Rusty Irons, Austin, Texas, USA.

The Holiday Rental Concierge As Your Local Best Friend

I don’t remember the name of a single hotel concierge from any of the hotels we’ve ever stayed at and we’ve checked into thousands over the years. Yet I can not only name a dozen or so concierges of holiday rentals we’ve settled into, I could also share some of their personal details with you, like the names of their children and dogs, and things like their hobbies and exercise routines, and what kind of cheese or wine they prefer*. I like what this says about holiday rentals, which is why I’m pleased to see the rise of the holiday rental concierge.

So why do I think holiday rentals are going to increasingly start offering concierges – and the carefully curated experiences they’re so good at creating – as part of their services?

Holiday Rental Concierges Make More Sense
A holiday rental concierge simply makes more sense than a hotel concierge, and that’s ironic because the people who choose to stay in holiday rentals over hotels tend to be people who don’t need their hands held and prefer holiday rentals because of the privacy, freedom and flexibility they provide.

Someone who is always at a hotel concierge desk asking for maps and brochures, restaurant reservations and theatre tickets is probably not going to manage so well in a holiday rental where most of the time there’s nobody around to organize things for them.

Concierges aren’t really necessary in hotels anymore, which are generally located in city or town centres, with technology and information at guests’ finger-tips, whether it’s free Wi-Fi or a computer in a business centre, a welcome video to greet them on the TV when they get to the room, a massive leather-bound book of information on the desk, a brochure stand or tour desk in the lobby, a library or guidebooks on a shelf in a lounge, and a tourist office no doubt in the vicinity.

Then there are our smart phones that give us immediate access to travel sites, online guides, apps, blogs, and all the rest of it. So who really needs a hotel concierge these days?

Holiday rentals on the other hand are not often found in tourist zones – if they’re apartments most of the time they’re in residential areas (and that’s what we love about them), and if the vacation rental is a beach house or a luxury villa in the country it’s probably out of town or remote. In those situations, having a concierge to welcome you and show you around and be available to consult on activities or help organize tours is a blessing.

A Curator of Personally Selected Experiences
Holiday rentals are often devoid of the abundance of information and technology available in hotels, except generally Wi-Fi or a computer. Thankfully, you rarely find all those ugly signs around the room telling you what you can and cannot do and what night the seafood buffets are on.

A good vacation rental will, however, have a handy binder of priceless information and these can be wonderful things – better than any guidebook or travel site – when the holiday rental owner puts some care, time and effort into them.

The good binders make suggestions as to where you should shop, eat and drink, and what you should see and do, and go out of their way to share the owner’s personal favourites, from their preferred tailor or barber to their favourite wine or cheese shop.

They’re carefully curated suggested based on years of insider knowledge rooted in personal experience of their neighbourhoods. I love nothing more than when I’m recommended a place to eat and told to say: “Karl sent us” or “Rusty said you’re the best in town”. The response and subsequent experience will be very different to that we would have had if our hotel concierge made us a booking.

The holiday rental concierge is simply an extension of the holiday rental owner’s unique binder of beloved experiences and recommendations. And that’s where they differ remarkably to the hotel concierge. The hotel concierge is usually basing their suggestions on those that have been approved by hotel management. They tend to be crowd-pleasing, lacklustre and safe. In other words, boring.

We’re not the kind of people who would use hotel concierges when we’re travelling for pleasure. However, when it’s for work, which is 99% of the time we travel, and we’re writing about a hotel, we will ask the concierge for a restaurant tip and to make us a reservation – it’s a test, in the same way we order Eggs Benedict or an omelette for breakfast, order a martini without specifying what sort, and asking the wine waiter or sommelier to suggest a bottle. Sadly, most of the time hotel concierges fail our tests.

I’ve already written on this blog about our struggles to get hotel concierges in South East Asia to recommend local places where they love to eat during their time off instead of the places their hotel managers have told them to recommend to guests so that they don’t get sick.

No matter where they work, unless it’s a small intimate boutique hotel, rarely will a hotel concierge make a personal recommendation, rarely will they send us to where they like to eat, and that’s such a shame.

Yet this is what makes holiday rental concierges so great. Providing they have an idea as to your interests, preferences and tastes – which a good holiday rental concierge will endeavour to identify by email or phone prior to your arrival or in conversation during the meet and greet – their recommendations are usually spot on verging on brilliant in our experience.

Even when the vacation rental concierge doesn’t completely get your taste or understand what it is that you’re interested in, their suggestions are nearly always far more compelling than those of the hotel concierge or guidebook, because they’re personal, they’re local, and they’re insider-y, which means they might be a bit quirky or unusual, exclusive, or just plain outstanding.

Some of our best experiences staying in holiday rentals have been thanks to the concierges. In some cases they have been employees, like the wonderful Susan in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, who organized everything from bird-watching to boat rides and for masseurs to come to our villa to give us treatments on the alfresco patios overlooking the jungle, and Maria in Alberobello who gave us cooking lessons and took us on country drives and taught us how to stoke our own wood-fired pizza oven and make pizzas in it!

Other holiday rental concierges have been owners of the actual properties, like the lovely, funny Carl, who took us on a walking tour of Perpignan the moment we arrived, pointing out his favourite market and cheese-merchant and wine shop and even taking us for a glass of vino on the main square.

Then there was the vivacious Rusty Irons (pictured above) in Austin, who met us at the airport (even collected a visiting friend from the airport!), baked us biscuits, took us out for breakfast tacos and to see flamenco and to learn the Texan two-step, and even taught Terence how to cook Texan-style barbecue.

All of these were unique, enriching and memorable experiences – the kind we love and promote right here on Grantourismo – that came about thanks to holiday rental concierges – experiences that we would never, or would have been highly unlikely to, have enjoyed had we have been staying in a hotel.

In our experience, that sort of intensely personal service at a holiday rental happens on an ad hoc basis, depending on the vacation rental owner, the sort of property they have, the level of comfort being offered, and the price, but that’s part of the beauty and charm of holiday rentals: the highly personal and idiosyncratic nature of this style of accommodation, that each property is so different to the next.

The Holiday Rental Concierge Service As Standard 
What has prompted these reflections is an email I recently received about the re-launch of a vacation rental company called Time & Place and its highly personalised services and concierges who they claim can become like your best local friends.

Now, had we not have had the wide experience we’ve had staying in holiday rentals, vacation rentals, villa rentals, serviced apartments, self-catering accommodation and so on, I probably would have dismissed her claims as PR-speak.

But we know from personal experience that when you stay at a holiday rental the concierge can become your best local friend. If you’re a regular reader of Grantourismo you may recall our experiences with people like Carl and Rusty. If you’re not, you might want to read this post: Have you ever wanted to hug your concierge?

Time & Place claim they pioneered the concept in the USA of a stay curated by a personal concierge and that their concierges can do everything and anything. With properties in myriad destinations, they reckon their concierges can do rather posh stuff like getting you VIP access to the Cannes Film Festival and organizing behind-the-scenes tours at the finest Paris chocolate houses, to more personal things like giving you cocktail lessons or cooking you and your friends and family a special meal.

A company that guarantees this sort of personal attention from a concierge and these types of special experiences in every one of their holiday rentals is pushing the boundaries and raising travellers expectations of what a holiday rental should be.

But in a market where there’s an oversupply of self catering style accommodation, and anyone with a spare room or couch is putting it on Roomorama or Airbnb, I think Time & Place has the right idea. I really believe this is the way forward for holiday rentals.

I’m certainly looking forward to testing them out. What about you? If you’ve used them we’d love to hear from you. We’re very keen to find out if they’re as good as they claim to be. I wonder if their concierges know how to make a martini…

timeandplace.com

* Rusty Irons hates to miss her daily yoga time, Susan religiously does early morning walks on Manuel Antonio Beach, Maria’s kids are Domenico and Giuseppe, and Carl loves Comté cheese.




There are 8 comments

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  1. Susan Ranger

    Another entertaining, insightful piece that hits the nail right on the head Lara. There is nothing better than showing off the best of my world to people that have made the long trek to get here. Sharing what makes it special is the fun part, and watching as people “get it” is the best. Getting to make new friends from all over the world is the bonus on my end. The beach has been dazzling lately with low, low tides, warm tide pools, and two species of monkeys on today’s walk. You know that you are always welcome!

  2. Susan McNaughton

    Spot on Lara! Holiday rental concierges also encourage more “people like us” to holiday at their rental property. Using personal experiences of knowing and loving living in Edinburgh means that we can share experiences with arriving guests. As residents, we can’t always be dining out in the range of restaurants which are around the city, but we’re constantly reading reviews and distilling information, and all of this goes into the personal recommendations which we are able to make. We add this to the websites we build, the Facebook pages we maintain and the Tweets and photographs we share of our cities. All of this goes in to welcoming guests to stay. By the time we meet our guests, if we’ve had enough conversations about trip plannng, it’s like greeting old friends when we finally meet! Thanks for recognising this in your insightful article.

  3. Lara Dunston

    Thanks, Susan! And I think you’ve hit the nail on the head too – for some reason a holiday rental concierge seems to really care if people have a great time and really enjoy when they do. I don’t know why but they seem closer to the experience and take more satisfaction in their work – something you rarely feel in a hotel, where it just seems to be another job.
    Ah, you’re making me miss that beautiful beach – and those monkeys! Hopefully we’ll get back one day. Thanks for dropping by!

  4. Lara Dunston

    Thanks, Susan! I’m sure owners/concierges like you do as much research as we travel writers probably do on a daily basis! But I really think it’s that love for a place that comes through most when interacting with guests that you don’t feel when you deal with a hotel concierge. And the opportunities that long stays and the informality of holiday rentals allow you to become close in the way you never would with someone at a hotel due to the short stay and corporate structure.

    But I’d love to know what you think about this company Time and Place formalising the idea of a holiday rental concierge as ‘local best friend’ and offering it across all their properties… do you think we might see this more and more as the holiday rental industry becomes more sophisticated and the market more competitive?

  5. Susan Oliver

    Bravo! As the PR person mentioned in this article, I’m gratified for the acknowledgement of our relaunch, and also for the shout-out to the heart and soul of Time & Place: our concierges. When Mitch Willey founded Time & Place in 2001, he knew the local concierge was critical to making sure the guest was assured the services of a five-star hotel; and that the privacy and space of a home iconic of its destination would pave the way for truly special vacations. We’re indebted to our local concierges around the world who have leveraged their contacts to get guests an impossible ticket; who have made a 16-yr-old girls dreams come true with a custom dress fitting in Paris; who have translated and bargained for our guests shopping in a foreign flea market and the countless ways they have been there for our guests over the years, including knowing when to stand down and just offer privacy.

  6. Lara Dunston

    Hi Susan – a concierge who helps you bargain at a market is something I would have loved to have had countless times during our travels! Being able to ensure guests have privacy as well as being on hand to answer their every whim is a real skill too. One thing that has annoyed me about some hotels is the attitude of some hotel staff that your room is their room – sometimes they waltz through, whether it’s to check the mini-bar or clean the room, with too much ease. It should be a given that once guests check in, the space is their’s for the duration of their stay. Thanks for dropping by!

  7. Carl

    Welcoming guests and advising them on places to see and eat is to me what it’s all about. You are right a lot of people are adding rooms on sites that unfortunately have no regulation at all. Here in France you must be listed with the Mayor’s office declaring your property usage. But for tax reasons many don’t do this. It’s a bit unfair as they undercut those doing the right things. But it’s fair to say there are many out there dong the right thing and really are a wealth of information. We have actually produced our own tourism site for Perpignan. It gives people access to train, bus, airport and traffic info. It has dedicated pages for day trips. Personal notes and restaurant lists.
    With so many arriving with their iPad or iWhatever this gives them the chance to do some homework before arriving and save it for their arrival. A digital concierge assistant.
    But you are oh so right as usual. Nothing beats that Personal Touch.

  8. Lara Dunston

    Thank you for your comments and feedback, Carl – much appreciated. You will always be one of our ‘star’ concierges! You really made our stay in Perpignan very special. Your website on Perpignan is also an excellent resource – we were actually using it before we even knew about your lovely accommodation and met you in Perpignan. Thanks for dropping by to visit us!


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