All One Has to do is Ask…
The contacts – not to mention the requests – of the world’s best concierges have been blown up into near mythical urban legend over the years. We chat with a few to get a feel of what the world’s movers and shakers actually need and ask for
Article by Rupert Watkins
The concierge has, in many people’s eyes, almost mythical status in the hotel world. From discreetly ensuring wives and mistresses never meet through to the outrageous demands of the world’s rock stars and hyper rich, there is definitely a pinch of star dust sprinkled over this most discreet of hotel staff.
That said, the reality is rather different in this modern, fast, web-enabled world. The concierge is perhaps no longer the legendary fixer of yesteryear. Looking to sneak a peak behind the demands – and the evolving nature of the role – we sat down with a number of concierges; Brian Murphy of The Bloomsbury Hotel in London, John Black of the Knai Bang Chatt resort in Cambodia, Marco Vaudo of Suvretta House, St. Moritz and John Mark Hopkins of The Lowell, New York.
What makes a good concierge?
Brian Murphy (BM): Someone the guests can relate to and trust. Also someone who is approachable and friendly.
John Mark Hopkins (JH): A concierge has to be resourceful – you really have to know where to look for answers (Google isn’t always the answer) and you have to care about helping others.
John Black (JB): A well-travelled, well educated, open minded, accepting tolerate person with an insane sense of humour and willingness to listen.
Marco Vaudo (MV): A good concierge treats the kitchen porter and the King of Persia exactly the same.
Has your role changed since the advent of the internet? If so, how?
BM: Guests have become more knowledgeable, their expectations are a lot higher.
JH: I’d say we used to spend more time looking for information for guests from various sources, but now guests have access to unlimited information on line just as we do. I think that our role is even more important now though, as we can assist in separating accurate and reliable information from other sources that aren’t trustworthy.
JB: Absolutely. I find that we get many requests prior to guests arrivals which helps being able to fulfill these requests more easily; the internet has also opened the doors to fulfilling more of the unusual requests. However being in a very remote location not even the internet can assist with us getting access to everything.
MV: Not particularly. We strive to provide the highest level of service with a personal touch, something that the internet cannot offer. We continue to issue our guests with traditional room keys rather than plastic.
Have you found your clients and their demands have changed in the last 10 years?
MB: People are using the internet a lot more these days so we are having to make sure we know what we are talking about. Also, more guests are returning to London and love to know about the history and The Bloomsbury is full of history.
JH: They’re always changing of course, but what I’m seeing more and more often is that my guests are increasingly grateful for truly caring, knowledgeable and gracious personal service. More and more companies try to create the illusion of this by keeping detailed files on their customers that are really just answers to questionnaires. We know our guests and care about them; that’s not so easy to find anymore.
JB: Yes. Travellers these days are looking for less consumable luxury products and items and are asking for more cultural and life changing experiences. More and more we are being asked for insider experiences or for experiences from guests that are about the destination and that will leave them enriched from travelling to the region.
MV: The questions and demands haven’t changed, but increasingly guests are looking for an immediate answer. As stays get shorter, time is more and more precious to our guests so it’s entirely understandable.
What’s the oddest request you’ve ever had to fulfil?
MB: A guest wanted to propose to his girlfriend at Simpson’s-in-the-Strand; he asked if we could get an army Captain to bring the ring into the room dressed up… Unfortunately, that wasn’t possible, so instead someone from the hotel dressed up and went into the room with the ring (she has an obsession with army uniform).
JH: Nothing really strikes me as odd anymore. The most unusual thing recently is probably the guest who was doing some genealogical research and needed to find out when her grandfather passed away and exactly where in an enormous Brooklyn cemetery he was buried. She’d been looking for several years but really didn’t know how; I found out in a few minutes and she was thrilled.
JB: A Sea Breeze and I’m not talking a cocktail. A guest was most upset that the weather was warmer than expected and was told the destination offered a sea breeze; the order was asked in a manner like it was something that could be delivered on demand and at the switch of a button…
MV: We once had a guest who asked for three square metres of English lawn to be placed in our best suite. Not to practice his putting skills but to make their dog feel more comfortable during his stay. The most challenging part of this was that it had to be done in four hours… We like to go the extra mile for all our guests and their travelling companions!
Are there any legendary requests that are still spoken about?
MB: One time an Irish Gent phoned down and asked me to buy a tie for a five year old, after hours of searching for a five year olds tie I called back up to let him know I couldn’t find one. He laughs out loud and spelt toy (you have to appreciate the Irish accent)…!
JH: Not really. Every so often someone will want to write about the enormous cake shaped like a guitar that I had three hours to find, or translating medical files from Portuguese, or finding an inflatable doll with ball and chain attached, but once a request is fulfilled and my guest is happy, I’m moving on to the next challenge.
JB: Not really at our hotel or resort.
MV: Around the time of the millennium, a guest asked me to close the Via Serlas, the shopping mile at the heart of St. Moritz, as he wanted to take a private evening walk with his wife whilst accompanied by a number of bodyguards and limousines.
Describe being a concierge in three words?
MB: Trust worthy, discretion and knowledgeable.
JH: Keeping people happy.
JB: Fun, rewarding and exhausting.
MV: Efficient, elegant and flexible.
And so there you go. Despite an ever more smart phone enabled world, there remains a discreet place for the agile, energetic and connected concierge. When you next check in, remember – all you have to do is ask…