Can you trust your concierge?
By Barbara Correa
Friday, 20th October 2006
If your hotel concierge recommends a restaurant - can you trust the tip? Or does the concierge stand to gain from recommending one place over another?

I posed those questions to business travelers and to hotel industry professionals, wondering just how trustworthy concierge recommendations really are.

What I found is that travelers are pretty cynical about concierge recommendations, and they assume that most concierges accept comped meals once in awhile. And travelers wouldn't be surprised if some hotel concierges actually earn hard cash for steering guests to particular eating and drinking establishments.

According to a Wall Street Journal article, "hotel-employed concierges receive commissions of up to 15% on some bookings — say, from a limousine company." But the article notes that they have an incentive to keep guests happy so they'll return to the hotel.

The irony is that the era of the concierge as a local expert may be waning. As with booking flights and hotel rooms, the concierge's role as a guide is being supplanted by online services, not merely because travelers are doing their own research online, but because concierge services are being outsourced to online travel agencies such as Expedia or Vegas.com.

Yes it's true, the classic role of the hotel concierge as in-the-know expert on every nook and cranny of a particular town is quickly being replaced by generic services.  Expedia, for instance, operates activity and concierge desks at 76 locations in North America, almost all located in hotels. Some of the desks are branded with Expedia signage; others are not.

Not surprisingly, the National Concierge Association doesn't think much of this trend. "When you eliminate that personal expertise, you eliminate the service," says Sara-ann Kasner, president of the association. Hotels, she says, "are taking away the personal side of it and that's wrong."

The trend toward outsourcing restaurant recommendations may be a little sad, but business travelers have already moved on, become more reliant on themselves, and figured out how to use the system. "I tend to do my own legwork and THEN ask the concierge for the inside scoop or to get me a reservation,'' writes Karen Chiantella.

Whether the concierge is a local expert or simply operating as an arm of an online travel service, travelers probably will still question the trustworthiness of their recommendations.

During a stay in Orlando last month, frequent flier Jay Hibbard approached a concierge asking for directions to a fondue place he'd heard about.

"He said, 'Gee, that's a long way away. You'd do better at a different restaurant.' I said, no, this is what I want. In the end, he did help me with directions. ... It took him a few minutes to figure out not to try to send me to a different restaurant,'' says Hibbard. "I don't know if there was any commission or kickback, but there was probably some arrangement.'' It turned out that the place wasn't all that far away, and the food made it worth the hassle.

"A concierge getting kickbacks?! What's next? Politicians telling lies?! It is so common that I venture to guess 99% of all concierges get some sort of 'help' deciding where to send their guests," says Steve Roeger of Golden, Colo. "I, however, do not mind this practice. I have yet to be disappointed with a recommendation from a concierge. I believe that while they may get a referral fee, they are not going to jeopardize their reputations by sending guests to lousy restaurants or bars, regardless of the profit potential.''

Write to Barbara Correa, business travel columnist for Yahoo! News at bboydstoncorrea@yahoo.com
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