They are behind the scenes orchestrating a variety of activities. They also are centerstage answering questions and coordinating important functions. They listen to their customer’s needs and create memorable experiences.
If this sounds like the role of a meeting planner, you’re almost right. It’s actually the profile of a hotel concierge, the underutilized resource every meeting planner should get to know.
Developing a relationship with hotel salespeople and conference services managers is something meeting planners do as a matter of course. But planners can gain access to specialized services well before they arrive on-site by forming a relationship with the hotel concierge, as well. Concierges can help planners arrange airport transfers, off-site activities, and restaurant reservations. They are the best resource for providing quality suppliers with a proven track record because they are experts on their locale.
“In many cases [the concierge] has been at the hotel longer than anyone else,” says Eric Gammill, concierge at The Hay Adams Hotel in Washington, D.C. Gammill has a 15-year history of helping meeting planners, and says the hotel’s sales contact usually puts them in touch with him to schedule a face-to-face meeting or phone conference to see what help he can offer.
Eddie Rose, a concierge at the Hotel Del Coronado in Coronado, Calif., says that enlisting the concierge’s support before you get on-site can simplify the planning process and decrease the amount of last-minute details planners need to arrange. “If you are not from the area, it would be really hard to get a good feel for the pulse of the city you are in, so use the knowledge of those who have the pulse,” he recommends.
But a concierge is more than a tour organizer or reservation coordinator. Concierges also can provide specialized services such as typing and/or printing itineraries, printing boarding passes, arranging meet and greets at the airport, and ensuring the delivery and placement of amenities. And, they are used to handling unusual requests.
Susanne Carter, assistant chief concierge at the Ritz-Carlton New York Central Park, remembers a particularly difficult request she received from a celebrity guest: “He came to the desk saying he had a challenge for us that he was sure we couldn’t do. He asked us to find a live goat and ship it to one of his friends for his birthday. The goat had to be at his friend’s out-of-state home by 5 p.m. that same day. We called our contacts at the zoo, who referred us to a farmer in Pennsylvania. [He] was not only happy to part with one of his goats, he also agreed to deliver it to the friend and include a note, which read: ‘From one old goat to another. Happy Birthday!’ Needless to say, the guest was delighted.”
Like a meeting planner, a concierge needs to find fast solutions and troubleshoot challenging situations, all while maintaining a cool head. As Carter explains, challenging situations are opportunities to establish personal relationships.
“One of our guests came to the concierge desk to ask for a recommendation for a seafood restaurant in the area,” Carter says. “When [he] came back, the guest expressed disappointment in the ambiance which [he] felt was too lively and loud for [his group]. I immediately apologized and had our restaurant cater a private dinner in [his] suite. The guest felt taken care of and said he would always come back and stay with us.”
The ability to read a guest’s personality and determine their personal preferences is a unique skill a concierge develops. Just like a meeting planner needs to identify a client’s unspoken wishes, the concierge needs to interpret their guest’s desires with minimal information. “You must have the ability to talk with people and quickly understand what they need,” Gammill explains.
These people skills also come in handy in maintaining business relationships. In many respects, a concierge is only as good as his or her contacts. “You have to have great relationships with people around town,” Gammill says. “That way, when you call, you get that extra bit of attention.” Without strong vendor relationships, the concierge’s pipeline to information is broken, and ability to fulfill requests is hampered.
Both meeting planners and concierges have the ability to multi-task, establish relationships and think on their feet, but those aren’t skills they learned in any school. Like meeting planners, most concierges learn on the job.
So, planners, take note: The concierge can be an important member of your meeting planning team. With a skill set that mirrors your own, they can work in conjunction with you to satisfy every attendee’s desire. Even if it is for a live goat.
Monica Compton, CMP, is an event specialist with Pinnacle Productions Inc. She has 15 years experience as a global meeting planner, managing a variety of corporate programs both domestically and internationally.