In an era where artificial intelligence is on a fast track to control our lives, the hotel’s insightful counselor with an encyclopedic knowledge of the city is still on guard – the concierge.
Slowly and surely, more and more guests, armed with endless suggestions from the world of social media, are there to challenge his or her knowledge. Are these the signs of the coming extinction for one of the most recognizable jobs in the hospitality industry? With so many travel tasks that can be done with an app, who needs a real well-connected person?
Prior to the pandemic, Mr & Mrs Smith, the reputed global travel club with more than a million like-minded members, defined in an article on its website, that “the concierge falls into the ‘comforting to know it’s there’ category, but – if we’re honest – we can’t remember the last time we dinged that bell. Sorry, concierges, but we’re sending you packing.”
In the Middle Ages, the concierge kept the keys to guest rooms in castles, taking care of all their needs. No wonder the word became a moniker for “keeper of keys.” In recent times, front-desk clerks were in charge of keeping the keys while the concierge became the hotel’s chief guest liaison.
Over the years when room keys transformed into magnetic plastic cards, the keys vanished but the name remained. A reputed concierge is the one who speaks endless languages and has the right connections, a jack-of-all-trades, an oracle resolving all guests’ whims and fulfilling any request, regardless of how peculiar.
In fact, the role was the initial image of the business, mostly manned by elderly men – a sign of stability, knowledge and trustworthiness. With the evolving technology and saving-costs policy of gigantic brands, some are challenging the need for such a role.
King David Hotel
Not according to Jeremy Weiss, concierge manager at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.
“No technology can replace the personal connection, the home feeling, the honeymoon excitement, the attention that they are in good hands that the concierge provides.”
As an example, he points to online banking without any human connection as the alternative.
“No technology can replace the personal connection, the home feeling, the honeymoon excitement, the attention that they are in good hands that the concierge provides.”Jeremy Weiss
“Is this what a hotel guest wants, when on a business trip or during a vacation? Guests seek the human touch, the concierge is like a sociologist or a bartender. Technology has its merits but even if I book guests a service online, I will always call after to make sure they are well taken care of. This is the most important interaction. No machine will replace that,” he says.
Ritz Carlton Herzliya
Itzik Avni, chief concierge at the Ritz Carlton Herzliya, says technology has its troubling limitations.
“Sending an email, text messages or trying to communicate via social media chats frequently end up with a dead end. How many times does a phone call for service end today with a human voice?” he asks.
“A concierge is king of options and alternatives, with a database of private mobile phone numbers. In addition, the businessmen on the road are extremely busy. So preoccupied that they hardly find time to use their apps for services they require. The concierge is a hospitable human being, always available to assist, and guests rely on both his existence and professionalism.”
Eilat Club Hotel
Rishon Penkar, chief concierge at the Eilat Club Hotel, which offers more family-friendly lodging, says his place of work established a formal concierge post a few years ago, “as we believe it’s a valuable service to guests and, even after COVID, when tourism is slowly recovering, the post is alive and kicking.”
Guests want and need a personal human touch, he says.
“Indeed they possess more knowledge due to technology... but they seek the knowledge of a local person that knows the city top to bottom, more than apps.”
David Intercontinental Tel Aviv
Ronen Alkalay, the veteran chief concierge at the David Intercontinental Tel Aviv, is confident that due to endless options available online, guests end up being confused and they need personalized assistance.
“There is no replacement to the concierge service, and hotel managers are aware of it.”
Alkalay is president of the international hotel concierges union Les Clefs d’Or in Israel. He also reveals that membership fees and professional seminars of the 40 members in Israel are covered by the hotel management, “a proof for the importance of our work.”
The members are easy to recognize as they always wear two keys on the lapel of the uniform. These crossed golden keys are more than just a symbol of the organization. It’s a sign of guaranteed quality service.
“This March, the organization will convene in Istanbul, four years after the last one. Some 550 members are expected to participate, a demonstration of strength,” says Alkalay.
What is interesting is that although concierges in Israel are unanimously denying the importance of technology to replace them, they all agree that the Internet changed their job and made it easier. Emails and WhatsApps are crucial for their success, and apps like Tabit, Ontopo and Tourbo make their work more adequate.
“Four-star hotels can compromise service with reception staff juggling check-in, check-out and billings, while also moonlighting as a concierge. But five-star hotel guests expect to be provided with a unique personalized service,” says Eyal Goldberger, general manager of the David Citadel Jerusalem.
“In addition to our Les Clefs d’Or-certified chief concierge, my goal is to make all those who work in the concierge counter certified as well. I even plan a concierge butler position for top guests. This is for me a statement of luxury. Concierges are here to stay, as there is no alternative to providing the attention and professionalism that guests have come accustomed to expect,” he says.
Ron Yariv, a leading hotel consultant in Israel with 40-years experience in the hospitality industry, is certain that the hotel concierge service, as we know it, will remain for the long run.
“Airbnb is a major challenge to hotels. The hotel concierge is one of the differentiators between Airbnb and hotel service, keeping hotels as winners,” he says. “Apps do not know the guest’s personal needs like the hotel concierge. Guests expect to be met with friendly and knowledgeable team members who know how to deliver service, especially in luxury properties, as they wish to feel unique and important. The concierge will do the best job.”
The hospitality industry had changed dramatically due to the technology revolution. Accommodation bookings are dominated by websites. Today’s tourists devote noticeable efforts finding the best value for their money online. Booking.com’s success is the best example.
However, when travelers turn into hotel guests they seek the personal experience. They are happy to feel special and taken care of. The concierges are key players here, and their extinction seems like science fiction.
The writer is the Travel Flash Tips publisher.