The keeper of the keys
He greets you when you enter your favourite hotel. He advises you on where to drink, dine and dance. And he’s the brain of the hotel, remembering details about guests that everyone else seem to forget.
He’s a concierge; a title he’s been wearing with pride for more than 500 years. Originating from France, the word ‘concierge’ means “keeper of the keys” and that’s exactly what a concierge did in the Middle Ages. He kept the keys to the castle or manor close, making sure the guests had anything they needed during their stay.
Fast forward hundreds of years, and, although refined, the service aspect still constitutes the main task of the concierge. In many ways, he’s the embodiment of hospitality and what many people connect with a luxury hotel.
But does he fit into the world of modern hospitality? Some would argue no. His role can easily be displaced by technology, making room for new and more innovative ways of operating a hotel. The rise of the digital concierge is a much debated topic in the world of hospitality post Pandemic, but the waters are still divided.
From serving royal families in The Middle Ages to serving guests in high-end hotels; the role of the concierge evolved with the rise of leisure tourism in the 19th century. Back then, his most common title was portier (porter in English), and he literally served as a building’s caretaker. But with an increasing number of grand hotels opening up in Western Europe, he quickly became the focal point of guest relations and customer service.
The concierge as we know him was born. Doing anything from greeting arriving guests and making local connections to recommending attractions and arranging visits, the concierge was a friend in an unfamiliar city, and his presence was suddenly demanded in most luxury hotels across Europe, and later the US.
The birth of Les Clefs d’Or
A turning point came in the 1920s when a group of concierges from various hotels in Paris were trying to organize themselves in a group. In 1929, Pierre Quentin from the esteemed Hotel Ambassador became a leading hospitality figure as he sent out invitations to 20 of Paris’ most prominent concierges to dine together. His wish was to strengthen the bond between the concierges.
He succeeded, and less than 4 weeks later, Les Clefs d’Or (“The Golden Keys”) was founded. Mr. Quentin was elected as their first president – a post he held for 3 years.
Today, Les Clefs d’Or is a worldwide organization with more than 4.000 members.
Few roles in a hotel have been as affected by technology as that of the concierge. What did we do before Google Maps and travel apps? We consulted the concierge before venturing out into the world! But as travellers are becoming more and more digital, they take matters into their own hands.
The white glove concierge might not be a necessity in a modern hotel, but many (luxury) travellers still inquire about his presence for one reason; he provides guests with the feeling of being seen, valued and supported. Human interaction has always and will continue to constitute the heart of the hotel industry, simply because the personal interaction is what makes a hotel truly unique.
To bullet-proof the role of the concierge moving forward, technology obviously has to be integrated into the role. We might be able to obtain all the information ourselves, but we need someone to distill it and organize trips and visits based on it.
I believe that’s the role of the modern concierge. Someone who’s brilliant at leveraging, organizing and sharing his local knowledge while keeping up a certain level of service excellence. Sure, new tools are needed for the concierge to perform his role, but if hotels all over the world support this development, we’ll have concierges around for many more generations to come.
Wouldn’t that be wonderful?
Regitse Rosenvinge is a hotel expert and independent Communication- and Storytelling Consultant for hospitality companies. She has lived and worked internationally for the past 10 years and published the e-book “Storytelling for Hotels”.
Awarded Top25 Global Hospitality Influencer, Regitse manages a hotel blog and the consulting business, Regitse Rosenvinge Consulting.