Kaye Holland looks at the importance of the ‘keeper of the keys’ Sumptuous spas, an enviable location, first class restaurants and opulent accommodation - yes, there’s a lot to love about luxury hotels.
But without a doubt, one of the greatest assets of a high-end hotel, is its conscientious concierge team - that small army of advisers, who can make your trip that bit more manageable and memorable.
Any good hotel concierge (derived from the Latin conservus, meaning ‘slave’) simmers with tips, regardless of whether you’re wondering where to eat, want tickets to a hot gig, a private golf or language lesson, dog sitter or directions around town. As locals who live and breathe their destination on a daily basis, concierges have their fingers on the pulse of a place allowing you to truly appreciate your destination - and really get under its skin.
Yet what makes the concierges at leading hotels stand head and shoulders above the competition, is their ability to transform dreams into reality - no matter how short your stay. “Once a guest’s wedding dress was damaged by red wine,” reveals Costas Zarbalas, general manager at St Nicolas Bay Resort Hotel & Villas (a member of Great Hotels of the World). “With the wedding ceremony less than six hours away, our concierge arranged a replacement.”
Elsewhere, Benedetta Fullin from the prestigious St James’s Hotel and Club, tells how her concierge team managed to obtain a ticket for a guest “to see a sold out Rihanna concert at the 11th hour.” And Frank Laino, head concierge at The Stafford London by Kempinski, recalls arranging a firework display in Venice for a guest hell bent on proposing to his girlfriend in the City of Love, shipping a double decker bus to Saudi Arabia on behalf of a sheikh - and arranging for a park bench to be erected in Berkeley Square, as part of a wedding anniversary present.
Armed with a bulging contacts book - and the kudos that comes with working for a prestigious property - if anyone can solve a problem, it’s a top concierge most of whom are always available. (The team at the Andaz Shanghai Hyatt, for example, will happily hand our their mobile numbers ensuring clients have access to expert help whenever they need it). The best concierges will also work with travel agents to figure out what you want - a personal trainer or particular food items - often before you have even thought of it.
If you’re reading this having used technology for travel information and inspiration, you might now find yourself wondering if a concierge will have a better suggestion. Possibly. At the very least you’ll end up with a fresh perspective. But more than that, who couldn’t do with a dash of magic in their life? For like the best spas, a great concierge can make you feel truly cosseted.
Three of the best
The Peninsula Beverly Hills
The seven strong team at The Peninsula Beverly Hills draw on decades of experience - each concierge has been with hotel for 10 years and four are members of Les Clefs d’Or USA (an association of seasoned concierges). The team strives to “make every guest feel as if they are the most important person in the hotel,” says head concierge James Little. “No matter how challenging the request is, it’s completed with the perception of effortless service that is the hallmark of our hotel.”
The Peninsula offers an airport concierge (the only hotel in Southern California to do so) and has recently launched ‘Peninsula Time’ - a unique experience allowing guests to check in/out at any hour of the day or night, for no additional fee. However The Peninsula’s “true strength,” says Little “is that we provide our guests with a confidant they know they can trust implicitly.”
Mandarin Oriental Paris
The concierge desk at the Mandarin Oriental Paris, is the only one in the French capital to be staffed by two fully Anglo Parisians which, says assistant head concierge Adrian Moore, “is great for our English speaking guests.”
The team at the Mandarin Oriental is also made up of big characters for, as Moore puts it, “personality is extremely important. Guests like character.”
Adrian and his colleagues can carry out virtually any task “providing it’s legal and moral.” The team is trained to make the exceptional seem normal. “We have been known to hire yachts for sunset drinks on the Seine, castles for cosy, romantic dinners and Ferraris - and all at the last minute,” adds Moore.
Park Hyatt Tokyo
The Park Hyatt Tokyo's Concierge team stands out by being not only bilingual but also bicultural, meaning the concierges can fully understand guests’ needs. “In the past we have bought a dog, assembled a motorcycle from small parts and sent Japanese stones to France, for a client’s Zen garden,” says the Park Hyatt Tokyo’s Rie Oshima, adding: “We are driven by guest smiles.” What’s more, the hotel also works closely with travel agents in advance of guests’ arrival to create “the ultimate experience. We try our best to become the ‘right arm’ for our travel agent family.”