Friday, 21 December 2012

Has The Hotel Business Lost Its Soul?

I first started working in London hotels back in 1986 as a night porter.  I immediately fell in love with the unique culture of the business and the sense of 'family' and camaraderie that existed amongst the staff.  We were encouraged to communicate with the guests and make them feel like they were in a home away from home which led to a happy and friendly atmosphere throughout the building and a generally good vibe. 

I liked it so much that I decided to make hospitality my career and rose up the ranks until I eventually became Head Concierge where I instilled into all of my staff that the personal touch and understanding our clients needs at all times were of paramount importance and our main objective at all times.

As time has gone on though the business has now changed beyond all recognition and in my opinion not at all for the better.  As the world has moved on into the globalised corporate monster that we see today the big companies have become giant companies and the small up and companies aspire to become the giant companies of the future all implementing their 'mission statements' through one size fits all templates that are drawn up by faceless middle managers sitting in a head office usually nowhere near where the action is actually going on.

The role of a concierge has always been ambiguous.  The fact the we are there to assist the clients with any request that comes our way makes the job impossible to fit into any parameter that the management can put onto a job description and that has become a huge problem for them in this new clinical and politically correct corporate world.  This has left them with two choices.  Option one is that they can just let us get on with the job and give us a free role to service our clients and give them what they want.  Option two is that they can attempt to fit our square peg into one of their round holes by filing away at the edges and attempting to control what we do which looks very impressive on paper in their fancy offices but in reality sticks us in a straight jacket and unable to do the job properly.

Hotel managements clinical overview of the role of the hotel concierge coupled with a more and more common culture of attempting to capitalise on what have always been the perks of the job by forcing our suppliers to pay commissions from London theatre tickets, sightseeing tours and attractions directly to them so that they not only have full control over all transactions but also take a cut has led to concierges moving on every couple of years desperately looking for hotels that will allow them to actually do the job that their employers falsely claim that they want them to do yet by shackling them with corporate red tape and rules and regulations in fact make it near enough impossible to achieve!

With a handful of exceptions it is now unusual for a concierge to stay in one hotel for his or her whole career which used to be the norm.  Our whole strength was the unique product knowledge we had of both the hotel we worked in and the local surrounding area.  We forged long standing relationships of trust with all the local businesses ensuring our clients always got the best deal possible when they visited them.  We were the face of the hotel, the human touch, the person that the customers trusted to be straight and honest with them.  We were the mediators between the guests and the management and the people who sorted out all the problems that arose when our customers were dissatisfied  for whatever reason during their stay.

Of course no hotel manager will ever admit to this and they all claim to want professional people working for them who are skilled in all of the above however the reality of the situation is that no provision is now given to staff to network with our colleagues and suppliers in the industry any more.  We are now just expected to 'know' everything and everyone yet the way that we used to actually achieve this by attending functions and socialising with the powers that be in the capital and making these valuable contacts is now frowned on leaving any decent concierge in a real Catch 22 situation and insecure in his or her position.

The human touch seems to have gone from hotels now with everyone reading from a corporate script giving them a distinctly McDonalds feel about them.  When I walk into hotels now I don't feel welcome, I feel intimidated with staff badgering me from the second I step through the door and the posher the hotel the worse it seems to be as the minimum wage staff on strict instruction from the ever watching management seem incapable of allowing customers to relax, enjoy the surroundings and get a feel of the place. 

The demise of the traditional role of the concierge seems to be the final nail in the coffin for traditional hotel culture.  The industry seems to have lost its soul which will eventually see a backlash from the paying public.  As the new budget chains gain momentum and market share the entire business across the board will be diluted.  The 4 and 5 star properties are desperately trying to justify their high end rates by getting even more clinical and corporate which of course isn't what the customers want but as the people who make the decisions are nowhere to be seen and the managers on site are only there for a short time before they attempt to move on up the corporate ladder then it is unlikely that this new trend will end anytime soon as no one seems to care about the 'job' anymore, they just care about how far and how fast they can advance.

The concierge was always the one person that the customers could rely on to give it to them straight.  Unfortunately this too now seems to be coming to an end which will leave the hotels as nothing more than empty shells and mere bricks and mortar and if that's the case I think I'd rather save my cash and stay in a Travelodge!

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