When guests arrive at upscale hotels, the concierge desk is one of the first things they see in the lobby. But in today’s world of hotel technology, online booking and smartphone apps such as Yelp and TripAdvisor, the hotel concierge can seem irrelevant. With easy access to a world of knowledge at guest’s fingertips, is the hotel concierge an endangered species?
To know where the life of the hotel concierge is going, let’s look at where it all began. The first modern concierge organization was formed in April of 1952 in Cannes, France. Delegates came from 9 countries: France, Germany, Denmark, The United Kingdom, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Ireland and Spain, to create L’Union Europeéne des Portiers de Grands Hôtels “Les Clefs d’Or”.
The organization remains strong to this day. The association now counts 44 member sections representing over 50 countries and close to 4,000 members. These concierges handle everything at their properties from the banal to the exceptional, such as mail, recommendations and reservations, travel and meeting planning, personal shopping and more.
It is because the concierges are so flexible and knowledgeable that they are still an integral part of the hotel business. Guests have immediate access via the Internet to local listings and reviews, but many still want someone with first hand expertise to assist them in getting the best out of their trip. Guests can secure a reservation at most restaurants through OpenTable, but many concierges can recommend the best table with a view, or perhaps an even better recommendation on the spot.
Technology also can’t match the many strong relationships within the city that most concierges have developed. These relationships often lead to discounts on tours, attractions or unique experiences that guests would otherwise never know about. The hotel concierge goal is to make the guest experience exceptional in every way.
According to a survey of concierges at a Les Clefs d’Or meeting, more than 50% of guests still take advantage of concierge service. And in larger cities, such as New York and LA, about 70% of guests use a concierge.
To highlight just how significant the impact of hotel technology is on the concierge role, Hilton recently introduced Connie at the Hilton McLean in Virginia.
“Connie”, named after Hilton’s founder Conrad Hilton, is a 22 inch tall android powered by IBM’s AI software Watson. Guests are able to ask “Connie” questions about the hotel, local restaurants and tourist attractions. “Connie” constantly enhances the guests experience being by able to learn how to fine-tune the recommendations through frequent use.
(Photo courtesy of Green Buzz Agency/Feature Photo Service for IBM)
Jim Holthouser, Executive Vice President for Global brands at Hilton spoke about the purpose of “Connie”:
“This isn’t about reducing staff. That’s not where our minds are whatsoever. But if you can take 100 different routine questions off the front desk, at the end of the day, it helps them answer phones faster, it helps them checking people in faster, it frees them up to actually deliver hospitality.”
Underscoring Jim’s statement, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the number of concierges between 2014 to 2024 is expected to grow by 10%.
Perhaps the hotel of the future has room for both – a robot to address common questions and needs (more towels, anyone?) and a human to improve your stay with custom-designed experiences that bring the city to life in ways only experience and relationships can do. That sounds like a pretty cool future indeed.