymous with opulence, aristocracy and celebrity. This is the quintessential five star hotel. Originally built in the roaring ’20s, The Peninsula Hong Kong, or the “Grand Dame of the East,” remains one of the world’s most magnificent hotels to this day
There may have been a flurry of ‘perceived’ 6 and/or 7 star hotels opening in the past decade; but as I’ve discussed in a past post ‘What makes a great five star hotel?’ the world ranks hotels up to five star and no further. End of story.
The Peninsula, Hong Kong has always been my favourite hotel in the world. It illustrates all that I love about the hotel industry. It has class, pedigree and a glowing; well deserved, reputation. Hong Kong’s oldest hotel, The Peninsula has been voted the world’s best hotel on several occasions, and is widely regarded as one of the region’s legendary properties.
It was opened in Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong in December 1928, built with the idea that it would be “the finest hotel east of Suez.” The location of the hotel was extremely strategic, as passengers arriving in Hong Kong by ocean liner disembarked onto the quays of Kowloon, directly opposite the hotel. Kowloon was also the last stop on the trans-Siberian rail link that brought travelers from Europe. As such, the Peninsula hotel was ideally situated to take advantage of the increasing number of wealthy visitors to the area.
Today it has a fleet of 14; yes I said 14, Rolls Royce Phantom’s used to transfer their guests around the city.
All finished in signature Peninsula Green, each vehicle in The Peninsula’s latest fleet has undergone bespoke modifications to suit the needs of guests, providing relaxed, comfortable and luxurious transportation to and from the airport.
The Peninsula, Hong Kong gave Rolls Royce their largest order in history, when in 2006 they replaced their fleet of Rolls Royce Silver Spurs. These vehicles, and the hotel as a backdrop, were used in the “Bond…James Bond” film ‘The Man With The Golden Gun’
The Peninsula has all the elements of what draws people to spend their time in luxury hotels. From a collection of highly acclaimed restaurants, beautifully appointed public areas and suites to their world class health spa and indoor swimming pool with a view of Hong Kong Harbour; it’s difficult to imagine what this grand old dame lacks.
What it has managed to achieve, is maintaining their hard earned reputation through a World War, The Battle of Hong Kong, a military enforced name change, British colonial rule and the latest of worldwide recessions. No mean feat.
Much is said in the news and online about the power of social media. My last post ‘How social media has changed how we do business’ touched on some of the types of social media we use, sometimes unwittingly, on a daily basis; and also how we can make it work to our advantage. The world is becoming smaller and smaller every day and most of us interact with new and exciting, and yes, sometimes boring, people every day.
What I think is perhaps more crucial, however, is making sure that you don’t do any damage to your reputation, brand or company; either personally or professionally.
Being no stranger myself to controversy and, shall we say, somewhat of ‘take no nonsense’ attitude especially when I believe myself; perhaps not to be right, but at least to have a defendable point; I’ve learnt some key aspects in dealing with the issues that an active social media presence can bring.
We have all read or heard the stories in the past few years of high profile sports people, actors, musicians and even politicians who have fallen victim to the outrage and controversy that a short fuse or an off colour remark can cause.
It’s a sign of the times that we live in, and I for one am not entirely happy about the direction the world is taking. Gone are the days when whimsy is mistaken for humour. The world has gone and gotten itself a serious attitude problem and there is very little, if any, room left for humour and laughter. When a person or brand/company messes up it’s usually followed by the expected barrage of criticism, judgement and ridicule; no need to flog that dead horse.
The prevalence of social media has only served to exacerbate the ‘ripple effect’ of fallout in such a situation. When something newsworthy happened, even 10 years ago, the effect would only really be quantifiable in days. Now with tools such as Facebook and Twitter, it can spread like wildfire across the globe within minutes.
Honesty, integrity and basic human dignity should be amongst the most important of these. Because, no matter how witty or ‘funny’ you think you are being; no one wants to hear you being crude, homophobic or racist. There is a fine line between humour and stupidity; if you can’t get it right it’s better to not say anything.
But the very nature of people is to have opinions. I see it on a daily basis and it makes me cringe. We all have opinions and views; but very few, if any of us are in a position to back up and defend most of them. Hence the ‘sit down and shut up’ tone of this post.
The biggest ‘cringe moment’ I find is when companies or brands get themselves embroiled in a personal spat with a customer or client. This is, quite honestly, unforgivable. Coming from a background of the service industry I have always been taught that ‘the customer is always right’ That’s a lot of baloney quite honestly! The customer is very often wrong; but the customer is always a customer. There is NEVER an appropriate time to have a public spat with a customer. Never. The End. Perhaps I’m a lot more subservient that most given what I do; but my points of sticking to honesty, integrity and human dignity show through here.
Recently there was an incident at a local restaurant. Things happened or didn’t, things were said or weren’t. With the modern world’s fascination with social media, the incident was very quickly blown out of proportion and the restaurant and it’s management and/or PR people needed to do damage control.
What ended up happening after much back and forth was a petty childish game of ‘one-upmanship’ on the restaurants side; attempting to play down the incident on one hand, and humiliate on the other hand; the customer. Only the few people directly involved know the real story so I’m not going to pass judgement on who was right or wrong.
Sometimes you really just need to back off, apologise and move on. Who cares who was right or wrong? If you can’t handle that or it’s ‘not you’; then you need to find a new career.
In a world that encourages rapid circulation of news, drama and gossip, you really cannot afford to stand on shaky moral ground when the social media tsunami comes; and come it shall, believe me.
Social media has the potential to expose your brand to the most vociferous and supportive of people. Those that you want to be following and promoting your brand. Keep your ‘voice’ online regular, honest and fair. If you have a valid criticism make sure that you address it immediately, make sure you have full contact information for the complainant and ensure that you provide feedback within the day or next at the latest. When you are well reviewed or praised accept it gracefully and with humility.
There are so many examples and hints I could give but it really just boils down to good manners, a clear head and a big helping of patience. I was always taught that good manners are non-negotiable. So simple to have them and use them to your benefit; and conversely, a disaster when you don’t.
Be a winner. No one likes a loser
It’s a fast moving and ever changing world we live in. In my time as a working professional I’ve seen an amazing shift in the way companies do business; and what makes this even more interesting, is that I’ve only been working for just over 12 years!
I remember very clearly how things worked at my first job. It was run on principles and business practises refined through the successes and failures of over a century of operation. There were no rash decisions made here. No quick fixes to problems. And most importantly decisions that could potentially impact the hotel on a grand scale either in terms, were not made by an individual, but rather discussed amongst the senior management team and a suitable solution was found. This is a state of affairs that I have seen very little of working in Cape Town. I certainly don’t think it is unique to Cape Town, or even South Africa; but more that it is indicative of the issue of inexperienced people in decision making positions.
But I’ve flogged that dead horse in other posts, so I’ll try contain my irritation, at least till the end of this post.
My point, before I jumped off on a tangent, is that the world is a different place these days. The way businesses are run now is inherently different from how they were run even 10 years ago. Large corporations that have existed for many years will always have a history of business practise to call upon in tough times, and this experience can be invaluable. But looking to the future, businesses of all sizes, shapes and styles need to be aware of the paradigm shift that has occurred within the technology world regarding receiving and transmitting of information.
The world is becoming more and more of an information highway than ever before. Smart phones, ultra mobile laptops, hand-held tablets or iPads, electronic billboards, and of course the BIGGEST one of all, social media.
Our good friends over at Wikipedia define social media as ‘the use of web-based and mobile technologies to turn communication into interactive dialogue’ I know, right? Complete mystery to me also…
But for most of us, we have been using and communicating via social media for years, perhaps unknowingly. Some examples of the social media we use today are Twitter,
Lamebook Facebook, Instagram and Groupon.
Many companies have been early adopters and have reaped the benefits of gaining instant feedback of their brand; and of course, this means that that have been able to provide assistance and have dialogue with customers on a more personal level. And let’s face it; in this new modern where call centres have basically removed the human element from businesses, this kind of dialogue gives one a sense of humanity back.
I’ll give you an example: Vodacom; probably South Africa’s biggest cellular & mobile broadband provider has an entire department geared towards handling Social Media. Not one or two spotty, greasy trainees using Facebook and Twitter a few times a week; an ENTIRE department who deal ONLY with this vital communication tool. That’s what we socially advanced types would call #winning.
Accommodation establishments worldwide have learnt very quickly that instant feedback from guests is crucial in achieving that all important ‘repeat business’ If you are monitoring tweets and Facebook posts and notice a guest posting a complaint this can be immediately actioned. I’ve personally seen an unflattering tweet from a guest and within 5 minutes was able to have the issue resolved or feedback given; resulting in a glowing review when the guests left. Simple. Easy. Effective. Make technology work FOR you.
Large worldwide hotel chains and restaurants use Foursquare on a massive scale; offering discounted room rates, free upgrades, complimentary breakfasts and more, in return for check ins on the location based service. It’s seen some small application in South Africa, but generally we tend to lag behind in the technology stakes, I would assume because of the high costs of data and the low ratio of smart phone users amongst the majority of people.
Whatever your ‘poison’ Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare or all of them; just remember you can ignore social media; it won’t ignore you or your brand…
I am Concierge.
Is there a place in the future for a professional Concierge?
I’d like to think so, obviously. I do believe that every hotel should have a Concierge. And no, not just the fancy 5 star hotels that most people cannot afford to stay in regularly. Every single hotel.
I shall, of course, give my reasons for this bold statement.
Does this seem like overkill? Is a professional Concierge an unnecessary expense or position to take on? From a completely unbiased position I believe that having a great Concierge in an establishment is like offering clean sheets, housekeeping services, decent breakfast buffet and free wi-fi i.e. Mandatory and essential. And without trying to sound too arrogant, I believe that a great Concierge is of more use to guests than most of these things.
Let’s get into that statement. In this new world so consumed by technology it’s easy to replace many things in life. You really don’t need a travel agent any more; you can book flights, accommodation, airport transfers, restaurants and excursions online. You don’t need to go to the supermarket any more; most popular supermarkets offer an on-line ordering system with delivery. You can book sport, theatre and other performance tickets online. And with the advent of smart phones you will, in the very near future, not even need to carry cash or bank cards with you; you will be able to make payments and transfers directly from your phone at almost all retail outlets; this is obviously a step up from the current trend of mobile internet banking. As the man behind Apple’s huge resurgence, Steve Jobs, notes, “there is an app for that”…and if there isn’t currently there will be one very soon.
Ok, so the world is shifting people into a self-sufficient world where they can do what they need to do, go about their lives and have very little interaction with anyone unless necessary. This high-tech trend, you would think, would spell the end for a career as a real life professional Concierge right?
Nope, you’re wrong. And here’s why.
Will your smart phone be able to get you onto the guest list of the hottest club in town? Will the internet magically create space in a fully booked restaurant? As much as I personally love and promote them, no iPhone application will be able to get you those front row U2 concert tickets when they sold out within hours of going on sale. In essence; no amount of clicking, tapping or pleading with the internet gods or can do what an experienced Concierge can do for you.
And the best part of all is that everything that we can do for you is completely free! Seriously! Knowing this, how could you even consider not having your own personal Concierge or at the very least not use a Concierge on a regular basis? We know everything there is to know. We go out of our way to assist everyone we meet; be it a hotel guest, friend, colleague or stranger; not because we have something to gain, but just because that is our nature.
I’ve worked my whole life in 5 star hotels and love my job. Sure it has its ups and downs like anything else; but when you find your passion in life; that one thing you do that makes you genuinely happy and content, well, it’s pretty damn awesome!
I’ve realised that being a hotel Concierge is as close to the perfect job as I think I’ll ever get and I know that I add great value to my property. And I know that each excellent Concierge around the world who aspires to the same ideals and ambitions that I do adds huge value to their own property.
I’m a great Concierge who has many wonderful clients and friends, and I; or someone like me could be changing how you live and organise your life soon.
I Am Concierge
As a 5 star hotel Concierge I have long been relied upon to suggest suitable restaurants to my guests, and of course, by association, friends and family as well.
I’m a big foodie. By that statement I mean I love great food, wine, restaurants and the ‘theatre’ that is involved in a fine dining experience. I certainly am not an expert, nor have I been professionally trained in wines, food preparation nor as a restaurant critic. But I am of the opinion that no matter who people are, they have opinions, and those opinions are allowed to be expressed in a private or public forum if needs be.
Recently I have noticed a distinct thinly veiled hostility towards the food/wine blogging community in Cape Town. I am certain that in other parts of the country and the world there is similar sentiment, but Cape Town is my home and the centre of my universe so I really couldn’t be bothered by anything outside my own community. What seems to be the main issue up for debate, or in some cases, abuse; is the plethora of bloggers posting reviews and/or comments on their experiences at restaurants, hotel, bars etc… without having the ‘required’ professional qualifications to do so.
As I’ve mentioned previously, I think it’s perfectly acceptable that people visit a restaurant, hotel or wine estate and provide feedback, either positive or negative. No one has anything to say when a positive review is posted, however when a negative review surfaces the knives, slander and bitchiness come out to play. It would be wrong to assume that this negativity originates only from people associated directly with the restaurant or hotel concerned. More and more it seems that people who happen to like that particular location for whatever reason are so closed off to the possibility that it might not actually be the best place on Earth, that they launch personal attacks on those writing reviews. Why people? Why?
If you run a perfect business, company, coffee shop, soup kitchen or household then you are above all criticism. The Concierge salutes your achievements of an impossible standard. Hmmm, did I overdo the criticism there just a tad? My bad.
Of course no one is perfect; (my future ex-wife, Adriana Lima is pretty damn close though) and businesses are even further away from perfect, since they are compromised of the same imperfect individuals that we all are.
So why is there the perceived impression that people who write or even talk about their experiences needing to be professionally qualified and experienced to do so? Most of the decent food websites in the country have reviews posted to them. And a brilliant idea it is for those people looking for honest, un-fancy and unfiltered feedback from ‘normal’ people about hotels and restaurants . As a professional Concierge I feel that I am a little more informed about food, wine, service and standards than the average person may be. This may or may not be true and of course that does not make me a critic. It also does not mean that I cannot express my opinions in any way I like. Freedom of expression and all that right?
I think everyone just needs to have a sit down, shoot some Cuervo and relax. What would the world be without people honest enough to give their opinion? A world of sheep and cowards that’s what; and to tell you the truth I wouldn’t want to live in that world. Take me out back, like old Bessy the cow, and shoot me dead. Please.
So, back on topic. I love restaurants. What’s not to love? Food, alcohol, location and service. In the correct combination and/or done well it’s just brilliant. But get just one of these ingredients wrong and it’s a big ‘ol mess. And it doesn’t even need to be the little family run cafe that have this problem. The big fancy corporate places can get it wrong just as often, sometimes more. The issue I like to focus on is the human element since it’s so close to my own industry and what I am more informed about.
The human element is what WILL make or break a restaurant, bar, club or business. You can make a lousy location work. Look at a restaurant like Bizerca Bistro for example. It’s a stunning space no doubt, and the food is brilliant. But tucked away in a side street that most Capetonians have never been on? It could/should have bombed big time. But it didn’t; and it hasn’t because they have gotten ticks in all the right boxes. Food, attitude, business model, service etc… It’s one of the countries best and it’s a good thing it’s almost hidden away. I’d hate to struggle to get a table if it becomes another location the ‘trendy pretty’ people go to be seen. Conversely, having a beautiful location doesn’t guarantee excellence either. I’m certainly not going to name names; but Camps Bay is a perfect example of this. So much rubbish in one stretch of prime real estate should be criminal! Of the plethora of restaurants and cafes I would certainly not rate more than 3 or 4 as decent. As that’s ‘Camps Bay decent’; not ‘town’ decent.’
One thing that I would like to impart on the world you all is something that I have come to realise. Great location = Obnoxious staff and average food. Average/Poor Location = Friendly staff and brilliant food. Think I got this ass backwards? I think not. Think about some of your favorite restaurants in Cape Town, South Africa and the world. Do they have great views or do they not? I’ve been to more restaurants than I care to remember and my top 10 favorites all do not have a decent view, or in some cases, have no views at all. Look at international restaurants like Le Gavroche, The Fat Duck and The French Laundry for example. Little or no views to speak of but they are among the best in the world. A coincidence? I like to think not.
Why is this? When your restaurant has a great view you are patronised by the wealthy, trendy, pretty people because your restaurant looks good and is ‘in.’ You will become lazy about providing the very best experience possible because you just don’t need to push at that level to stay popular or busy. You probably know that your location is bringing in the customers rather than your food or great customer service. Who cares then huh? And on the flip side; when your restaurant is on the ground floor of some CBD mall or in an old building with no sea/mountain views you HAVE to get every single thing right to ensure that you keep your customers coming back for more. You have to work that much harder to entice the ‘pretty people’ away from the trendy restaurants.
Personally I could care less for the ‘pretty’ restaurants. I don’t need a great view to enjoy my meal. That’s why I have a pretty girl to look at instead. I like to believe that when people come to me for a recommendation; or go out on their own for a meal, they actually want to eat brilliant food. They don’t want to ‘people watch’ and they don’t want to just ‘be seen’ at the seasons latest hot spot.
What do you think? Is there a middle ground? Can there be a great; and I mean great, not decent, restaurant with a spectacular view? Will regular people ever be able to give feedback on restaurants without being personally attacked? Will quagga’s ever be cloned? I’m looking forward to the answers to all of these questions
I Am Concierge
With apologies to the Hotel Confidential blog; I think it’s high time that the topic of confidentiality was discussed. I really only know how to discuss it as it relates to the hotel industry but it really can apply in any industry and of course in everyday life.
My entire working career has been spent in five star hotels. It’s all I’ve ever known. And, possibly the most important thing I have learnt is how important confidentiality and discretion are. It should be a given that when you work in a job that requires these qualities that you would have the decency to adhere to the guidelines. But as we see over and over again how easily people sell their souls out for a few dollars or a few minutes of glory.
Confidentiality in hotels is something very different though. It ranges from not discussing the personal idiosyncrasies of a guest, which have no professional merit, amongst staff members to the far end of the scale which is revealing company statistics, occupancy’s and revenue figures. Any decent hotel will include a confidentiality clause which requires you do not disclose any guest related or financially sensitive information to anyone not authorised to possess this information. In recent time this has evolved to include non-disclosure of celebrities which probably attracts the biggest reaction from myself. I read up to 30 news, sport, financial and celebrity websites a day so that I can feel up to date with the current ‘affairs’ of the world and every time I read something along the lines of ‘sources close to … tell us’ or ‘in an exclusive interview… reveals’ it really irritates me. Obviously people are always going to look after ‘Number 1′ and screw who ever gets in the way. But when you are entrusted with a confidence be it between a friend, colleague or whatever, and you can’t keep your mouth shut; to me that shows a complete lack of decency and morality.
If anyone has been in a position to ‘dish the dirt’ on celebrities it would be me. In my 13 years of working in 5 star hotels I have met musicians, film stars, politicians, presidents, actors and actresses and supermodels; among the highlights, and in no particular order of personal interest or preference; Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jackson, Arsene Wenger, Sep Blatter, Bono from U2, Britney Spears, Ana Beatriz Barros, Anne Vyalitsyna both of Victoria Secret fame, to former US Presidents Bill Clinton and both George W. Bush Jnr and Snr. My current favourite, just for being an absolute ANGEL when she stayed with us, and not being a diva and taking the time to actually talk to the staff, is the lovely Neve Campbell. I had to assist her with a whole bunch of personal tasks and I fell in love with her sweet nature and beautiful smile. Top of the list though, is not just a statesman, but perhaps one of the greatest and most humble people to have ever lived: Nelson Mandela.
There is actually a funny/embarrassing/cute story to my first meeting with Madiba, I was working at Reception at that time and he walked up to the desk while I was was typing away on my computer with my focus on the screen, and he says in his typical Madiba voice ‘ Err, excuse me young man’ at which point I froze. Time stood still, like I was in the Matrix; as I obviously recognised the signature voice. I slowly looked up at him and when he asked me to direct him to the bathroom you would have thought he had asked me to explain the Da Vinci code, or to solve a Rubix cube! I was completely star struck; which had never happened before and hasn’t happened since. I was still catching flies in my wide open mouth when my colleague walked over and escorted him on his way. I felt like such a fool, but later that evening I realised this is probably the most famous and sought after personality in the entire world that I had just met, so perhaps my reaction wasn’t so cringe worthy.
But back to the point I was trying to make. Throughout all of my years of working in 5 star hotels, hearing sensitive information at meetings, seeing highly confidential reports and meeting these celebrities; never once was I tempted to share it with anyone. I certainly don’t think of myself as a saint or that I have always been as honest and morally perfect as I should have been; but where I draw the line is anything that would adversely impact on my professional reputation. I have written another blog post here which explains my feelings on that, but suffice it to say that I would never do anything to jeopardise this. My professional integrity is the most important thing to me, besides family course; and you would think that everyone would have the same values. But I’ve seen, and even worked with people who have broken this ‘code’ for money and in every single case it may pay off initially in monetary terms, but it never lasts and the ‘rat’ label lingers a lot lingers than the money does!
I feel proud of being entrusted by my hotel to honestly adhere to the confidentiality rules and policies we have in place. I’m certainly not in possession of nuclear launch codes or the bedroom webcam address of Adriana Lima, unfortunately; but when you realise that people depend on you to withhold certain facts and knowledge that should be enough to shut you up. I feel very strongly about this point. I’m certain that most people won’t; but then again the amount of people buying tabloid newspapers and magazines, reading celebrity gossip websites and openly discussing said people in public openly are the majority.
Celebrity news sells, and sells well. But the main reason that it does is due to hotel staff tipping off the press when they have famous guests in or waiters in restaurants who have retainer deals with photographers to get pictures of celebrities trying to have some alone time in public or paparazzi who hound celebrities on foot, by car or on motorcycles often causing injuries to themselves or others. The most famous example being Princess Di and Dodi Al Fayed in 1997. Need a reminder? Here you go. This behaviour even happens in the technology industry, and is becoming worse all the time. Some of you may have heard the story about an oddly disguised iPhone that was left in a beer garden in California by a field tester. This turned out to be the has yet, unreleased iPhone 4. The issue that I have with the whole saga is the fact that the person who found it; while admittedly he did try make a fair attempt to contact the owner of the phone, managed to get the phone ‘discovered’ by one of the largest and most popular technology websites Gizmodo. Anything for a buck, right?
In a world where there is so much poverty, natural disasters, pain, suffering and trauma shouldn’t we living our lives honourably and justly? Do we need more reasons for bad thing to happen?
Something to think about.
I know I will.
I am Concierge.