I don’t remember the name of a single hotel concierge from any of the hotels we’ve ever stayed at over our many years of travel writing and we’ve checked into thousands. Yet I can name a couple of 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 local travel, living like locals and holiday rentals (all things dear to our hearts), which is why I’m pleased to see the rise of the holiday rental concierge, your new local best friend.
So why do I think holiday rentals are going to increasingly start offering concierges, and the carefully curated experiences those people are so good at creating, as part of their standard services?
Holiday Rental Concierges Make 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 — they can be better than any guidebook or travel site when the holiday rental owner puts some care, time and effort into creating them.
The great 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 are carefully curated suggestions based on years of local 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 those 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 and 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, managers and owners who have ran them.
In some cases they have been employees, like the wonderful Susan at Casa Elsa in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, who organized everything from bird-watching to boat cruises and for masseurs to come to our villa to give us treatments on the alfresco patios overlooking the jungle, and Maria who gave us pasta-making lessons in our trullo in Alberobello and took us on country drives and taught us how to stoke our wood-fired pizza oven and make pizzas in it!
Other holiday rental concierges have been owners of the 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 our visiting friend from the airport!), baked us biscuits, took us out for breakfast tacos, to see flamenco, and to learn the Texan two-step, and even taught Terence how to cook Texan-style barbecue.
We spent time with these people and by the end of our stay they had become friends. As we’ve said for years, travel is about the people you meet as much as the places you travel. These people support that theory.
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. They were experiences that we would never, or would have been highly unlikely to have been recommended or arranged by a hotel concierge.
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, and self-catering accommodation, I might have dismissed the PR’s claims purely as marketing-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…
- 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.