Fit for a King: a case for a return to concierge service

By Samuel P.N. Cook

In my life, I have lived in five different countries on three continents, and I have traveled to over 20 countries in my travels. I consider myself a well traveled person – I sort of fancied myself an expert. Then I decided I was so good at traveling that I would start a travel company to give back to travelers some of the great experiences that I had during my own travels. Simply put, I wanted to create in New York City the magic of some of the experiences I have had while traveling. But as I look back on my traveling life, I am kicking myself for how little I used the tools around me to help plan my trips.
In 2001, when I graduated from West Point, I moved to Germany where I served 3 years as an Officer in the U.S. Army. I used travel as a release, and I quickly found myself taking trips almost every weekend to the great cities, big and small, across Europe. Being a product of a West Point education, I always realized the value of planning a trip. I approached my trips like a campaign. I would do my research on the internet, buy a guide book, and I would read all about the city before I arrived. So I thought that I was doing the best possible job I could planning for a trip.
But I have now realized that I left out one tool that could have made my trips so much better – concierges. I think the reason I did not use concierges before was because I was too proud to do so – like men when they are lost, they hate to ask for directions. Instead we read a map and drive in circles endlessly. Looking back, that is a bit like my travel experiences. While guide books and the internet gave me great ideas, I did not really get all of the information I should have about the local cities. You see, there is only so much information you can put in a guide book. On the internet, you have the opposite problem – there is too much information and it is chaotic to read it all, even on the best online travel review sites.
To this day, my favorite travel experience was a magic night I spent in Seville Spain with a girl that I met who was from Sweden, but she had spent a year studying in Seville. We were walking down the street and I asked her for directions because she had a guide book, and we ended up meeting for dinner that night. She took me to a restaurant I never could have found in a guide book, and then she showed me the best venue for Flamenco dancing in the city. These were things I never could have found in a book, and it would have taken me years to stumble across on the internet. I look back on my other travel experiences that were less memorable, and I ask myself “What if I had met someone like this during every trip?” It wasn’t until started this travel company that I realized I could have met someone like this every trip to get me the local knowledge and flavor if I would have found a concierge!
The word Concierge comes from the French language in the middle ages. As the French monarchy developed during this period as the most powerful monarchy in Europe, the kings began to employ a chief officer, which he named the concierge. The concierge was literally his right hand man, who would help him write and enact laws. As monarchies across Europe developed, they too employed deputies and their most trusted advisor was their “concierge.” As the noble land owning aristocracy emerged in Europe, they emulated their kings, and they all employed “concierges.” In the 19th century, as Europe industrialized and people moved to the cities, a new rich class developed and moved into luxury apartment buildings, and here they employed a team of “concierges” that they shared to take care of their every need. As commercial travel developed during the age of the steam engine, with luxury travel now widely available, concierges became a staple of the modern hotel, with five star properties turning this into an art form.
See the magic of a concierge is that they have read all the books so that you don’t have to. They have not only read the books, but they have actually been to the places in the book. They can describe for you the feelings and emotions of a show, or the intimate details of a restaurant. More importantly, they are experts at reading you as a guest, your budgets, your needs, your dreams. This kind of interaction you can never get with a book or with the internet. See a concierge’s worst nightmare is to see you have a bad experience. They get emotionally upset over this. They worry when they send you somewhere like a mother or a father – they hope you have a great time, they look forward to the smile on your face when you come back. They dread the thought of your being disappointed. I am glad it only took me twelve years into my adult life what I have been missing in not using a concierge. Too bad I had to start my own company to realize it!

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Comment by Wendy Capra on March 12, 2010 at 11:54pm
Brilliant post, Uncle Sam!

I confess I'm not above walking into the lobby of a fancy hotel and asking for directions or a good restaurant recommendation... when I'm staying somewhere else with three less stars! It's usually worked for me, tho maybe it helps that I tend to hit on male concierges with a nice friendly smile... ;-)

And then one time in Barcelona I sort of fell in love with this concierge, I think he was half-Moroccan, but that's a whole other story!!!

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