Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Need a concierge? There's an app for that

updated 6:43 AM EDT, Wed October 3, 2012
  • Times have changed since the hotel concierge was the most trusted source of local knowledge
  • Today, the concept of the personal concierge extends to mobile phone apps and bespoke lifestyle services
  • Some hotels are adapting to new technology, other services distinguishing themselves against it

Editor's note: Business Traveller is a monthly show about making the most of doing business on the road.

(CNN) -- Before the dawn of the Internet, there were few more reliable sources of local information, insider tips and helpful contacts than the dependably well-groomed hotel concierge.

But with the proliferation of online travel forums, user-review sites and interactive maps, what fate has befallen these custodians of good taste?

From so-called "concierge apps" that let hotel guests order room service at the tap of a touch-screen, to highly personal, bespoke concierge services that take the original concept to extravagant new heights, today's traveler has a multitude of concierge-style services to choose from.

App life

Unsurprisingly, there are many in the hospitality sector keen to leverage their brand reputation, while broadening their customer reach, with tailor-made mobile apps.

James Jackson is the CEO of Red Square promotions. His company develops concierge apps for hotels and airlines that, he says, can help facilitate almost every service they offer without guests having to interact with a single member of staff.

"You could have an app that allows your customers to find the availability of a specific room, book it, book the flight, arrange a car to pick them up, automatically notify the driver when they have landed and then guide them to their room," he explains. "Once they're in the hotel, they can order room service -- all from their handset."

We approached 200 members of concierge staff and asked them to divulge their best local tips
Allison Sitch, Ritz-Carlton representative

Jackson says it's even possible to send guests their room key via his company's concierge platform, by generating a unique QR code that they can simply flash in front of a small scanner outside their door.

Read: Keeping fit on the road, a how to guide

Red Square design their apps to blend seamlessly with their client's existing branding, and Jackson says that, although he is obliged by non-disclosure agreements to keep their names private, his company has already developed such apps for a number of global hotel chains.

A middle way

Red Square is distinctive in so far as it designs apps that have the potential to replace the role of a human concierge almost entirely. However, some of the world's most prominent hotel chains -- such as the Ritz-Carlton and Inter-Continental -- have opted instead to create concierge apps driven by the expertise of their employees.

"We approached 200 members of concierge staff and asked them to divulge their best local tips," says Allison Sitch, vice-president of global public relations for U.S.-based luxury hotel Ritz-Carlton.

"Our people are a trusted resource --- whether it be travel info, dining tips, what wines to select and where -- our concierge staff are local connoisseurs ... and that's why we populated our app with their knowledge."

Sitch says that the Ritz-Carlton concierge app is updated weekly, and integrates with the company's profile on Foursquare -- a location based social networking site for mobile devices.

"Imagine you're standing outside the Brandenburg Gate. You simply 'check-in' to the Ritz-Carlton app, it detects your location and provides you with carefully chosen advice on what to do around it," explains Sitch.

Any online guide can select the top 10 restaurants in a given area, but we'll find the exact one or two to suit you
Emyr Thomas, Bon Vivant CEO

However, Sitch gladly concedes that the app cannot, and should not, replace the highly personal relationship that a good concierge develops with their guests.

"It [the app] is designed to reflect our trusted local insight ... but there's nothing like a concierge to be truly receptive to a guest's needs, to read in between the lines, to give that real human touch," says Sitch.

Read: The perfect place to power lunch

The human touch

Ritz-Carlton and the similar Inter-Continental concierge apps are competing in a crowded-market. Last year, Google purchased the "Alfred" concierge app, which learns from each user's particular travel habits to generate tips that increasingly reflect their tastes and interests.

Such technology is sophisticated, useful but still fundamentally impersonal, says Emyr Thomas, CEO of Bon Vivant -- a luxury "lifestyle management" service, that provides each of its clients with their own personal and crucially, human, concierge.

"We cater for those that have neither the time nor the inclination to do all the research and admin that goes in to satisfying their travel and lifestyle needs," says Thomas.

Bon Vivant works on a membership basis, with clients paying a monthly fee. For this they are then allocated a dedicated concierge who will attend to every last detail of their leisure time.

"Everything is specific to them," says Thomas. "Once a concierge has been selected for a particular client, it is their job to understand his or her precise needs, the rhythm of their life; their taste."

For Thomas, online services will always struggle to compete at this level of specification: "Any online guide can select the top 10 restaurants in a given area, but we'll find the exact one or two to suit you."

Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:12 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Imagine you're a hotel company with a score of brands that seem, well, dated. All the flash amenities of yesteryear seem irrelevant today.
updated 12:14 AM EDT, Tue April 8, 2014
The European firm has unveiled how passengers flying on its new A350 XWB might travel.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Wed March 26, 2014
Would you pay to cut in line for the toilets on a flight?
updated 9:18 PM EST, Tue March 4, 2014
Concorde is a thing of the past, but a number of companies are racing to release the first supersonic business jet.
updated 9:22 PM EST, Sun March 2, 2014
Though we're still in the early stages of 2014, it is already proving one of the most expensive years for the travel industry.
updated 12:15 PM EST, Tue March 4, 2014
At $83,200 a night, the Royal Penthouse Suite at Geneva's Hotel President Wilson is the most expensive hotel room in the world.
updated 10:48 PM EST, Sun February 16, 2014
From 'ascending rooms' and mini-bars to pillow menus and iPad-controls, discover the evolution of hotel room amenities.
updated 11:12 AM EST, Mon February 17, 2014
There's a new group of travelers in town -- and it hardly matters which town you're talking about.
updated 11:57 PM EST, Wed February 12, 2014
It's Boeing vs. Airbus as the heavy-weight plane makers face off at the Singapore airshow.
updated 9:03 PM EST, Sun February 9, 2014
How airlines are making in-flight maps more interactive and monetizing them.
updated 8:03 PM EST, Mon February 3, 2014
What do new planes have to endure during cold weather testing?