Is the Role of the Hotel Concierge Going Obsolete?

By Daniel Edward Craig

I can see dignified concierges everywhere clutching their golden keys and gasping in indignation at the title of this post. But hear me out.

Technology has placed a world of resources at the fingertips of travelers. Mobile applications allow us to walk out of our hotel, point our phone into the street, and find local restaurants and entertainment, peruse reviews, consult maps and make reservations. In a PhoCusWright survey last year, 67% of travelers reported having used a mobile device to find local services. Almost daily, hotels and travel companies are releasing mobile apps and mobile-compatible websites packed with information normally dispensed by the capable hotel concierge.

Where does that leave the concierge? Parking cars? Slinging drinks in the lounge?

Let’s hope not. As a traveler, I love having the services of a concierge. But I’ve noticed an alarming trend of late: the empty concierge desk. During the economic downturn, hotel managers were forced to find ways to cut costs, and many set their sights on the concierge. There he sat, primly at his desk, occupying prime lobby real estate and yet taking in no revenue. Compared to the back-breaking work of housekeeping and the frenetic work of the kitchen, the role of the concierge seemed a bit frivolous in such lean times. Out came the schedule, and concierge hours were slashed. In some hotels, a permanent “Off Duty” sign was placed on the desk.

Did service levels nosedive? Did guests post scathing reviews on TripAdvisor because they couldn’t get front row seats to Hairspray? Perhaps. But many travelers simply turned to our mobile phones. There we found a portable, pocket-sized concierge who never recommends restaurants we can’t afford or purses his lips when asked for directions to the nearest Taco Bell.

Can a service that is so often unavailable be considered essential? I find that the more urgently I need a concierge, the higher the likelihood her desk will be empty. Concierges operate under mysterious hours, seeming to open and close at random, like shops in Spain at siesta time. They’re always out running errands for needier guests; at the post office mailing a left-behind artificial limb; conducting cultural tours of Chinatown; shopping for that perfect ascot to match a guest’s leopard-skin jumpsuit. If she is at her desk, she’s busy reorganizing round-the-world itineraries for a guest with a heavy foreign accent and his entourage of eighteen.

This obliges us to go to the front desk for assistance. Here the simplest questions, such as “Where is the nearest drugstore?” and “What street are we on?” can be met with blank stares. That’s because hotels recruit front desk staff from distant suburbs and lock them up during breaks. Or so goes my theory. Have you ever asked an agent who looks like she’s spent all of her fourteen years in a convent about the local club scene? Or a bellman who looks like he moonlights at a biker bar where to go antiquing? It’s no wonder we turn to our phones.

In this era of death-match bargain-hunting, when travelers will book a hotel blind and forgo even the most basic of services if it means getting a deal, is a concierge with intimate knowledge of the finest restaurants in the city really that essential? Aren’t these travelers dining at Applebee’s? And yet some travelers are utterly dependent on the concierge; upon arriving at a hotel, they become incapable of performing even the simplest of tasks, like confirming a flight or placing a stamp on an envelope. These people aren’t likely to turn to their mobile phones for help.

Some hotels have replaced concierges with touch-screen kiosks. That might work at airports, but hotel employees are still relatively pleasant to travelers – we like dealing with them. At a time when online travel agencies and price wars have virtually commoditized hotels, concierge services are a way for a hotel to distinguish itself. More than any employee, the concierge can turn a ho-hum stay into an unforgettable experience. In the age of social media, that can have a direct impact on guest reviews and business.

Can a hotel that doesn’t offer concierge services call itself luxury – or even upscale? The Four Seasons’ Isadore Sharp describes the concierge as “a combination of personal secretary, aide-de-camp, tour guide, travel agent, social director, best friend and flat-out miracle worker.” No wonder concierges are never at their desk. They’re out building orphanages. As a front desk agent, I used to have to cover the concierge desk during breaks. My typical reaction to guest requests was, “You want me to do what?” I was always relieved when the concierge returned. “Of course, sir,” she would say, with astonishing composure, “I’d be delighted to organize your daughter’s wedding.”

Not everyone has a smart phone, nor is willing to use it. I love my iPhone, but the volume of information it dispenses can be overwhelming. Sometimes I simply want to be told where to go and pointed in that direction. And so far my iPhone hasn’t volunteered to call up the owner of a sold-out restaurant to secure a table, like my concierge in Barcelona did. As smart as our phones are, they simply can’t replace the personal contacts and insider knowledge of the seasoned concierge.

The concierge will stay modern and relevant by embracing newly available tools. Concierge software enables hotels to create mini-Yelp systems exclusively for clientele. Mobile apps and websites offer reviews and imagery to supplement the concierge’s advice. Some hotels, like Intercontinental, have begun to equip concierges with iPads to assist with directions, advice and reservations.

By harnessing modern technology to enhance personalized service, the concierge will continue to play an integral role in the upscale hotel experience. And that’s great news for travelers. Let’s hope we see them back at their desks soon – and not up in rooms making beds.

What do you think about the future of the hotel concierge? Post your comments here.

See also Are hotel concierges becoming obsolete? by Tracy You, CNNGo

 

Print Friendly

28 Responses to “Is the Role of the Hotel Concierge Going Obsolete?”

Read below or add a comment...

  1. Interesting thoughts here, Daniel. Perhaps the concierge will become the social ambassador – and instead spend time designing digital content to answer questions and provide service?

  2. Daniel Edward Craig says:

    Josiah, Indeed, in many ways concierges are well positioned (and informed) to be the voice of social media for hotels. Sounds like Intercontinental Hotels is heading in that direction with @WorldConcierge on Twitter. Will be interesting to see how both positions – concierge and social ambassador (you have that trademarked, right?) – evolve. Thanks for your comments. DEC

  3. Up2DateKate says:

    Daniel, Your article caught my attention and it's a good one. In other words, is face-to-face interaction/service no longer critical to consumers? And, you answered it. It's still important. Smart phones and social media are saving the corporate world money, but it's an opportunity for many companies to STAND OUT by keeping that personal connection in their business. At work, I have a "virtual receptionist" and that works. I don't need someone to greet me when I walk into work and we are not a consumer facing business. However, when I'm in an unfamiliar city for work/pleasure, I want the personal interaction. Half the fun is chatting with locals (the concierge) about their recommendations for a great dinner spot. Your can't see someone's eyes light up about the to-die for chocolate souffle I must try through an online review. And, you may not be able to find out if it's really optimal to get a party of 8 into a restaurant at 8pm on a Saturday at restaurant "A" versus "B" without some serious time searching online. Social media is great but at times, not the most streamlined. Plus, I'm on vacation. I don't want to be glued to my smartphone or computer. I crave personal interaction and delight in the experience. And, I'm willing to pay for it. To add, I'm a Generation Y gal. And, I still post-mail handwritten letters to my grandparents. Thanks for your insights!

  4. Charles Yap says:

    Thank you Daniel, Josiah!

    At InterContinental, we believe the Concierge has an important role to play… sharing insider knowledge with guests… giving them an authentic feel for the destination… helping them make the best of their time.

    We're always thinking of ways to bring our seasoned concierge teams closer to our guests – through online and social media platforms… channels that invite our guests to interact with our concierge teams before they leave home… videos and customised maps… concierge lounges that you'll now find in places like New York, Washington and Bangkok.

    Best regards,

    Charles Yap
    @HotelPRGuy
    InterContinental Hotels & Resorts

  5. Pamela Wolff says:

    Funny- you do have Movitas as an advertiser on your blog- One of the premier companies for providing mobile, electronic, concierge like services.

    Concierge services via technology solutions; SmarterHotelier.com

  6. bizzybutler says:

    I enjoyed your article and certainly agree with many of your comments.I use Social Media apps daily in in my business.
    I continue to believe and exercise my (Simon Fraser University, Marketing 101) teacher’s remarks
    “You can never put a price tag on public relations!”
    I believe that now, more than ever before, hotels, businesses and corporations need to distinguish themselves with ‘real’ face-to-face customer service. The Bellmen and the Concierge desk are usually the first employees a visiting client will meet or see. When harried travelers or vacationing guests need service, speaking to a friendly and knowledgeable concierge will always trump digging up maps, reservations and such on a Blackberry or iPhone.
    I recenty catered an event for a local bank. HSBC hosted an evening wine & cheese party for their VIP customers. The customers were delighted meet the staff and chat with them. Excellent PR.
    No matter what type of business you are operating, creating a remarkable experience with gracious and friendly staff should be everyone’s goal…everyday!
    Mary Ann
    The Bizzy Butler

  7. bizzybutler says:

    I enjoyed your article and certainly agree with many of your comments.
    I continue to believe and exercise my (Simon Fraser University, Marketing 101) teacher’s remarks
    “You can never put a price tag on public relations!”
    I believe that now, more than ever before, hotels, businesses and corporations need to distinguish themselves with ‘real’ face-to-face customer service. The Bellmen and the Concierge desk are usually the first employees a visiting client will meet or see. When harried travelers or vacationing guests need service, speaking to a friendly and knowledgeable concierge will always trump digging up maps, reservations and such on a Blackberry or iPhone.
    I recenly catered an event for a local bank. HSBC hosted a Wine & Cheese party for their VIP customers and they have been receiving accolades from their guests for over a week. Giving clients an opportunity to interact one-to-one is luxury for time-strapped businesses.
    No matter what type of business you are operating, creating a remarkable experience with gracious and friendly staff should be everyone’s goal…everyday!

  8. Daniel Edward Craig says:

    Some great feedback. Thanks to all for sharing. I've received lots of emails from concierges thanking me for this article, which I didn't expect – I thought I'd get in trouble for poking a bit of fun at the profession! It seems concierges still have a sense of humor, which makes me respect the profession even more. DEC

  9. Up2DateKate says:

    Another comment. I know the article speaks specifically to hotel concierges. However, we're talking about personalized service. Celebrity Cruise recently introduced their new "Personalized Concierge Service" which is free to all cruise guests. They are available to book onshore excursions, spa, restaurant reservations, etc. I realize that the cruise line acquires this revenue directly as a hotel concierge may not. Still, people want that personalized service and want to feel special. Computers just don't give you that warm, fuzzy feeling.

  10. Manfred Moennich says:

    Hi Dan:

    I read your article with interest since I noticed in my domestic and international travels the trend you describe. As for me, YES, I am looking for a concierge and will not stay in a hotel does not offer this service.

    Maybe I am a bit old fashioned, but I cherish the deep know-how, their efficiency in-depth knowledge of what goes on in town, where to find an unusual flee market, etc., etc. Could my phone provide that information, it probably can, but I am not willing to go that route.

    As for me, I surely hope that the profession of Concierge will not die out, that the top hotel chains and individual luxury properties will retain those professionals. Yes, there is a reason why they are wearing the Clefs D'Or !

    Manfred Moennich

    PS: Someone should write an article on proper usage of mobile phones: When, Where, How and When, Where and How not to use them. This should be in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, Le Figaro, Die Welt, etc. . . . . It is unbelievable how poorly and often obnoxiously those little communication devices are use.

  11. Brian says:

    As Oprah expands her media brand, it's not inconceivable that she would promote local attractions that she believes in, as a natural extension of what she does with books.

    And why not? Look at all of the companies that have invested tens of millions of dollars in services that answer questions and make arrangements. When you listen to the airlines, it's clear they see the PNR as an entry point for booking services on behalf of their passengers while they are in market. My sense is that there will be tremendous competition for the role of concierge, as the hotel, DMO, and travel agency all compete to help travelers with their spend.

  12. Fat Richie says:

    Thank you Daniel.My name is fat richie and I am a concierge in a hotel in London.The concierges in the u.k are getting shafted left right and centre.My own philosophy is this.When the guests get a recommendation or a ticket off me,they are not buying it from a faceless company,they are buying it from me.Fat Richie!They know me!I garauntee their good time because I want them to come back to our hotel again and again. My golden keys colleauges and I take responsibillity for our actions and we make an effort to be as usefull as we can be for our guests.We network with each other about great restaurants,who to call for what and also what to watch out for.
    Now here is the Rub.People know we get tipped (sometimes generously or a kick-back if you will, from tour companys etc) but what people don't realise is that we are very poorly paid.Most of my colleauges are on £15,ooo a year,I kid you not.We accept this as we can make up the rest on tips and for years the hotel has taken advantage of this.Now the hotel wants to take over the desks to grab all the commisions and not re-numerate the concierge and then get in wage slaves who don't take an interest in the guests needs,who are totally mercinary and cost the hotels bad reviews on trip advisor which, like it or not, is used by everybody.It is my intention to make the Concierge the face of a hotel through encouraging my team to be more out-going and never say no.Treat everyone like it is your mum and dad staying.Make them laugh ,know there needs.in the olden days Concierge positions were handed down through the family from father to son.The job would be proudly carried on.I too am merely holding this Position for the next person to come after me to carry on this essential guest service.Get rid of us at your peril!
    I am Fat Richie and I am your Concierge!How can I help?

    • Harald says:

      Fat Richie – While you are dealing with ‘out-sourcing’ in London, so are we in NYC the rest of USA. While these companies come in and ‘take-over’ our desks (which render the seasoned Concierge unemployed), they replace our roles with robots whose sole purpose is to sell tickets to anything and send the commission to the General Managers pocket. These outsourced desks here have specific instructions to send guests only to certain restaurants on their ‘list’ where they will get a ‘kick-back’ – which is a horrible word and is completely unethical in the eyes of a true Concierge (whether a member of Les Clefs d’Or or local Concierge association or not). These individuals do not care for their guests as we do; recommending theatre/sightseeing/travel/dining based on their preferences. Outsourcing IS a problem in our world, and these GM’s don’t seem to understand the invested value of our roles. If it weren’t for most of us ‘seasoned professionals’, most of these guests wouldn’t come back, right? We are the eyes and ears of the hotel – the confidant with discretion, who ensures that each guest has a memorable experience and will return for another. I love my job and love to make people happy that they are in MY city!

      • La Voz says:

        I agree with all Harald just posted. As a seasoned Concierge with 24 years experience I have seen many changes in the industry. I attribute this disintegration of services to those “in charge” of running a hotel with little or NO experience. The seasoned Concierge is “an enigma” to upper management as management has never really spent any time with Concierge staff to understand the essence of what we do. They have absolutely no idea how things “get done” and what’s more, don’t care as all they are seeing are revenue figures. The bonds that we make with all travelers even prior to arrival are invisible. The outstanding feedback from these guests are not understood. There was a study done years ago in NYC alone that properly stated that the solid Concierge is indeed responsible for millions of dollars worth of revenue not only for each hotel, but to the city as a whole. There are thousands of guests who will not make a move without the advise of a Concierge. One that works for a hotel and is capable of making up entire itineraries from beginning to end and not a “concierge stand in”. It’s now wonder that some Concierge desks are seeing to become unionized as a means of protecting their employment. Corporations are seeking cuts in most industries and some Concierge positions are viewed as “non essential”. Some hotels outright eliminated these positions only to see their “brands” sink below levels of mediocrity. What is happening to excellence and pride? It is not unusual for a legitimate Concierge to perform tasks on their own time as staffing has been brought down in so many hotels to skeletal numbers. Our hands are tied when surrounded by many guests with many simultaneous requests for assistance and there is only one Concierge present to assist? Really? Then the inexperienced upper management attempts to find fault with Concierge to justify their own ignorance. Oftentimes they are petrified of answering even the most basic of questions to guests and send them over to an already overloaded single Concierge. Rare are the upper management staffers who worked their way up to their positions with a full understanding of the hospitality profession. Unless hoteliers take time to understand our constant contributions to the industry, I am afraid that the Concierge will continue get “lost” working for uneducated, inexperienced folks whose highly political, unproductive “blind” decision making processes will destroy the hospitality industry.

  13. Merril Yu says:

    Dear Daniel,

    In many ways, the concierge have gone the way of most hotels – very much a
    commodity and with that,
    a generic level of service. Depending on the hotel and/or chain, the service culture and the craftsmanship or lack of it from the concierge – the cutbacks or replacement by current media are a natural evolution.

    Gone in most places are the concierge who worked their network, knew every nuance and were able
    to add that expertise to the discerning traveller… Despite the seeming accreditation of Les Clefs D'or
    being commonplace… their skill levels are nowhere near the concierge of the 80's and early 90's.

    It takes a special individual to bring the concierge role to life… unfortunately, many of the concierge
    of today know details like going through an encyclopedia… and, miss the story and essence that the discerning look for and pay for.

    I had the pleasure to work with many great concierge in San Francisco while I was with Four Seasons as well as other hotels in the city. Later, we had the 1st Les Clef D'or in New Zealand (with Regent/Four Seasons) and then – Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia (again, the first Gold Key in eastern Malaysia.

    Both Derek and Mohan respectively gave something to both their roles in their respective countries – an engaging, egalitarian and special experience to all guests who were in need of… anything…

    Concierge are much like hotel service, fulfilling the bell curve… the majority are average, the minority are poor and the small minority – the cream, are the essence and those will always find their theater.

    Cheers,

    Merril

  14. Anonymous says:

    What a timely topic. We were just discussing Vancouver Concierges and commenting that they really don't spend the time to get to know what their guests really want or what best suits them. A recent group of mine, 14 retired American Judges, were sent to restaurants totally unsuitable for them. Why? We surmised that Vancouver concierge want their visitors to see only the coolest, hippest, packed and noisy places rather than choosing a restaurant based on their suitability, though still top food and service, for their guests. In that case you might as well just google the most buzzed about new restaurant in town. A concierge should be able to deliver that personal service and understanding of their guests needs.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Hi Daniel,
    I read your article Is the Role of the Hotel Concierge going obsolete? today in hotelonline. You are very right in your conclusion, a great article!
    A few years ago we stayed at the Intercontinental Le Grand in Paris, a beautifully restored “old Grand Dame”. As we always do we get a good relation with the Concierge at the beginning of the stay as they can give your stay that extra touch. One morning I woke up with a stomach pain which was different to the normal travel bug one can get. My wife phoned our new friend at the concierge desk and he immediately got into crises management mode. He organised a doctor and transfer to a hospital where I had an emergency operation for a burst appendix. The concierge desk would look after us and be our lifeline for the next 2 weeks while I was in hospital and then back to the hotel again. These guys can literally save your life.
    We went back to that Hotel each time we visitited Paris. After all exceptional service is still the best marketing tool and certainly beats glossy brochures hands down.
    Fritz Gubler

  16. David B. Jones says:

    Good Evening Mr. Craig,

    Thank you very much for your article, and I also hope that the concierge comes back.

    After working in the hotel, restaurant and event industry for 31 years, I have seen quite a bit; some good but unfortunately mostly bad. With all the managers I have worked with (Australia, Maui, CA, AZ, WA, NV), I can only count the number of great leaders on one hand. Yes, it is very sad as this is a great industry to work in.

    Most hotels who eliminate the concierge are usually the ones who have lots of managers but boast no leaders, who look at their bottom line at the end of the month before they look at how to enhance their system with the employees already employed. A concierge who introduces themselves to every guest (when possible) and offers them their card not only establishes a rapport with those guests, but makes first impressions a more positive one; whether they use the concierge or not.

    What many managers forget is that when you eliminate a customer service position; whatever the position; maid, front desk, server, etc., the burden of that lost customer time now falls onto other customer service employees, most likely overworked already, which equates to the gradual decline of service standards.

    When I walk into a restaurant, a hotel or any kind of shop, within 15 seconds, I can deduce whether that establishment has a caring and hard working GM/owner or one that sits idly at his/her desk making excuses and is hoping for the best.

    Thank you very much for your time.

    Sincerely,

    David B. Jones

  17. Sandy Biback says:

    Subject: is the role of the hotel concierge going obsolete?

    In a word, Nope. My husband & I just returned from a trip to Eastern Europe. We checked into the Intercontinental in Warsaw and the Concierge was our lifeline to the city.

    In fairness, perhaps it's because I'm in the biz that I know the benefits of using a concierge.

    Before we even left Toronto, I contacted the concierge & told them what we wanted to do. They had our plans, while not set in stone, but in place for our confirmation when we got there.

    We had a personal guide & driver for our day trip to Lublin & Majdanek. We had our train tickets to Krakow with help on when was the best time to go. We had immediate reservations at a great restaurant. We were told the day we wanted to go to the Museum Uprising Museum was the day it was closed. We had only one other day to go & it was the day of our out of town trip. Our concierge immediately contacted our private guide & was able to change the date.

    We were in a city for the first time, we didn't know the language. We would have been lost without our concierge service at the Warsaw Intercontinental.

    And of course, I've since sent a letter to the GM there.

    Concierges are not obsolete. Nothing beats live face to face contact. I tried to weed through the train schedules and was totally lost. We our concierge, we were even able to have the train & guide tickets billed to our hotel. (Yes, there was a fee for this, it was well worth it!).

    Concierges are not obsolete!

    Sandy Biback
    Meeting Planner by profession
    Traveller by choice

  18. Ah! Mr Craig! What Pandora's Box have you opened here?
    In my work, I've had many conversations with concierges and their relationship with technology over the past ten years. Back then, there was a sense that mere listings could not replace their role; a sense of manifest destiny that if they were successful in their current role they would go on to run their own private concierge service; and some would even take liberties with their relationships by demanding restaurants to entertain their personal acquaintances on a whim. Their rolodexes appeared immaculate but were often in need of serious housecleaning: it was not uncommon to find as many as 40% of the relationships in different positions at different companies. The Internet was a useful tool to be used reactively when a guest needed something, but when guests were away there was more than a bit of reading newspapers and playing games. 
    In short, they weren't being seriously challenged. 
    Today, there are some concierges that feel marginalized by the technology. They complain that guests only use them to fix some problem that was actually caused by the guests' attempts to save money by going to some deal site online. They are hesitant to embrace some real-time technology because they feel it creates an unreasonable expectation of round-the-clock availability that isn't humanly possible. Many of these people work incredibly long shifts and simply want to be unreachable after several marathon days in a row. 
    I believe it is possible for concierges to play an active role by rethinking "the little black book" not in terms of friends or followers, but in terms of unique capabilities and insights that hopefully will never be found on Google (or Groupon or Twitter or its ilk). If everyone in the world is offering an app that provides listings on things to do, do not blindly follow them and hope that better photography or that a docent's perspective will be the distinguishing factor. The majority simply can't distinguish between a silk purse and a sow's ear, and consequently most apps are indistinguishable from another. Most apps focus on downloads as an indicator of performance as opposed to actual usage for this very reason. 
    No, what concierges need to do is to offer a connected experience, one where people feel confident that they can ask the concierge a request at any time and get a differentiated experience back. This means being proactive about a guests' experience, even if no one is in the lobby. This means using online tools to know precisely who is available and what the associated logistics are. From a experiential standpoint, it means being able to seat a guests' party into a restaurant, a restaurant that for anyone else would have been completely sold out. 
    That's having something done for you, and in a world where expertise on any subject is as accessible as water, that is magic. Or, to paraphrase James Gleick, "…Great (concierges) are like great matchmakers. They introduce (guests) to whole new ways of thinking, and they fall in love." 
    @connectme

  19. InmaQuirante says:

    Hi Daniel! I’m concern about the date of this post… Many things (should) have change from 2010 into 2013… Or not really?
    Well, I have got to admit, that as a hotel receptionist, I felt somehow not really comfortable with some affirmations…
    Anyways, I am about to write a review over the actual role, concierges play at the hotels. The situation is quite the same you drew well a couple of years ago. But in this case, I would like to point out some other aspects, such as:

    – The multitask environment (growing to the infinite), which front desk staff has to deal with, and that actually affects directly to the attention, we are able to pay to the clients… (not an excuse, but a sad reallity).
    – The need of an attention focus from CRM and marketing departments, over the experience before, during and after the guests stay at the hotel.

    Definitely, concierge services are a plus in order to stand out a hotel from its competitors, but it’s also to be consider, that depending on travel purposes, guests’ requirements are changing.

    In any case, I have got to say that your post gave me some other points of view to add into my own reflections.

    (Hope soon I will manage to make my contents also available in english, by now I keep writting in spanish.)

    Inma Quirante

    • Daniel Edward Craig says:

      Thanks for your comments, Imna! Indeed, the role of the concierge has evolved since the advent of social media. Would love to read your take. Please send me a link to your post when it’s done – puedo leer espanol, mas o menos!

  20. Paul Whittle says:

    This is indeed a very Interesting article, which has in its self been very well written. Why do we need Concierge!!! well in theory we don’t nor do we need Knifes & Forks. In reality we can do with out many things in Life, however the most savvy travellers these days are also the one’s whom realise the Clef d’or offer a great deal more than where the local Pharmacy is located, that’s the reason for a simple app on your I Phone. The Concierge offers experience and a journey, which can only be experienced through conversation and the art of personalising any request.

Leave A Comment...

*