How does the hotel concierge stay relevant in the world of the app?

Digital technology is encroaching on the traditional role of the hotel concierge, who are having to evolve to stay relevant, says Susan Duncombe.

The presence of a concierge desk in a hotel lobby has been a familiar and comforting sight for business and leisure travellers for decades, but as with many other industries advances in technology are impacting the profession.

The hotel concierge has been the ‘go to’ person for guests looking for assistance in arranging anything from the booking of theatre tickets; to restaurant recommendations; to, in some cases, performing minor miracles in solving the most bizarre and outlandish of requests. Their role within the hotel being a key component of the overall guest experience; they get to know the likes and dislikes of regular guests, not only servicing their needs but also often anticipating them.

However, it would seem that the presence of a hotel concierge is a diminishing one. The rise and rise of the Smartphone, combined with increased access to free Wi-Fi and a world of apps and websites all designed to put choice and access to information in the hands of the consumer, could, according to some sources be the death knell of this proud profession.

A recent survey conducted by the American Hotel and Lodging Association discovered that the share of American hotels with concierges fell from 27 per cent in 2010 to 20 per cent last year. At the luxury end of the market though their presence remains strong, with 82 per cent of hotels in this sector employing concierges, as do 76 per cent of “upper upscale” properties. It is in the other hotel categories in the US though that a concierge is becoming a much rarer sight.

So, how does the hotel concierge remain relevant in the world of the app? It is true that today’s guest has at their fingertips access to a multitude of review sites giving them recommendations from thousands of fellow consumers. However, does this truly give the full picture? Is every consumer really a knowledgeable critic? Sure, they can Google (other search engines are available), but do they really have the time? How many sources of information are they going to look at and compare in making their choices of where to eat, visit and shop in planning their romantic weekend away? With lists upon lists of choices, more is not necessarily better!

To a guest searching for that elusive work/life balance, a concierge service can mean the difference between a couple of nights away and a truly relaxing or adventurous break, filled with the things they love the most. A valuable source of ‘insider knowledge’ and experts in all that their local area has to offer, a good concierge holds the key to enhancing a guest’s stay and helping them to create great memories that will last a lifetime.

Of course, it is not only the hotel concierge that faces competition in today’s noisy and disruptive marketplace. The accommodation options available to today’s traveller has increased dramatically in recent years with the introduction of sharing economy platforms such as AirBnB and Love Home Swap. The impact on the traditional hotel model has been significant; for example, a report by Colliers and Hotelschool The Hague revealed that the AirBnB percentage share of room nights in London had more than doubled from nearly four per cent in 2015 to nearly nine per cent in 2016.

A concierge desk is a must at any five-star property, however for some boutique hotels it is not always possible to justify this level of service. Yet, for any establishment looking to stand- out from both the direct and wider competition, being able to add-value to their overall guest experience is an important factor in not only protecting their market share, but also crucially their RevPAR. Working with a freelance concierge service gives a hotel the ability to do just that, without having to change the way they operate – or incur the expense of another full-time member of the team. Flexible and cost-effective packages soon deliver a return on investment, delivering happy guests spreading the word about their memorable stay to their friends, colleagues and online community.

Susan Duncombe is Founder and Social Concierge, Secret Concierge

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