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25 May 2012

What enhances one’s stay at any hotel, particularly the five star properties is the concierge staff whose main concern is guest satisfaction.

Deon Prinsloo, head concierge and guest relations manager of the award winning five star property, The Palazzo Hotel located within the Montecasino Precinct in Fourways, Johannesburg.

Some of South Africa’s top hotel properties have organised themselves in such a way that they have a concierge forum that meets regularly to share ideas on what is happening within their properties and how they can best enhance guest experiences.

The concierge is the hotel ambassador – the face of the hotel, also called the ‘heartbeat’ of the property.

This is according to Deon Prinsloo, head concierge and guest relations manager of the award winning five star property, The Palazzo Hotel, located within the Montecasino Precinct in Fourways, Johannesburg.

Read about the hotel here.

Prinsloo is the brains behind the Johannesburg Concierge Forum – a platform which allows concierges and guest relations staff of four and five star hotel properties to interact and exchange ideas and information.

He explains that the formation of the forum followed several meetings with other concierges from top five star hotels in Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town.

Concierge Forums exist in some major cities of the world and since South Africa does not have as many luxury hotels, Prinsloo took it upon himself to structure the forum for South African hotels.

What is a Concierge?

Prinsloo explains that the word Concierge dates back to mid 17th Century Europe, when hosts, usually of a lavish property or castle, provided a servant whose primary responsibility was attending to the comfort of their travelling guests.

These ‘servants’ held a very important position in the household and often kept keys to most off limit areas. They were referred to as the ‘go to person’ of the house.

Hotel concierges started in the finest hotels in France and Switzerland offering ‘guest service’ to distinct guests and in 1970s American hotels added concierge services for their guests in order to keep up with European hotels.

Top-tier hotels have many facilities such as luxurious spas, twice daily room service and restaurants.

“The most valuable resource in plain view, in the middle of the lobby – is the hotel concierge, providing guests with all information needed, free of charge,” he says.

He says hospitality is a small industry and the network of high-end concierges even smaller. Organisations such as Les Clef D’Or ensure that all concierges are well connected, even across continents.

The Union Internationale des Concierges d’Hotels or known as “Les Clefs d’Or” is the International body to which eight South African Head Concierge members are affiliated.

These include Ronnie Govender (Sandton Sun), Archie Christodoulides (Michelangelo Hotel Sandton), Claude-Francois Ndala (Beverly Hills Hotel in Umhlanga), Deon Prinsloo (Palazzo Hotel Fourways), Lizelle De Haas (Radisson Blu Sandton), Vinny Maharaj (Intercontinental Sandton Towers), Billy Chetty (Da Vinci Hotel & Suites Sandton) and Ryan Van Zyl (Cape Royale Luxury Hotel and Residence Cape Town).

In order to establish South Africa’s very own Les Clef d’Or chapter, a minimum of 10 members are required.

Some of the concierges at one of their quartely meetings. They are like ‘information sponges’ always on the lookout for new and updated information and they are always trying to remember guest’s names and address guests accordingly – this gives guests a feeling of being recognised and important.

The aim is to provide discerning international guests with world-class concierge service through effective national and international networking between concierges.

It currently consists of over 4000 members from 39 countries, governed by an international president and committee, he says.

Members of the Les Clef d’ wear a set of golden Keys on their uniform lapels, which represent the highest standards of networking and service. 

In South Africa, Prinsloo says the Concierge Forum in Johannesburg holds informal meetings every three months as well as an annual conference, which has been running since 2010.

The annual conference scheduled for 27 September will coincide with World Tourism Day and the Johannesburg Tourism Company along with hotel properties is a supporter of the Concierge Forum.

The role of concierges at hotels

Prinsloo points out that the concierge normally develops a relationship with guests prior to their arrival, during their stay and long after they departed.

Some guests dismiss the concierge as an unnecessary middle man; they soon realise their mistake as it could cost them more money, time and effort.

“The concierge has first hand information from the local area, nationally and internationally, leave your arrangements to the professionals as they know best,” he says.

It is the concierge who sets the standard for guest service and with special attention and personal service the concierge shapes the guest's overall experience.

“The concierge can make the difference between an average stay and an outstanding stay, whether it was for business or leisure,” says Prinsloo.

Prinsloo notes that the concierge has updated information all the time about what’s happening in the area such as opening and closing times, discounted rates and what’s on show, etc. - with its network of contacts, it makes it easier to obtain tickets and show reservations for example.

The concierge can do anything in making a guest feel like they are the most important person in the world and the more resourceful and well connected the concierge is, the more efficiently he can operate

Concierge always considers new platforms of service delivery and with wisdom takes a fresh way of thinking and passion to create memorable moments that matter.

They are like ‘information sponges’ always on the lookout for new and updated information and they are always trying to remember guest’s names and address guests accordingly – this  gives guests a feeling of being recognised and important. 

A well connected concierge could also land the property he represents with lucrative advertising or publicity deals and opportunities

Members of the Les Clef d’ wear a set of golden Keys on their uniform lapels which represent the highest standards of networking and service. From left to right: Billy Chetty (Da Vinci Hotel & Suites Sandton), Lizelle De Haas (Radisson Blu Sandton) and Deon Prinsloo (Palazzo Hotel Fourways).

Also, return business - guests who have dealt with concierge staff and found his service efficient and professional will most definitely contact that concierge for an accommodation request when visiting that city again.

The advantage is that the concierge already knows a guest’s specific requests such as amenities in the room and dining behaviour.

Guests staying at top rated hotels know they can rely on the concierge to get the impossible done when they ask for something.

Prinsloo points out that with technology advancement, hotel guests are more ‘travel-savvy’ than ever before, with a different set of expectations, and are urged to make their reservations on the internet.

However, he notes that there is still room for concierge staff at any hotel because technology can never compare with a human touch.

“Guests look for someone to listen to them and understand what they have in mind, who has up-to-date, in-the-know insight and information to ensure a stress free trip.”

“This will keep them coming back for years as it creates a feeling of being at home,” he says.

In the current economy, Prinsloo says guests who are cared for especially during uncertain times will become more loyal and in return feel reassured to spend more, want to repeat their experience and will refer others to spend their dwindling discretionary income at a hotel they had a good experience with.

He adds that the role of a concierge is very important in a hotel property as this individual helps enhance the guest’s overall experience. – Denise Mhlanga

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