Enter the New Concierge World

Some accommodation providers have begun to redefine the role of concièrge to mean more than just a knowledgeable employee that can reel off-the-cuff answers to guests’ questions.

It now can also mean smart digital devices. Software companies are creating programs that offer information like restaurant recommendations, flight arrivals and departures and driving directions via smartphones, touch-screen devices, iPads and other electronics to guests, particularly at smaller properties that do not provide traditional concièrge services.

Even more upscale brands that employ regular human concièrges are joining in. They are offering location-specific information, developed by each property’s staff, accessible via the Internet, iPhone apps and even live chats. And all Hyatt hotels let guests send requests, via Twitter, to customer service agents who are on call 24 hours a day.

When it comes to concièrge services, “We as an industry cannot operate in an analog way in a digital world,” said John Wallis, global head of marketing and brand strategy for Hyatt Hotels.

Hi-tech concièrge services represent an effort by accommodation providers “to differentiate themselves, to add a service that usually ranks among the highest for guest satisfaction and to achieve higher rates,” said Bjorn Hanson, divisional dean of the Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management at New York University. He said these services could be more attractive to younger guests, “Gen-Xers and Millennials, the target segment for many of these brands, who typically require or even prefer less personal interaction and desire quick answers, any time, day or night.”

Older, more international guests, he said, “tend to prefer personal service”.

Still, the question remains whether digital concièrges can ever equal their human counterparts. Henry Harteveldt, travel analyst for Forrester Research, said he did not think they would. “Nothing will ever replace a face-to-face concièrge,” he said. “A guest visiting a city for the first time will have a lot of questions and will need to have interaction with a concièrge that technology won’t replace.”

But accommodation chains are moving ahead with the digital version nonetheless. InterContinental Hotels has been among the most aggressive developers of high-tech concièrge services, starting in 2007 with videos starring individual hotel concièrges offering destination-specific advice. Today, 150 of the brand’s 171 hotels have created the videos that are available on each hotel’s website and on YouTube and iTunes.

InterContinental has given, on a trial basis, iPads to concièrges at 10 hotels to offer guests advice. It has also developed an iPad app with the same information for use by guests. In addition, the company is now testing live chats between guests and concièrges through Skype and FaceTime by Apple. Hotel employees meet weekly to update destination information. And guests receive an email from the chief concièrge five days before arrival offering suggestions and maps.

Last year, Marriott International’s Renaissance hotels, with more than 150 in 34 countries, introduced a program called Navigator that offers suggestions for dining, drinks, shopping and sightseeing. This information, generated by Wcities, an online destination content provider and by hotel employees, can be found on each hotel’s web page and on an iPhone app. Guests can also ask Renaissance’s human concièrges for help.

Hyatt’s high-tech concièrge service, offered to guests at all of its hotels is Twitter-based. Introduced two years ago, it lets guests send requests to HyattConcièrge. Customer service agents in Omaha, Mainz, and Melbourne must respond to messages in 15 minutes or less. If requests require more than a 140-character response, the agent will email or call the guest.

Marriott International’s Courtyard has gone in a different digital direction. Its GoBoard, a 140cm touch-screen device in the hotel lobby uses software, from Four Winds Interactive, to provide weather information, news headlines and employee recommendations for restaurants and other local attractions. Marriott plans to upgrade the information provided through the devices this summer and will offer them brandwide by 2013.

Intelity, another software provider, is working with Wyndham’s Wingate hotels, Starwood’s Aloft hotels and others to give guests airline information as well as customised dining, shopping and recreation recommendations through laptops, iPads, touch-screen devices, televisions and mobile phones.

Wyndham Worldwide will give owners of hotels in its 15 brands the option of offering the Intelity service to guests, said Paul Davis, senior vice president for strategic sourcing. He said some of the recommendations of service providers are paid listings by the providers.

Aloft is testing Intelity’s program on iPads in hotel lobbies. Brian McGuinness, Aloft’s global brand leader, said much information offered to guests was generated by hotel employees and none is the result of advertising.

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