Hotel Concierges Reveal All the Seemingly Impossible Tasks They’ve Ever Been Asked

The secret weapon behind your next memorable trip? The hotel concierge.

A woman walks her two dogs before the Pierre, A Taj Hotel, grand entrance with revolving doors and stone columns.

The entrance of the Pierre, A Taj Hotel

Courtesy of the Pierre, A Taj Hotel

A few years ago, when I touched down in Santiago, Chile, I had a week’s worth of thoughtfully researched pins on my Google Map that I was determined to somehow squeeze into an eight-hour stopover. The concierge at the Mandarin Oriental Santiago did me a great kindness by sending me off on a more manageable route near the city’s historic center—where I had the chacarero steak sandwich of my dreams at José Ramon 277. Last fall, in Quebec City, when I succumbed to a never-ending Yelp spiral that left me too paralyzed to choose any restaurant, the concierge at Auberge Saint-Antoine nudged me toward Louise, her favorite nearby tavern, for a memorable final meal of a burger and frites. And when I was dismayed to discover one New Year’s Eve that of course Sydney Opera House tours were long since sold out, the concierge at the Pier One Sydney Harbour sorted me out without skipping a beat, with just a few hours’ notice.

Not all superheroes wear capes. Some wear golden keys on their lapels.

“I always describe the hotel concierge as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as our role goes way beyond the boundaries of our hotel,” says Roger Geadah, chief concierge at Dubai’s iconic Burj Al Arab Jumeirah. “We hold the keys to the city.”

The role of the concierge dates back to medieval times, when the “keeper of the keys” would attend to the needs of visiting nobility at a palace. While hotel key cards have mostly replaced key-keeping duties, the concierge still has all the access and might well be the most important person you encounter on a trip.

“You have a friend already in the city—lean upon them, don’t wait,” says Maurice Dancer, chief concierge at New York’s storied The Pierre, A Taj Hotel, since 1994. Dancer and Geadah are both members of Les Clefs d’Or, a rarefied association of hotel concierges around the world who often work together on more complex requests. “Your concierge has an enormous contact network,” Dancer says. “If you can dream it, we can make it a reality.”

A bedroom at the Silo Hotel with a chandelier, contemporary African artwork, and floor-to-ceiling windows

The bedrooms at the Silo Hotel feature contemporary African artwork.

Courtesy of the Silo Hotel

Concierges can give you unique and exclusive experiences in a destination.

A concierge’s workplace isn’t confined to the hotel lobby. Relationships are the most important currency in this world, and the best concierges spend their off-hours outside the hotel cultivating a network of key figures at a destination’s prime attractions, finest restaurants, and best shops so they can join forces to conjure magical moments guests could never arrange on their own. Just because a website says something is sold out—say, the coveted igloos at the Rockefeller Center ice rink in New York, or a preferred time slot at a buzzy museum exhibition at the Louvre in Paris with a weeks-long waitlist—it doesn’t mean it’s off the table; top concierges usually find a way in.

These days, it’s not uncommon to see concierges helping to bring a destination’s magic into the hotel. A Broadway show is at the top of every New York visitor’s wishlist. But what if you didn’t have to leave the cozy confines of the Pierre to experience it? “We’ve partnered with a company that will provide a meet and greet,” says Dancer. “You can have a Broadway performer come and spend an hour with you, in the comfort of your suite, as if you’re having friends over for tea—and they’ll perform two songs from your favorite musical.”

From having a vintage race car ready to take you to a pit-stop experience at an F1 race at England’s motor-racing circuit Silverstone to scheduling guided tours of buildings closed to the public and more, Emiel Danneels, concierge at the newly opened Raffles London at The Owo, has done it all for visitors to London. “The sky’s the limit—we all love a challenge!” he says.

Left: Maurice Dancer, chief concierge, the Pierre, A Taj Hotel. Right: the hotel's exterior with blossoming trees in the foreground.

Left: Maurice Dancer, chief concierge, the Pierre, A Taj Hotel. Right: the hotel’s exterior.

Courtesy of the Pierre, A Taj Hotel

You can ask a concierge to make almost anything happen—from mundane tasks to miracles when things go wrong.

Top-notch concierges are more than happy to help score a coveted reservation or find last-minute tickets to a sold-out show, but they’re also uniquely equipped to help with, well, pretty much everything—from finding a stamp for a postcard to shipping a particular juice across continents; from rebooking flights to tracking down lost luggage; and from planning proposals to officiating weddings.

“When things go wrong, who do you call? The concierge,” says Leigh Anne Dolecki, president of Les Clefs d’or USA. She’s right: I wish I’d thought to call down to the desk when my flight home was unceremoniously canceled on my recent trip to Quebec City. Instead of languishing in my room all morning on hold with United Airlines, I could have made the most of an unexpected extra fall day.

After the COVID-19 pandemic forced travelers like me to fend for themselves, often opting for rental villas over hotels and researching ever-evolving destination guidelines on their own, they’re more appreciative than ever when they can hand over the reins to someone else, according to Dancer. “In this post-COVID world, that element of self-sufficiency has become a frustration,” he says. “Concierges have become very important to the travel experience. They’re taking away all of the work that the individuals were doing themselves.”

You have a friend already in the city—lean upon them, don’t wait.”
Maurice Dancer, chief concierge, the Pierre, A Taj Hotel

Of course, the more over-the-top tasks are the most fun to recount. They range from the truly outrageous—acquiring a Ferrari GTO or finagling a helicopter ride in the middle of the night, for instance—to the more humble yet offbeat. “A gentleman who was an avid Christmas lover asked for a special Christmas pudding in July—nothing like starting the celebrations early!” recalls Danneels. When a guest at the NH Collection New York Madison Avenue decided they wanted a custom teak chair similar to one from the hotel, the hotel’s director of guest relations, Frederick Jones, went to five stores before he tracked one down that could replicate it.

Sometimes, guests simply like what they like—and it’s the concierge’s job to deliver. “The most bizarre request I had was for a bowl of green Jello and organic peach-flavored yogurt,” says Simon Bovoli, director of concierge service at the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac. “One needs to know not to ask why.”

The Haldane Suite at the Raffles London at The Owo features dark wood paneling, a red sofa, and gilt chandeliers.

The Haldane Suite at the Raffles London at The Owo was used by the secretary of state during World War II.

Courtesy of Raffles London at the OWO

Concierges add that personal touch that digital tools still can’t offer.

There’s no substitute for EQ—emotional intelligence—even in an AI world. As concierges learn more about their guests, they’re able to dream up personal touches that make a trip truly memorable. “The emotional connections we build with our guests are irreplaceable,” says Geadah. I spoke to concierges whose keen sense of intuition helped them create special moments for guests whose kids were bullied at school, had recently dealt with a death in the family, or had simply lost a beloved baby blanket.

Dolecki remembers one time a regular guest shared she was dealing with family drama after a parent passed away. “I asked her if she needed anything, and she said, ‘Well, if you have any great insults I can share with my brothers and sisters tomorrow, I’d appreciate it,’” she remembers. Dolecki printed pages of Shakespearan insults on the hotel stationery and brought them to her door. “As I was walking down the hall, I could hear her laughing out loud—it made her laugh at a moment when she really needed one.”

Once concierges have a sense of your preferences and expectations on a trip, either from a pretravel questionnaire or from conversations upon arrival, they’ll work behind the scenes with staff members throughout the hotel to make sure every aspect of a stay is seamless. “A bartender can start making a guest’s favorite cocktail as soon as he arrives. Guest relations can put last-minute personalized amenities in the room. The restaurant can offer that glass of champagne with the concierge’s compliments, and the waiter knows which menu items to highlight,” says Danneels.

These days, some hotels even have concierges tailored for specific requests.

More hotels are offering highly specialized concierge services that shine a light on a property’s unique offerings or experiences a destination is known for—think beer concierge, vinyl concierge, and engagement concierge, to name a few. If you’re contemplating bringing a furry friend with you to London, don’t think twice if you’re staying at the Milestone Hotel, where the pet concierge will coordinate custom bedding, leashes, menus, and even a sitting with the hotel’s resident artist, Shelley, for a pet portrait.

At Croatia’s Riva Marina, Sun Catcher Concierge Ana Štambuk is tasked with guiding guests to the best windsurfing nooks and off-the-beaten-path beaches for soaking in the rays on the island of Hvar. And the just-opened Hotel Maria in Helsinki has an in-house wellness concierge, the first in the Nordics: Jenna Toivakka is at the ready to help guests bounce back from jet lag, tailor meal plans, arrange a private visit to a seaside sauna, or even accompany them on an early-morning coastal jog.

On my 2023 visit to Cape Town, South Africa’s thriving hub for contemporary art, I checked into the Silo Hotel, which crowns a structure that also houses the landmark Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa. There, I sought Michael Tsepo Jacobs, the resident art concierge. Aside from booking private tours of the museum several floors below, he arranges visits to artists’ studios and local galleries, helping to demystify the landscape for curious visitors—many of whom quickly make the leap to serious buyers.

My encounter with art began inside the hotel, where owner Liz Biden has installed pieces from her renowned collection of contemporary African works. Jacobs took me on a private tour through the hotel’s public and private spaces, drawing my attention to works I’d walked by countless times before on previous visits without fully appreciating—like photographic collages by South African artist Thania Petersen and masks by Kenyan multimedia master Cyrus Kabiru.

“There’s a great appreciation for being able to get an idea of the culture and the art of the city,” Jacobs says. “I like to think of the hotel as a one-stop space to get an idea of what [travelers] are going to experience in and around the city.”

Canada-born, New York City–based writer Sarah Khan spent the formative years of her childhood in Saudi Arabia. Khan’s byline has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Travel + Leisure, and she recently served as the editor-in-chief of Condé Nast Traveller Middle East.
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