Does a professional Concierge have a future?

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.

Focus on my article please!

Focus on my article please!

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.

'We LOVE you Concierge! I think they're saying

‘We LOVE Concierges! I think they’re saying

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


What makes a great five star hotel?

Let’s be clear. I am aware of the fact that there are ‘six’ and ‘seven’ star hotels in the world.

What you may, or may not be aware of is the fact that there is no universal international standard of grading hotels.
Most countries work on a grading up to a maximum of five stars, others have a diamond rating and others work on other types of grading.

What is universal though is that there is a limit to the scale; meaning that in essence there is no way to quantify more than a five star level.

The most famous is the Burj Al Arab in the emirate of Dubai. It claims to be the worlds first seven star hotel.

Burj Al Arab

Pretty isn’t it? The architect and engineering consultant for the project was Atkins, the UK’s largest multidisciplinary consultancy. The hotel was built by South African construction contractor Murray & Roberts. The hotel cost $650 million to build and opened it’s doors on the 1st December 1999. It billed itself as the world’s first seven star hotel despite there being no precedent for such a claim. HotelClub Travel Blog details more such examples of presumption.

A coincidence that each of these examples is in the Emirates or Asia listing countries such as Pakistan, Iran, Malaysia and Dubai? All are the result of ground breaking designs and world beating luxury I’m sure but when you try and ‘out do’ your competition by creating your own star or grading rating it seems like they are trying too hard.

The Burj Al Arab has attracted criticism as well as praise, these are some of the criticisms; “both the hotel and the city, after all, are monuments to the triumph of money over practicality. Both elevate style over substance.” Sam Wollaston writing in “The Guardian” described the hotel as “…fabulous, hideous, and the very pinnacle of tackiness – like Vegas after a serious, no-expense-spared, sheik-over”.

Yes, that was pretty much my impression also. More money than class or taste is a very common occurrence in the world of super luxury hotels.

My motivation for writing this article is more about creating an awareness rather than simply listing an exhaustive list of all of the requirements for five star level grading. If you’re interested in such a list you’ll find one here.

I am more interested in sharing my views on what it takes to maintain those standards, how the staff need to be trained and directed and what sets some five star hotels apart from the thousands of others.

Anyway, coming back to my point about what makes a great five star hotel. There are standard requirements to qualify as a five star hotel. These are some of them:

For a five-star rating a hotel needs a concierge, valet parking, a fitness centre/gym and a beauty spa. Many of these hotels also offer other services such as a casino, lounge or nightclub
  1. The staff at a five-star hotel is expected to be the best they can. The hotel should have a high ratio of staff to guests.
  2. Service in a five-star hotel is above average. The hotel should offer Reception, Concierge, Housekeeping and Room Service 24 hours a day.
  3. For a hotel to be rated with five stars, it must have expensive and quality furnishing and decorations such as 400-count sheets. The rating also requires that in-room video, a CD/DVD player and a bath and shower in the bathroom.
  4. The hotel itself should have more than one restaurant at the location and the restaurants are expected to offer a variety of gourmet dining options.
A five star grading/rating is not presented without consistent service over a long period. Rarely is a facility granted this accolade on opening day. The industry knows that a certain standard is expected, customers know what to expect. A rare few boutique hotels will even serve a limited clientèle and remain unconcerned with rating competition since they trust in their establishment and the fact that consistent high levels will ensure guests return regularly.
In a nutshell quality, service and consistency are all that matter in five star hotels. It really is that simple.
What is it that will make a guest return to the same hotel year after year? Why do people who have a huge choice of hotels from five star to ungraded choose what they choose? When you have hotels that charge a wide range of prices, albeit all fairly high, why do people show loyalty to a particular brand or hotel? Again; as with what matters in five star hotels, the answer is very simple; quality, service and consistency.
Let’s break it down:
  • Quality – Relates to furnishings, fittings, amenities, décor, food and beverage, staffing, vehicles and logistical system
  • Service – I consider this to be the most important of the three. Without excellent, experienced and well trained staff you will never maintain five star standards. I have seen it at every stage of my career and there has never been a single statement with more truth. With the right staff in the correct roles you WILL achieve excellence. Unlike physical attributes great service costs nothing. Training a staff member costs nothing. Motivating a staff member costs nothing. Ensuring that your guests receive the very best attention and service costs nothing.
  • Consistency – Obviously this means getting it right every single time. Every single napkin is folded the same way, each bed made and turned down the same way. Every meal prepared, plated and served in same way. Repetitiveness can be painful for the untrained and inexperienced staff member, but for those of us who have lived it for years and years it becomes second nature. Achieving great service consistency WILL make your hotel great; not maybe or could; this is guaranteed.
Think about what ruins your experience in a five star hotel:
  • Is it arrogant, unfriendly or badly trained staff?
  • Less than impeccable room cleanliness or facilities?
  • Bad service in the bar, restaurants or other public areas?
I think that these three choices cover 99% of what people complain about when staying a hotel. Do you think it is a coincidence that 2 out of 3 are directly related to service and training? Trust me it is not a coincidence at all. Human error, lack of training and lack of effort accounts for the vast majority of complaints.
What five star hotels do differently is minimise the risk of failure within the many aspects of a guests experience within the hotel. By training new staff to the expected levels and reinforcing these to existing staff, these levels excellence can be achieved and maintained over and over again. I’ve often said that the hotel industry is not rocket science. Anyone can do it. With the right attitude, motivation, training and management structures all is possible.
So, the main reason people complain is directly related to lack of attention to detail and training? You’d probably be surprised to learn that any service issue that you’ve experienced can be resolved by training and increased knowledge.
From my own personal perspective I know that while I may not be the perfect individual; I have flaws and issues like everyone else; however my training and experience sets me apart from the masses. Why do you think a prospective employer is so keen to view your previous work record when considering employing you? It’s because at each stage of your employment history you make and learn from mistakes and become a more complete employee.
This is the difference within five star hotels. They do not; or at least should not, hire staff without relevant five star experience. As an employer you want the most intelligent, educated and experienced staff that you can afford. At this, the pinnacle of hospitality, it would be negligent for them to hire staff who do not have the required knowledge and experience.
This is what I think it takes to make a great five star hotel:
  • Great location
  • Beautiful building and façade
  • Luxurious and extravagant décor, amenities and equipment
  • A variety of restaurants that are trendy, but most importantly good value for money and resistant to changing trends
  • An excellent, preferably Les Clefs d’Or, Concierge member or team
  • Experienced, knowledgeable and regularly re-trained management and staff

It’s so simple, but you’ll be surprised how many five star hotels cannot get it right.

I am Concierge.

Why use a Golden Key Concierge?

Why use a Golden Keys Concierge?

A Concierge is the Mr. Fix-It in hotels, he or she is the person that makes things happens for the guest. We will never say no, even if something seems impossible, we will find a solution.

I personally tell my guest as long as it is legal, it is within your budget and you give me realistic time to achieve it; I will do anything for you.

We are a wealth of information with a network of Concierge’s spanning over 37 countries. Therefore, if I do not know the answer I will know someone who does. We are your very own guidebook and personal assistant all rolled into one.

All members of the Golden Keys work with integrity and are full time Concierges in hotels. They will have a minimum of five years experience as a Concierge, with a wealth of knowledge of their local area.

You can tell you are speaking to a Golden Keys Concierge as he or she will wear a pair of crossed Golden Keys on each lapel of their uniform.

Your Concierge can arrange anything from flights, transportation to and from the airport, hire cars, chauffeur cars, tours of the city. They can arrange private shopping, flowers, courier services and mobile phone hire. They will be happy to give you their personal recommendations of restaurants, what is currently happening in their town, and what to see and do, including tickets to all the major attractions. We can even produce tickets to sold out theatre and sporting events.

When you are dealing with a Golden Key Concierge you know you are dealing with a professional, who has real insight to your needs and requests.

Tips out of getting the best use out of your Concierge.

  • You don’t need to wait until you have checked in, email the Concierge desk before you arrive
  • When you arrive introduce yourself to the Concierge face to face
  • We have two rush hours at the Concierge desk, just after breakfast and before dinner. Try to avoid these times and we will be able to give you more personal time, or you could leave some written questions for us to answer while you are out
  • Be specific with your request, inform the concierge of exactly what you would like, rather than telling your Concierge “I am looking for somewhere for dinner” tell them the type of restaurant, cuisine location, and your Concierge will then be able to recommend something that is specific for you.

I am Concierge.

Good Concierge, Great Concierge

There is something just a little bit special about when you find a great Concierge. And like when you fall in love, you’ll know exactly when it happens.

Firstly, let me clarify the difference between a ‘good’ and a ‘great’ Concierge.

A good Concierge will be able to deal with the run of the mill transport bookings and restaurant recommendations and will have decent interpersonal and guest relations skills. This type of Concierge you will forget almost immediately once you’ve left the hotel.

A great Concierge will tailor make your holiday just for you. From asking direct intelligent questions we will make sure that you are provided with the very best information and expert tips to ensure that you see, eat, drink and experience all that you wish to. A great Concierge will become your best friend; from always being able to answer any question no matter how obscure, to anticipating your requests this Concierge will seem like a magician. Nothing will be too much trouble. ‘No’ or ‘I can’t’ are not words I use in my professional capacity. A great Concierge will make you feel like you belong in the hotel, and when you leave it will be like leaving behind a member of your family.

This differentiation is no surprise to me. I’ve seen good, bad and then great Concierges in action and it’s like watching a professional footballer running a training camp for kids.

These are some of the things a good Concierge can do for you:

  • Make a restaurant reservation at a well-known trendy restaurant.
  • Book a tour for you based on what he thinks you would enjoy or prefer.
  • Try his/her best to assist with a challenging request.
  • Respond to messages, calls and/or e-mails when time allows.

Compare this to what a great Concierge can do for you:

  • Discuss what type of food, ambience and location you prefer when recommending a restaurant
  • Will show you maps and brochures to explain the routes and tour options available while giving you the initiative to decide what suits you best.
  • Will leave no stone unturned, will not take ‘no’ for an answer, will use every contact, friend and random acquaintance at their disposal to get the job done. We take it very personally if, for any reason, our guest/s are not completely satisfied.
  • Make himself/herself available at all times and respond to any request or enquiry as soon as possible. The job of being a great Concierge is to always appear available even when this may not in fact be the case.

The thing that differentiates one from the other is a complete willingness to satisfy the guest/s request. It may seem logical that you always receive the best attentions and service levels of those offering it i.e waiters, Reception or Concierge staff or even Management; however I am sure that we all realise that while it is admirable that you have such faith in society, it is often not the case.

I know Concierge inside, outside and back to front; I live and breathe Concierge so I suppose I’m as qualified and experienced as anyone to give an opinion.

The sad truth about the service industry is that it is full of too many people who don’t have the passion to make a success of it. Passion is a hugely important ingredient in making yourself successful in your job and indeed in all aspects of your life. I’ve felt this passion for what I do for more than half my life. I know the attitude and dedication it takes to be successful in the hospitality, and most important I feel very strongly about being the very best I can be and making those around me the best they can be.

I’ve made my personal motto ‘Impossible just takes a few extra phone calls.’ It’s based on a phrase that I heard many years ago and I’ve changed it ever so slightly and now it is my personal and professional code of conduct. I use it as a motivating tool for myself more than anything else in my job. I have supreme confidence in myself, my experience and my network of friends, colleagues etc. I cannot even remember the last occasion when I was unable to satisfy a guests’ request or need.

On the face of it it will seem presumptuous, even pompous of me to make such a claim and to have this attitude of omnipotence; but bearing in mind the fact that I wanted to work in hotels from the age of 12 and have worked exclusively in 5 star hotels since leaving school I believe that I’m more than driven to attain such levels of quality and success.

It takes drive, ambition and in some cases a little bit of luck to achieve success. I certainly don’t think I’m the best Concierge, or even the best person that I can be; but I do work extremely hard and always try to challenge myself to achieve bigger and better goals.

‘Impossible just takes a few extra phone calls’ – Sounds simple enough doesn’t it? It works because it is simple. I don’t follow some convoluted ideology or blueprint for success. I focus on the simple things and when you consistently get those right you’ll find the rest all falls into place.

My job is all about connections and contacts.

If I don’t personally know someone who can solve a problem or assist me with information I will be able to find someone who can.

I am Concierge.

Reuben Riffel for the One and Only, as Spill announced on August 1st.

How I became a Concierge

This could easily become a story with the length along the lines of a classic such as “War & Peace” but for the sake of efficiency I’ll try and keep this short.

I knew from a very young age that I wanted to work in hotels. This urge was stimulated by frequent internationals trips taken with my family staying in some of the best hotels in cities all around the world. By the age of 16 I had travelled extensively through the United States & Europe and had experienced more countries and hotels in those years than some people have in a lifetime.

What always struck me was the professionalism of the staff and the willingness to assist in every way no matter how large or small. That intrigued me.

I spent the latter part of school life at boarding school which instilled in me; amongst other attributes such as independence, the ability to serve and assist people without issue and without taking offence to bad manners or attitudes.

This would certainly stand me in good stead throughout my Hotel Management training and for the rest of my career in the hospitality industry. It takes a special (read odd, weird etc…) individual to be able to take verbal and the occasional physical abuse from irate guests when things don’t run as they expect.

The plain fact that some people are ‘made’ to work in the hospitality industry is, in this case, entirely true. I’ve worked with many people over the course of my career who have worked in hotels either because they ‘thought it was a good thing to try’ or simply due to a lack of qualifications to do anything else. When you come down to it working in hotels isn’t rocket science; but it does take a special type of individual to handle the stress, working hours, measly pay and intensive guest interaction that is inherent in the industry.

Since I was well aware of my own ability and what I liked and disliked about hotels from a customer aspect, with some research I stumbled upon the position of Concierge. I have provided the Wikipedia description of a Concierge earlier in this blog; however looking at the position from my perspective at that time filled me with all kinds of excitement and inspiration. Or at least more so than any other of the options that we were given when choosing our final year of specialisation.

However as I progressed through the first and then second year I realised that I had, intuitively, made the correct decision.

So bearing all of this in mind, as a fresh faced boy straight out of school I moved to a new city and began my hotel management internship.

This journey of discovery and learning shall be explored in another post.

I am Concierge.