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Johannesburg hotel guests wish list

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21 Dec 2012

Unlike most people, I have a love-hate relationship with being a hotel guest. It is not that the hotel staff is rude, in fact, they are too nice, then again, it is their job, being a service industry, they aim to please.

Alwyn Hoffman, head concierge at The Westcliff Hotel takes time to have first-hand experience interacting with an elephant so he knows exactly what to tell guests.

Perhaps the only reason I have this relationship is that constantly being looked after, which many people absolutely crave, and being a free spirit, there are times when I just need to break loose and be me, no questions asked.

Having said that, I have great respect for these men and women, at seeing how swiftly they respond to crises, settling in a guest and having the information at their finger tips when needed.

As many buildings boost security and a welcoming reception, hotel properties have their own welcoming party in the form of hotel concierges.

According to Wikipedia, hotel concierges assist guests with various tasks such as making restaurant reservations, arranging for spa services, recommending nightlife hot spots, booking transportation for example, and in upmarket establishments, a concierge is often expected to ‘achieve the impossible’- dealing with any request a guest may have, no matter how strange, relying on an extensive list of contacts with local merchants and service providers.

A hotel concierge is the point of contact for hotel guests who seek information or assistance during their stay.

With the world having become a global village, this is a demanding job, fast-paced and requiring excellent time management and problem-solving skills.

A concierge interacts with guests from various backgrounds and as such, it requires an amicable personality to deal with some guests’ unreasonable requests and wish lists.

Click here to read about South African hotel concierges.

With guests not only seeking value for money in their properties they stay in, but value for money in activities and things to do in that location, concierges have an added task of keeping an up-to-date black book of contacts, in case, an unusual request is made.

Some of South Africa's top hotel concierges at their annual conference held at the Bryanston Country Club in Johannesburg in September.

The City of Gold

The City of Johannesburg, unlike Cape Town with its beach luxuries, mountain views or winelands, holds many appeals for visitors and hotel guests often really try to explore the city while visiting.

According to the MasterCard Global Destination Cities Index, Johannesburg will be the second most visited destination city in Africa with a projected 2.5 million international visitors expected this year.

Johannesburg is so much more than just a business hub offering unique and worthwhile attractions to its many visitors.

Visitors to Johannesburg are spoiled for choice, whatever the reason for their visit may be – the city offers wildlife trips, golf excursions to some of the city's top golf properties, most of the world's extreme sports are available, top international performances are held in the city regularly while restaurants cater for every taste, says Deon Prinsloo, head concierge and guest relations at the award-winning Palazzo Montecasino.

This five star property has hosted locals in and around Fourways, South African and international guests including recently the William Sisters and many more guests that Prinsloo interacts with on a daily basis during their stay.

He says Joburg Tourism is the number one source of information for new and happening events.

“People visiting South Africa for the first time normally return as they are astonished about the beauty of the country, especially nature and the friendliness of its people,” he says.

Some 143 000 visitors are expected to travel to Johannesburg from Paris with an anticipated spend of US$332 million in the city during 2012, a substantial amount compared to visitor numbers and an average of US$2 320 per person – the highest average spend per person of all visitors.

According to Annisha Hoosain, concierge at Intercontinental Johannesburg O.R. Tambo Airport, Johannesburg is a city with a rich diversity of cultures and golf is becoming a sought-after relaxation sports by many guests.

She says part of their job is to set the record straight when it came to safety in the city. As an example, she says while at the Heathrow Airport not so long ago, she met and chatted with a US couple whose view of South Africa is that it is so dangerous, a visit was not on their list.

After a lengthy discussion, the couple will be visiting the country and staying at their hotel to explore Johannesburg and other locations.

Laurianne Dreyer, guest relations officer at DAVINCI Hotel and Suites located on Nelson Mandela Square in Sandton, says one has to think of Johannesburg as a mini New York – a city that never sleeps and Joburg Tourism has been and continues to be instrumental in marketing the city as a global destination.

Because Johannesburg is a cosmopolitan city, visitors experience a diversity of cultures through shopping at places such as the Rosebank African Craft Market, a mix of Afrikaner, Cape Dutch, English and Victorian antiques in Parkhurst, art culture fusion in Braamfontein and historic buildings in the CBD, says Alwyn Hoffman, head concierge at The Westcliff Hotel.

He says as a concierge, it is important to read newspapers and magazines so as to be informed about what is happening in and around the city as this information often comes in handy when guests need it.

On Joburg Tourism, he says they are adamant on having Johannesburg known and the organisation even sent a concierge to New York to speak on Johannesburg to travellers visiting The New York Times Travel Show in March this year.

“I was the fortunate one who represented the Concierge Forum at the event and I hope that this will lead to other concierges going to other shows as it gives the consumer better insight into what to expect when visiting Johannesburg, first hand.”

He notes that their travel agents are not always clued up on Johannesburg as a tourist destination and the city is still perceived as a no-go area or only to be used as a transit stop.

Hotel guests wish lists

MasterCard revealed in its report that these visitors to Johannesburg will spend more money than any other destination city on the continent, with US$3.3 billion estimated to be injected into the city during 2012, an increase of 8.1 percent on 2011’s figures.

Billy Chetty, concierge at DAVINCI Hotel and Suites in Sandton trying his hand at the Randpark Golf Course - golf is becoming a sought-after activity among hotel guests.

View the Index as an interactive map here.

The three cities where most visitors to Johannesburg originate from are London (328 000 people), Frankfurt (196 000 people) and Dubai (166 500 people).

The report reveals that visitors from London are expected to spend US$638 million (an average of US$1 945 per person), Frankfurt will spend US$182 million (an average US$929 per person) while Dubai visitors will spend US$155 million (an average of US$930 per person).

Some 143 000 visitors are expected to travel to Johannesburg from Paris with an anticipated spend of US$332 million in the city during 2012, a substantial amount compared to visitor numbers and an average of US$2 320 per person – the highest average spend per person of all visitors.

With these deep pockets, it comes as no surprise that many of these guests, come not only with luggage but a list of must-do/see things, and at times, they are said to ask for the impossible (talk about the joys of pleasing).

The concierges say visitors, be they local, African or international must make a point of visiting Soweto for its history, food and culture; the Lion Park is a must for animal interaction without having to go to a game reserve; the Carlton Centre in the CBD offers the most amazing sunset views; Art on Main, the Johannesburg Art Gallery, the Constitution Court and the Origins at Wits University.

Many guests already have these at the top of their list including:

1. Cultural Tours and African Dance Shows

2. Apartheid Museum

3. Half and full day tours in the city including family friendly restaurants

4. Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden

5. Lesedi Village

Johannesburg Concierges get lessons on African drums - hotel guests often request excursions to Cultural and African Dance Shows.

While these requests are easy to organise for hotel guests, some often have unreasonable or weird requests that concierges have to deal with.

For example, Hoosain says once, a wealthy guest flew into the country with his private jet and wanted a few zebra skins with the ‘head’ attached.

As an animal activist, she says this was a rather daunting request but she managed to get that for the guest who left singing praises of the staff efficiency and no doubt the truly African spirit.

For Prinsloo, it’s not even about the lists that are often long, it is the complete lack of information about the actual size of South Africa, never mind Johannesburg.

“Guests tend to think South Africa is a very small, contained place, as such, they think they can visit all their places of interest in one day.”

Hoffman concurs with this perception, pointing out that once a couple in their 50s with four children in their early 20s wanted to visit Kruger National Park and Cape Town on the same day.

They had arrived at the hotel mid-morning and felt there was plenty of time to go for a quick game drive, then up the mountain in Cape Town before retiring to their luxury hotel rooms.

He says it took a bit of explaining and pointing at various maps that they eventually understood they needed to plan properly, at the same time allowing for travel time to those places.

According to Dreyer, once a guest asked if they could get a left hand python snake skin golf glove (weird indeed) – something she says while these requests are often unusual, at times it is an opportunity for them to learn about new things, cultures and trends as well. – Denise Mhlanga

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