Concierges are deeply ingrained in the fabric of the five star hotel. They’re often the first person to greet you on arrival; a fountain of knowledge on where to go and how to get there, while also bringing those special hotel moments to life too.
But where do they fit in the modern hotelscape? Given the rise of technology in travel, are their services now just limited to hailing taxis and storing bags? Far from it.
Rhett Constantine, Chief Concierge at the Pullman and Mercure Albert Park in Melbourne, says the role is now more important than ever, and not just because it’s his lifelong profession.
With 25 years in the hotel industry under his belt, first as a porter at Marriott Surfers Paradise and later a concierge in hotels across the UK, he’s seen a lot of technology-driven change. Yet there the core of the role remains the same: the personal connection.
The role of the modern concierge
In today’s world where anything you need is an internet search away, Constantine believes first-hand insights from those who’ve tried out the newest bars, applauded the latest stage shows or made a connection with a transport provider are still far more valuable.
“Anyone can Google a restaurant around the corner if they're staying in a hotel,” Constantine admits. “But the concierge has more than likely been to and experienced that restaurant or tour first-hand on their days off. If not them, a member of their team has."
“They’ll also ask questions to find out what you’re looking for in regards to cuisine, location, and price, digging a little deeper to find out your plans afterwards and help curate a whole itinerary.”
A global connection
There may not be secret handbooks or wads of cash exchanged to nab a difficult restaurant booking these days, like there was back in the 1920s and 30s, but there is an exclusive, international network concierges can tap into for help or advice when they need to.
Known as Les Clefs d’Or, there are more than 4,000 members in its ranks globally – primarily in Europe. A symbol of ‘golden keys’ on their tie or lapel is the recognisable sign of membership.
Joining Les Clefs d’Or is a lengthy process requiring years of experience, references and even a written exam, topped off by a four hour panel interview. Not just anyone can be a member, meaning those who do make the grade have earned the right to wear the golden keys.
Constantine is the President of the Australian chapter, with some 40 members in many of the top hotels around the country, including Sydney Harbour Marriott Hotel at Circular Quay, Four Seasons Hotel Sydney and newly-opened The Langham Gold Coast.
“If one of my guests is travelling from here to London, Sydney, Paris or Bangkok, I’ll find out where they’re going and call ahead to ensure they’re serviced to the same standard.”
Make yourself known
If there’s one tip Constantine can impart, it’s to introduce yourself to the concierge as soon as you arrive. Because, although you may not realise it, they’re the closest you can get to a living, breathing in-house destination guide – and they’re always up to date.
“Tell them who you are and why you’re travelling, and they can open the door to anything.”
Be specific in your questions
Concierges not only have the ability to find tables when a restaurant is full, they also know if it’s appropriate for your needs and which might be a better fit.
The trick though is to be as specific as you can: saying ‘I need a quiet place where I can meet with five colleagues, enjoy some good local beer and strategize’ is going to get better results than ‘What's a good bar?’
Let them be your local guide
More than securing last-minute event tickets or giving restaurant recommendations, concierges can also help you navigate the quirks and complexities of local culture in real-time, particularly in destinations where English is not so widely spoken.
Whether it’s basic language tips to help you in a shop or taxi, protocol on how to engage with a client you’re meeting for the first time, or perhaps a crash course on the currency, the concierge is always willing to give you a helping hand.
At the end of the day, the concierge is there to make your travel experience the best it can be, and it all starts with a single conversation.